Via The Washington Post: How deforestation shares the blame for the Ebola epidemic. Click through for the full report and many links. Excerpt:
The commonality between numerous outbreaks of Ebola, scientists say, is growing human activity and deforestation in previously untouched forests, bringing humans into closer contact with rare disease strains viral enough to precipitate an epidemic.
“The increase in Ebola outbreaks since 1994 is frequently associated with drastic changes in forest ecosystems in tropical Africa, wrote researchers in a 2012 study in the Onderstepoort Journal of Veterinary Research. “Extensive deforestation and human activities in the depth of the forests may have promoted direct or indirect contact between humans and a natural reservoir of the virus.”
Such a conclusion is particularly troublesome for West Africa, which has never before experienced an Ebola outbreak like this one, and is reported to have one of the world’s highest rates of regional deforestation. The Guinea Rainforest has been ravaged by deforestation and has shrunk to less than one-fifth of its original size. In Liberia, more than half the forests have been sold off to logging companies, according to the Guardian. And Sierra Leone is “seriously threatened” by deforestation, according to Chatham House’s Illegal Logging Portal.
“There are no longer any frontier forests in West Africa for future generations to exploit,” researcher Jim Gockowski, who co-authored a study tracking Guinea’s deforestation, said in a statement.
What does that mean for Ebola? Quite a lot. For one, it brings people and wildlife into closer contact than before. And it also means a lot more bats, thought to carry Ebola, which increasingly pervade some forested communities.
Driven out of their natural forested habitats, they’re swooping into populated regions, and some locals are now even hunting them. “Once extensive forests in which bats lived, separately from humans, have undergone progressive deforestation under the influence of population growth, land use, and climate change,” wrote Melissa Leach, the director of the Institute of Development Studies. “As bat habitats have fragmented and as people have moved into once-pristine forest areas, so human-bat contact has increased, making viral spillover more likely.”
But deforestation is only the beginning. The researchers behind the article in the Onderstepoort Journal of Veterinary Research found deforested regions where locals hunted, dug for gold and farmed were most susceptible to an outbreak. The findings landed upon some dismal conclusions: The activities locals depend on the most are also what puts them at the most risk of contracting Ebola.