With much of the world on lockdown tracking the death toll and flight cancellations, no one is questioning why we are in the midst of the worst global pandemic in over a century, Sentient Media delves into the origin story. Starting with this video essay from VOX.
COVID-19 is a disease caused by a new type of coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. The disease was first detected by Chinese authorities in December of 2019 and has since spread to over 140 countries and counting. Researchers are still uncovering the definitive cause of the virus, but the two main suspects are pangolins and horseshoe bats, both of which are killed and sold in wet markets in Wuhan, China, where scientists believe the outbreak—now a global pandemic—originated.
Coronavirus is zoonotic, meaning the virus was spread to humans from nonhuman animals. Since the early 2000s, the world has witnessed the outbreak of several other zoonotic diseases, and yet we still find ourselves woefully unprepared to address the root cause of these crises.
Humans have had multiple wakeup calls, but continue carrying on their familiar lifestyle habits, including eating meat. According to HuffPost, about two-thirds of emerging pathogens originate in animals. As our demand for animal-based food, clothing, and entertainment increases, so will our risk of contracting and spreading infectious diseases.
In 2002, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) spread throughout the Guangdong province of southern China. It is believed that bats first harbored the virus, which spread to other animals, such as civet cats, and then eventually to humans.
In 2009, the H1N1 swine flu swept through the U.S. and 206 countries around the world. Scientists traced the 2009 H1N1 swine flu to a strain of the virus that emerged inside U.S. factory farms in 1998. Before the 2009 outbreak, experts warned that “a pocket of the [swine] virus would someday evolve to infect humans, perhaps setting off a global pandemic.”
In December 2013, yet another zoonotic virus emerged from bat-to-human contact. A two-year-old child from the village of Gueckedou in south-eastern Guinea was the first victim of the Ebola outbreak after coming into contact with a fruit bat his family hunted as bushmeat. The 2013 Ebola outbreak was so severe that most of western Africa enacted a ban on the hunting, selling, and eating of bushmeat. Between 2014-2016, the Ebola virus claimed the lives of over 11,000 people.
To many people around the world, eating animals is a fundamental part of their culture, but current animal farming and slaughtering methods come with serious risks. “What’s needed to reduce the frequency of new diseases adapting to humans from wildlife, farmed wild animals, and farmed domesticated animals is, basically, to stop farming and eating them,” said ecologist Carl Safina in an article from Tenderly.
With the worst global pandemic we have seen in over a century, it is more important than ever to make sure the truth is reported in its entirety, not just what’s ‘convenient’.
With the world hitting refresh on news feeds and going into lockdown, Sentient Media’s work is more important than ever. Help us share the facts during these uncertain times and make sure the world understands the magnitude of the situation. Our species cannot survive if we continue to exploit our planet and nonhuman animals.
Taylor Meek is the community manager and a contributing author at Sentient Media. She oversees all social media content and strategy and manages the social media team and Social Media Fellowship program.