“Ecological Extermination” Will Never Work | Protecting Biodiversity is the Safe Operation
2020/4/16 12:44:00 本站

As China is rushing to amend the Wildlife Protection Law, some law professors have suggested that “special conservation measures should be taken when it comes to treating disease-transmitting wild animals such as hedgehogs, bats, pangolins, centipedes, venomous snakes, etc. While consumption for food shall be banned, utilization for scientific research, or even “ecological killing” on them, if necessary, shall be permitted.”


The “Ecological killing” may have good intentions, yet the consequences are very worrisome. Restrictive measures on the consumption of these wild animals are necessary and cautious, limited scientific research is understandable, but "ecological killing" on the other hand, is unacceptable. We should give full respect to the diversity, resiliency, and balance of the complicated ecosystems rather than distort them with an anthropocentric fallacy - a human can never decide which species should be conserved and which should be killed in the name of so-called "ecological protection". This fallacy will not bring us safety but mammoth ecological disasters instead.


The virus lives inseparably with wild animals and the whole eco-system


We are always eschewing viruses whenever we can, even though the virus is widely distributed on this planet. The virus has deeply integrated into the whole eco-system and has a significant role to play in the environment. Ocean, for example, is the breeding grounds for microbes, which in turn serve as the foundation for the entire ocean eco-system. Therefore, the virus is essential and unique to the ocean. That also applies to the terrestrial ecosystem and wild animals.


Research shows that wild animals carry various viruses, parasites, and bacteria. These microbes and each host form an eco-system, where gene mutation is constantly taking place, as a result of which, only the most vigorous microbes can survive. They become an organic part of their hosts, either undermine or improve their hosts' health slightly, but more often, they just coexist peacefully. Those micro eco-systems offer a glimpse of true biodiversity.


By the same logic, wild animals also have a unique value in nature. Snakes, for example, are both hunters and prey. They are an indispensable part of the food chain and even the whole eco-system. Meanwhile, snakes also act on the human's eco-system. If snakes are exterminated in one eco-system, then the incidence rate of some human diseases, such as Lyme disease, will be much higher than that of today. However, due to the expansion of human activities, snakes' habitats are suffering from degradation or fragmentation, while mass poaching is driving the species to the edge of extinction.


Although bats carry multiple kinds of viruses, they only rank second in mammals in terms of the number of viruses, next to rodents. 70% of bats eat insects, so according to research published on PNAS, bats can inhibit the population densities of the pest and thus reduce crop losses. This will indirectly contain the spread of the pest-related fungi and toxic compounds generated by them. For maize alone, bats can save over a billion dollars for us in pest inhibition. In primitive forests, some species of bats can also spread plant seeds and even play a key role as pollinators.


The list can go on. In nature, animals carry a variety of viruses, and even the Asian leopard cat and the Chinese Ferret-badger have been confirmed carrying a new type of highly variable coronavirus, which coexist with those wild animals. In light of these natural phenomena, should we conduct “ecological killing” to all of them?


Treating wild animals in the wrong way will bring fateful consequences


Biodiversity refers to individual species (plants, animals, microbes…), the genetic diversity within species, and the ecosystems and landscapes in which species evolve and coexist. Biodiversity is the cornerstone of the existence and development of human society, and a major hallmark of ecological civilization. However, since humans ushered in the era of industrialization, the decreasing biodiversity has accelerated. Currently, we are witnessing the Sixth Mass Extinctions, which is, unlike the past five, the direct consequence of human activities.


In the long evolutionary process of nature, every species plays a vital part in its ecosystem, thus maintaining the ecological balance. For instance, a rosy starling feeds on 120-180 locusts per day; eagles and foxes are natural hunters for prairie rats; a Siberian weasel can eliminate tens of thousands of rats in its life. Every species in nature is closely linked. If humans casually exterminate a certain species, we will confront a disastrous result.


During China's "Great Leap Forward" movement in the 1950s, sparrows and south China tiger, regarded as pests, were hunted and killed at a large scale. It has led to serious ecological problems and lessons were learned. But similar mistakes may be repeated in the 21st century. After the current publication of research results claiming that “the coronavirus in pangolins has up to 99% similarity to that of COVID-19”, some experts suggested that pangolins should be killed ecologically, totally ignoring the fact that the remaining 8 species of pangolins have already been brought to the brink of extinction. These 8 species are included in the CITES Appendix I.


Humanity's utilization and consumption of wildlife have had serious consequences even if this so-called "ecological killing" was not carried out. Research has shown that about 70% of pandemic diseases originated from wild animals and more than 100 zoonotic diseases have been found. The viruses, bacteria or parasites causing these diseases were usually transmitted to humans during activities such as hunting, butchering, processing or consumption.


Today we have recognized that the consumption of wildlife not only brings damages to the ecological environment and biodiversity, but it also poses great threats to public health. However, some still seek the excitement of consuming game, not knowing the current quarantine measures do not prevent them from being infected by zoonotic diseases. It is because our current checking standards can only detect viruses already known to humans, not those unknown but carried by wild animals.


Respect all living things; prevent and control global pandemic at the beginning


As a saying by Mencius goes, “When facing failure or challenges, one should reflect on his own mistakes.” We cannot blame the outbreak of a pandemic on the wild animal itself, for the virus has been living with it and the natural environment for a long time; nor can we break the rule of nature with the excuse of "protecting ecology".


We can see from the idea of proposing ecological killing that more efforts need to be done in public education and mainstreaming of biodiversity. It lays a foundation for human survival and social development. Living in harmony with nature is the principle and goal of biodiversity conservation. Under this context, how should we prevent and control future zoonotic diseases at its source? This section proposes the following advice:


First, we need to reflect on human’s relationship with nature and how to promote living in harmony with nature. Biodiversity is an important aspect of bio-security. National governance of bio-security needs to be improved; we should respect nature and regard mountains, rivers, farmlands and grasslands as a living community with a shared future. Conventions such as anthropocentrism need to be broken and replaced by the mindset of seeing the earth as a whole.


Second, we need to set boundaries on human interactions with wildlife. A list of consumption-forbidden wild animals and relevant regulations should be set, therefore forming a new social norm of "not eating wildlife". Chances of being infected by zoonotic diseases will be greatly reduced if we prevent frequent interactions with wild animals.


Third, we need to set physical boundaries with wildlife, leaving enough interconnected living space for them. This includes establishing protected areas, setting ecological red lines, leaving some wildness untouched. We have to recognize that protecting wild animals and their habitats is protecting ourselves and our living space.


Fourth, we need to make sure relevant regulations and laws work. China urgently needs a Biodiversity Protection Act, in which strict mechanisms and law enforcement are applied to propel protection of biodiversity, strengthen biosecurity and provide legal ground for biodiversity protection.


Fifth, we need to strengthen agricultural biodiversity protection. Agricultural biodiversity is a must for ensuring future food safety, addressing climate change issues, sustainable development and sustaining important ecological services. A report published by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in 2019 showed that around the world the number of species and varieties of locally cultivated plants and domesticated animals is reducing. This biodiversity loss has damaged the ability of several agricultural systems to resist threats such as pests, pathogens and climate change, therefore posing great danger to global food safety. As we can see, strengthening agricultural biodiversity protection should be included in our national biosecurity as a crucial part.


(Photo credit: Xinhua News)

Original Chinese article:


By / Huang Jin, Hong Peijia Modified / Maggie