At the International Elephant Foundation, taking care of animals is what we do. Be it through anti-poaching patrols, habitat protection, or elephant research, we are committed to making the world a better place for elephants to live and thrive. And since elephants share their habitats with so many endangered species from the Sumatran tiger, to every species of rhino, to pangolins, orangutans, and more, we know that helping elephants means we’re helping all wildlife. This interconnectivity of nature is even more apparent in light of SARS CoV-2 and the disease it causes, COVID-19.
As IEF Advisor and Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus expert Dr. Paul Ling postulated during a recent interview, the recent paper concluded that elephants are at “minimal risk” to contract COVID-19 due to the confirmation of their receptors. While this is a relief, some animals potentially susceptible to this virus share some of the same habitats as elephants. These species include great apes and primates, big cats, and multiple species of deer and other two-toed hooved mammals. Surprisingly even cetaceans have receptors that could bind with SARS CoV-2. This means that while the world is concerned with what role bats or other species had in the creation of SARS CoV-2 that has sickened and killed many humans, perhaps we should also be taking steps to ensure we are protecting other species so we don’t spread the virus to them.
Being good animal stewards does not have to be a hands-on experience; quite often it is the exact opposite. When you are out in nature, leaving nothing but footprints behind is the best way to make sure your presence as an observer does not cause harm. Packing out everything you packed in is the golden rule of hikes, safaris, and treks. Things like human waste and trash can spread disease, damage habitat, and kill animals, and when they go into waterways and oceans they not only contaminate drinking water but could infect another group highly susceptible to COVID-19, cetaceans.
Let’s remember that wild things and wild places need our help and make smart decisions to protect them from this pandemic, just as we do the humans who we love.