Follow the tiger
Can Thailand become a world leader on pandemic prevention through wildlife protection?
Covid-19's impact on the world has been worse than any terrorist act or natural disaster over the last century. But as the global community furiously seeks a vaccine and continues to spend billions of dollars on economic recovery, the Chairman of Thailand-based B.Grimm company, Harald Link, draws attention to what he thinks is a better, lasting, and less expensive cure: nature protection.
Mr Link told the Bangkok Post that he specifically feels the recovering critically endangered tigers of Thailand can inspire a global recovery toward a brighter, pandemic-free future.
But what do tigers and pandemics have to do with one another, we asked him? Mr Link reminds us that amidst all the theories about the source of Covid-19, scientists agree on one thing: the virus jumped from a wild animal to a person. That means it is a zoonotic disease -- one that spread to pandemic proportions. Like others did in the past: HIV, Ebola, SARS, H5N1, MERS.
"What this tell us is that we need to leave wild animals in their natural environment and protect that environment, for the sake of nature and for human health," he said.
Mr Link and his company are backing the global campaign, "EndPandemics" that takes aim at the root causes of zoonotic outbreaks, namely:
Rising commercial wildlife trade, which brings wild animals into closer, unnatural contact with people; and
Destruction of wild habitat, which forces wild animals into human territory where viruses can jump to domestic animals and people.
"All wild animals are precious and play important roles on our planet. When we remove them from their natural environment, we bring misery to them and tragedy upon ourselves," he said.
No other wild animal depicts the crisis of nature more vividly than the tiger, he believes. Vast forests across Asia boasted over 100,000 tigers a century ago, but those forests have largely been torn down, while tiger numbers plummeted 97%. Link believes that an emerging comeback of Thailand's Indochinese tiger spells hope for nature and people alike.
With support from B.Grimm through NGOs WWF and Freeland, the government has brought poaching under better control by training and equipping frontline rangers, supporting local communities, and reducing illicit trafficking. Thanks to this collaboration, Thailand now boasts a recovering population of tigers, as well as expanding natural forest cover.
The tiger conservation efforts include poverty alleviation for local communities, offering organic farming livelihoods to debt-ridden villagers who were previously vulnerable to recruitment by traffickers and illegal loggers.
"The tiger is an 'umbrella' species," says Mr Link, "so all efforts to protect it have positive knock-on effects to the entire ecosystem and those who depend it."
But what about a vaccine?
Governments and lending institutions are expending immense efforts and funds to create a vaccine and re-stimulate economies. But these responses, Mr Link says, are short-term fixes. "A new vaccine will likely not work against the next outbreak because each virus strain is unique. The only true, lasting vaccine is to treat the root causes of the pandemic. Protect nature and nature will protect us," he said.
Mr Link praises Thailand's response to Covid-19 as it boasts one of the lowest rates of transmission and deaths in the world. Meanwhile, Thailand still serves as a gateway for commercial wildlife trade, one of the causes of pandemics.
Mr Link believes Thai leaders are starting to assess the risk of wildlife trade to sparking more zoonotic outbreaks. B.Grimm and its partners, Freeland and WWF are encouraging the Thai Government to build on their successes with flattening the curves of tiger poaching and Covid-19 to become a world leader in "1-Health", a policy being promoted by the World Health Organization (WHO) that translates into simultaneous protection of people and nature.
While there is increased discussion of the "1-Health" policy in high-level global forums, no one country has yet taken the lead as a serious practitioner.
Mr Link points to opportunities for Thailand to practice and share a "1-Health" approach. The UN General Assembly next year will review progress by all countries in pandemic recovery and prevention through their uptake of 1-Health. Then, in 2022 the Global Tiger Summit will be hosted by Russia to review global efforts to save the striped big cat from extinction.
"We need to focus world leaders attention on the link between pandemics and wildlife protection. Thailand's experience with the tiger and Covid represent the clearest example of this link," says Mr Link.
Echoing the EndPandemics campaign spot, which his company recently sponsored on CNN, Mr Link offered that "it's time that we change our relationship with nature, for all life on earth."