Covid-19 and Biodiversity Conservation – a Northeast India Perspective

Text by Dr. Pranjal Kumar Das

Photo: Udayan Borthakur

Macaque skulls displayed on the wall of a tribal hunter's hut at Arunachal Pradesh

As the world has almost come to a standstill due to COVID-19 pandemic caused by the “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2” (SARS-CoV-2) and scrambles to restrict its spread, a major concern lies on its impact on course of action to be taken for conservation of worlds biodiversity. It has been suspected that the virus had originated in bats and jumped to the human through an intermediary host, most probably pangolin in a live market of wildlife in China. While this theory still demands scientific verification, as per earlier studies infectious diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), swine flu (H1N1), bird flu (H5N1 and H7N9), Ebola, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MARS) etc., seen in the recent human history have all originated from wild animals. Such instances of transmission of zoonotic diseases are primarily due to various human acts leading to coming into close contact with wild animals.

Photo: Udayan Borthakur

Widescale deforestation activities in parts of Assam

The Northeastern region of India is rich in cultural heritage, inhabited by more than 200 indigenous communities. The region is also one of the major biodiversity hotspot in the country. In the context of infectious diseases that has affected mankind in the recent years, the Northeast India could become the next hotspot for emergence of novel zoonotic diseases. The reason being, first, due to various developmental activities, expansion of crop lands and extraction of natural resources, the region has lost vast areas of forest land in past few decades. Second, many indigenous communities of the region rely directly on natural resources to meet their livelihood and wild animals are killed for food as well as traditional medicinal usage. Bush meat trade is still prevalent in many parts of the region and such practices a