Southeast Asia is known for its rich biodiversity, which also invites illegal poachers to make a “lucrative business” out of it. International biodiversity expert said this allows the region to be more vulnerable to zoonotic diseases.

About two-thirds of known human infectious diseases were “zoonotic,” which comes from viruses and other pathogens in wild or domestic animals that has then been transmitted to humans. Zoonotic diseases include the coronavirus diseases (Covid-19), which represent 75 percent of new and emerging diseases, according to ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) Executive Director Dr. Theresa Mundita Lim during a webinar on “Biodiversity and Preventing Future Pandemic” on Wednesday.

She said around 1.7 million of unidentified viruses may still exist in mammals and water birds that can be passed on to humans.

“Covid-19 may not be the last of our pandemics,” said Lim, citing the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report. “In the last few decades, however, there has been an increase in diseases that are of viral origin.”

Nipah in 1999, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2002, Avian Influenza in 2003, Reston Ebola Virus in 2008, and Covid-19 all originated from viruses in animals that affected the Southeast Asian region.

“Although wild animals have been suggested as the origin of species, most of the zoonotic diseases have been coming from domestic animals. Domestic animals usually act as mixing vessels or disease bridges for otherwise latent or dormant pathogens in wild animal reservoirs. Clearly there is a link to wildlife species,” Lim explained.

The current rate of deforestation at 40 percent may develop and the supposedly untouched primary forest may be lost by 2022.

“We are now seeing that the depletion of population may eventually impact on the built up of resistance of these population from emerging infectious diseases that may affect them. Therefore it decreases their capacity to withstand infectious diseases pathogens in the future that may affect humans,” Lim said.

“The decline in the number of species can trigger spillover of viruses that are dormant or inactive leading to their transmission to both domestic animals and humans. This grim data should serve as a warning to all of us that the depletion of our wildlife population increases that possibility of virus spilling over to humans,” she added.

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