The intersection of Conservation Biology and Global Pandemics
February 16, 2020 7:40 PM   Subscribe

How love for endangered pangolins inspired a wave of coronavirus prejudice. Dr. Jonathan Kolby, a science policy specialist who studies the international spread of diseases through the wildlife trade and the global amphibian extinction crisis writes, "Dialogues about the new coronavirus should not allow the important topic of wildlife conservation to provide a smokescreen for prejudice...It’s OK to become angry that pangolins are going extinct; we should use this energy constructively to learn more about the issue and possibly support conservation efforts. With global teamwork we can prevail against both the emerging coronavirus pandemic and the illegal wildlife trade."
posted by primalux (11 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
"Inspired" is generous. "Provided a thin socially acceptable excuse for" seems closer to accurate.
posted by Scattercat at 11:51 PM on February 16 [8 favorites]

Killing animals & eating them is the cause of a lot of what is wrong in the world -

In 200 years (if the world was to survive) they will look at this with utter disbelief
posted by growabrain at 12:57 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]

Europeans destroyed actual human remains (powdered mummy for that cough? O yes pls, also throw in some boiled puppy) and plenty of species for medical cures. I heart pangolins like crazy and think they should be super protected, but there's a whole bunch of animals going extinct and have been. It's like how whale hunting's history has been turned entirely into an Asian evil, not the massive international industry it was until recently.

People I know closely who have eaten bush meat are suddenly sending around anti-China wild animal market memes along with the other Coro-19 hysteria. It's basic fear-driven racism. Reminds me of people who were big on sponsoring contraception for brown people overseas, but not at home for 'their' people (I used to meet a lot of them as donors).
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 2:45 AM on February 17 [15 favorites]

The house I grew up in Israel had a front yard with a Nanking cherry bush, a loquat tree, and a male date tree. I could only eat what loquats I could pick myself, and when I was small, that was only the low hanging branches I could reach or climb to. Sometimes a pair of 12 year old girls from an orphanage a few kmsI away would come with a basket and ask permission to climb up and pick loquats, enough to fill the basket. Loquats really don't keep long, so it's a safe bet they'd be shared with all the others when they got back, that afternoon. The tree mainly fed a flock of fruit bats. They would come at night, pick the fruit and fly to the date tree. In the morning we'd find a whole ring of loquat pits surrounding the date tree.

Out of idle curiosity, I googled "Wuhan loquats" just now. Sure enough, they grow there. If the coronavirus is found in bat saliva, then I suspect the origin of this pandemic
is the same as Ebola virus: windfall fruit that had been bitten by a fruit bat. (Edit: Google indicates coronavirus is indeed found in bat saliva.)
posted by ocschwar at 5:26 AM on February 17 [4 favorites]

Killing animals & eating them is the cause of a lot of what is wrong in the world -

In 200 years (if the world was to survive) they will look at this with utter disbelief

I we look upon our ancestors in disbelief because they slaughtered and ate animals? How do you think we evolved without animal protein?

The ability to consider other animals equals worthy of respect and protection rather than means of survival is a relatively new privilege for us, and in some corners of the world that still isn't the case. The conversation regarding Pangolins and other endangered species is way more complex than most people in "first world" countries want it to be in that regard.
posted by Young Kullervo at 5:32 AM on February 17 [12 favorites]

It’s true that Chinese Traditional Medicine calls for a lot of ingredients that are leading to the extermination of a lot of species along with being, on the whole, fairly ineffective, but then so is the US’s fetish for “essential oils,” so maybe backing off on the racist cultural finger-pointing would be a good policy (not pointing at any current comments in this thread).
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:12 AM on February 17 [11 favorites]

ocschwar, as someone who grew up in southeast Texas and ate a lot of loquats and dates and figs from our neighborhood trees, that's scary as hell to think about.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:47 AM on February 17

Thing is, while it's certainly true that there's some use of ecological concerns to mask bigotry, there's also just the inescapable facts that a) "Traditional Chinese Medicine" [1] doesn't actually work, and b) getting the ingredients involves torturing and killing lots of endangered species. One does not need to have an anti-Chinese bias to recognize those truths.

Much of what you could term "Traditional Western Medicine" was also totally ineffective and involved ingredients gathered in highly unethical ways. But, and this is kind of important, despite the horrific growth of Homeopathy Traditional Western Medicine is mostly abandoned these days. No one is digging up mummies to process into mummy dust for superstitious Western rich people to consume. The West is responsible for a lot of awful shit, but it isn't responsible for all the awful shit in the world and China has the majority share of awful shit done in the name of medical superstition these days.

Again, I'm not here at all to condone racism masked with a thin layer of BS about environmental concerns. But we can't let the presence of bigots abusing reasonable concern about the ineffective, cruel, and environmentally devastating nature of TCM make us pretend that it isn't an ineffective, cruel, and environmentally devastating practice.

[1] Which did not, in fact, exist as a unified practice until after Mao. China is huge, it had numerous and often conflicting medical beliefs, the idea that there was one singular "Traditional Chinese Medicine" is ahistoric.
posted by sotonohito at 7:12 PM on February 17 [5 favorites]

[Strong nudge that the article's genesis is western environmentalists celebrating coronavirus on social media, and how western environmentalists should introspect and consciously course-correct to avoid enabling xenophobia. Please don't recenter the thread onto how/whether Chinese practices are bad/ineffective/etc.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:38 PM on February 17 [8 favorites]

I was thinking that the coronavirus may be overblown in response. Do we really know how many are infected for the denominator in the lethality question?

The Diamond Princess serves as an unintended control experiment. There were about 3700 on the ship with passengers and crew. Six have died. That would make a low end of 0.17% death rate -- if everyone was infected, which is far from true. The number reported infected is 705. So that would be six out 705, about a 0.85% death rate. That's pretty high, especially considering how contagious the coronavirus is. A typical flu virus kills 0.1%. So, eight to nine times more frequently lethal than the flu virus.

I think those numbers are better calculated than the 2.5% that is going around. #1. 705 people make for a fair-sized sample (and the upper limit of 3700 is known). #2. When you are calculating infection rates in the general population it is difficult to get an accurate picture of the number infected, and it is easier to get a good picture of the number who die.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:59 PM on February 29

@ocschwar עץ השסק בחצר
posted by growabrain at 2:30 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]

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