Mind the Animals: Call for Regulation of Wildlife to Prevent COVID ‘Reservoirs’
Up to 17 million mink are to be culled in Denmark following the discovery of a COVID-19 mutation
Up to 17 million minks were reportedly culled in Denmark following the discovery of a COVID-19 mutation

Countries need to prevent more SARS-CoV2 infections in wildlife, as this could result in the establishment of animal reservoirs, according to a joint statement by the World Health Organisation, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).  

So far domestic animals, free-ranging, captive or farmed wild animals such as big cats, minks, ferrets, North American white-tailed deer and great apes have been observed to be infected with SARS-COV2. 

The statement noted that while the COVID-19 pandemic was caused by human-to-human transmission, animals are equally susceptible to the virus.

The only known instances so far of animal-to-human transmission of the SARS-COV2 have been from farmed mink and pet hamsters while a potential case of SARS-COV2 to a human through a white-tailed deer is under review.

Hong Kong recently ordered the culling of over 2,000 pet hamsters and other small animals due to its zero-COVID strategy in the face of a case of transmission of the virus at a pet shop. In November 2020, Denmark reportedly culled up to 17 million minks amid coronavirus fears. 

The organisations called for countries to adopt relevant regulations especially when it comes to people working in close proximity to wildlife, and the public. It also warns that people should avoid approaching, touching, feeding or eating wild animals in close wild proximity, especially those that are orphaned, sick or are dead.

While the transmission of the virus is not very common from animals to humans, a January 2021 report by WHO, FAO and OIE shows that the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from fur farm animals to domestic animals and susceptible wildlife populations is the highest in Europe, likely because it has a high number of fur farms. Such a kind of transmission through fur farms is mild in Africa, while it is moderate in America and Asia.  

Countries are encouraged to monitor and sample wild animals susceptible to SARS-COV2 and report confirmed cases of the virus in animals to OIE through the World Animal Health Information System (OIE-WAHIS), and to suspend the sale of captured live wild mammals in food markets.

This statement comes after three pre-print papers published in February strengthened the case for the theory that SARS-COV2 first spread among people via infected animals sold and slaughtered at the Hunan wildlife market in Wuhan. 

Image Credits: Nettverk for dyrs frihet / Net. for Animal Freedom.

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