Human-Animal Interaction And Pandemic Covid-19
Much can be learned from the current Covid-19 pandemic, especially the link between human health and animal as well as the environment. Currently, awareness of the importance of treating animals is well-existed. Laws and regulations have been enacted to protect animals. Various organizations that specifically aim to protect animal rights have also existed. However, in the current pandemic situation, it not only deals with the treatment of animals but involves a broader issue of animal interests to humans and nature.
Animals are important creatures in this universe. Human depends on the animal as a source of food, companions, in various economic activities and as transportation. An animal also essential part of our ecosystems and therefore, nature could not function properly without animals.
Apart from that, animals are potentially the cause of various zoonotic diseases. The WHO and FAO Joint Expert Committee define zoonosis as diseases and infections that are transmitted between animals and humans. There are more than 500 different zoonosis pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, parasites of various cells and insects. It infects humans and spreads through direct contact or by food, water or the environment. However, infectious diseases transfer from animals to humans are rare.
The diversity of human activities has increased the frequency of disease transmission from animals to humans. In a report by UNEP and ILRI (2020) entitled “Preventing the Next Pandemic: Zoonotic Diseases and How to Break the Chain of Transmission,” two most important activities that influence the emergence of new zoonosis are habitat and biodiversity destruction and wildlife exploitation.
Loss of habitat and biodiversity is the result of deforestation, changes in land use and forest degradation. The FAO Global Forest Assessment 2020 reports that the rate of deforestation is occurring at 10 million hectares per year. It is due to the rapid population growth that forced human encroachment on natural habitats. Thus, humans and wildlife became closer. In the Tropics, deforestation is associated with an increase in various infectious diseases such as dengue fever, malaria and jaundice. In Australia, mosquito-borne diseases increased due to land-use changes while forest fragmentation has increased the risk of human contracting Lyme disease.
The exploitation of wildlife has exposed humans to various infectious diseases. The wildlife is exploited for food, medicine, decoration and even recreational purposes. A study of 8000 rural households in 24 countries including Africa, Latin America and Asia showed that 39 per cent of households hunt and eat wild meat. Among the wildlife are large herbivorous animals, primates, rodents, snakes and various other reptiles. Aquatic wildlife of mammals and reptiles such as dolphins, whales, manatees, crocodiles and turtles are also caught. These wild animals were caught and traded for food, as pets or for medical purposes. Clashes between humans and wildlife could lead to new viruses transferred from animals to humans because the viruses are capable of infecting various species of hosts. There are also situations where wildlife is farmed for commercial purposes on unregulated farms as well as in filthy conditions. Such conditions too could lead to an animal to human viruses transferred.
There are many more anthropogenic drivers that encourage the emergence of zoonotic diseases such as increased demand for animal protein, unsustainable use of natural resources due to urbanization, land-use changes, increased travel and transportation activities, changes in the food supply chain as well as climate change.
The above discussion shows that in the name of development, human has invaded the life and wellbeing of animals. Animals were seen as insignificant creatures on earth. However, in Islam, animals are not merely a source of human food, but a creature that depends on its Creator. They have their own life and have values to Allah SWT and this goes beyond the value of animals to humans.
In the Qur’an, various chapters were named after animals or insects, and mentioned in various verses of the Qur’an. For example, the story of ants and prophet Sulaiman or the whales and prophet Yunus. This demonstrates the high values of animals in Islam. Humans, however, are given certain powers over animals (al-Baqarah, 2:29; Yaasin, 36:72) but not to the extent of exploiting animals but to safeguard their welfare (Hud, 11:64; asy-Syu’araa, 26:155-156). In Islam, animal abuse is completely rejected while illegal hunting or hunting animals for recreational purposes are also forbidden.
Islam has also specified halal and haram animals for human consumption. If we adhere to the rule or refrain from consuming haram meat, we will abstain from eating or hunting exotic animals, which also host to various viruses and diseases. There must be some wisdom behind the prohibition of eating haram meat. Exotic animals are most likely a host to various types of viruses and bacteria, which is why Islam forbids consuming them.
We must follow the Islamic teaching on kindness to animals and treat animals with compassion. Concurrently, we must also care for our natural environment because animals depend on it too. By doing this, we hope to avoid further animal to human transmission diseases and future pandemic.