The value of human lives lost to the current COVID-19 pandemic is incalculable; meanwhile, the purely economic losses we can put a price tag on have been staggering. The International Monetary Fund estimates a global loss of $5.6 trillion in gross domestic product in 2020 alone. According to a newly published analysis in Science (Dobson et al. 2020), the cost of preventative measures that could stave off a future pandemic—partly via protection of wild animals and habitat—could be dramatically less.
Specifically, the researchers recommend investing in efforts to prevent forest loss and fragmentation, curb and better regulate wildlife trade, detect disease outbreaks earlier, and improve farm biosecurity. All told, they estimate that the costs associated with 10 years’ worth of such preventative measures would amount to only 2 percent of the price we are paying to deal with the current pandemic.
Another recent study (Gibbs et al., 2020), published in Nature, indicates just how the destruction of wildlife habitat increases our exposure to deadly zoonotic diseases. The extensive study of 7,000 animal communities across six continents found that conversion of wild places into farmland or settlements often wipes out larger species, increasing opportunities for smaller, more adaptable creatures that carry more pathogens dangerous to humans.