Jane Wilson-Howarth

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Revenge of the Pangolin

Tuesday, 24 March 2020
When I heard their footfall I froze thinking if I didn’t move they might not find us. It might be all right as long as the baby stayed still too. But then I realised they were digging down to where we were hidden and I knew it was all over for us. I’d never see my newborn grow and learn to climb. We’d be taken to some far country where our meat is considered a delicacy and our scales will make awkward uncomfortable bangles (humans believe that these help people with arthritis) or our precious armour will be ground down for medicines for humankind, a species that is rarely kind. This is our fate despite the fact we harm no-one except the ants and termites that we like to eat. My daughter has such a lovely long pink tongue. Now she’ll never enjoy the deliciousness of fresh termites, never have the chance to build her own burrow, raise her own babies.
 
At around 6pm on Friday the Prime Minister of Nepal announced a partial lock-down throughout the country, shutting down all non-essential services especially cinemas, sports clubs and other places where people meet in numbers, long distance buses and all international flights. The last seats on planes leaving on Saturday were said to be selling for 3000 dollars. Total lockdown started at 6am today here.
Covid-19 is, of course, the reason despite the fact at this stage only one case had been positively identified in the country, and there are only a handful diagnosed in India too. Yet the disease is highly infectious and it kills so people are scared. One friend who should be teaching in Argentina is with a group of people in whom the virus has been diagnosed and locals have called the police to keep them from playing rounders in the garden of their hostel. My aunt was in Spain and reported police there chasing people from the beach because everyone was supposed to be self-isolating. None of us have been very good at following health instructions but what is more distressing is how we have become xenophobic and unkind. It is better to be kind. Neighbours are more likely to offer help in a crisis if you are nice!
The results of shutting down cities though has brought benefits. Researchers at Stanford University estimated that the reduction of pollution in China from the COVID-19 lockdown may have saved the lives of 4,000 under fives and 73,000 over seventies. This compares to the 3,248 deaths so far in China attributed to the virus. The same phenomenon is also unfolding in Italy. Wildlife is returning as disturbance and pollution is dramatically reduced.
While any untimely death brings distress to loved ones it is important for those of us who survive to consider the reasons for the outbreak. We need learn lessons and be kinder to each other and the planet so that humans (and the wildlife we share this planet with) have a future.
This coronavirus probably originated in wild animals which were caught and brought to meat markets. Otherwise harmless, burrowing pangolins are one species that has been accused of infecting humans. SARS coronavirus has been traced to bats and also palm civets in meat markets too. The Chinese are said to have banned eating wild animal meat but will that be effective, or if it is, will the ban last? It is likely that Ebola came from eating ‘bush meat’ when people ate infected wild chimpanzees but fear of a deadly disease doesn’t seem to last and people quickly forget that it is not a good idea to eat wildlife. Microbes that are harmful to us most often make the species jump from wild animals to people when we disrespect the natural environment. One really good example of this was after some clear felling in Brazil, homeless vampire bats came feeding in a nearby village. Normally villagers hardly ever see a bat but over the space of several nights pretty much everyone in the village was bitten, and a tenth of the villagers died of rabies.
Meanwhile our taste for international travel has ensured that once these viruses have made the leap from animal hosts to people they spread like wildfire around the world, taking the lives of those with weak immune systems. This week it feels like we are losing our humanity. How many of us are willing to take responsibility for the harm we are doing to Mother Earth? She is screaming for mercy. The rotten polluted sewer that is the Kathmandu Valley has a long-standing challenge with air quality because our air is locked in by mountains and rarely is stirred up. But the enormous increase in vehicles on our dusty road means that fresh air simply doesn’t exist here. Our rivers – including the holy Bagmati – are dribbles of stinking black slick. We are suffocating and there are fewer birds and butterflies here these days. This feels like a microcosm where were are committing ecological suicide. Soon the whole planet will be like this. But at least there will be no wild animals to eat to give us new coronaviruses. Instead humans with weak chests will die from chronic obstructive airways disease and pollutants will harm future generations. We like our easy lifestyle, our air conditioning, our cars, our motorbikes, our consumption of food and other goods from unsustainable sources, our meat-eating, our plastic wrapping, our bottled water but this pandemic has shown that we can slow down, consume less, pollute less, and we need to learn from this now - please.
 
 Large Indian civet, chillin'
 
 Young nilgai in Kipling's jungle (Shuklaphanta, Nepal)
 
 The thick air of the Kathmandu ring road on Saturday

I posted some words on the crisis in Nepal a couple of days ago so if you are not already sick to death of the subject click When will it hit the fan?
 



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