COVID-19 also a risk for wildlife

Egyptian fruit bat

An international study has warned a wide range of mammals, including threatened species, are at risk of human-animal transmission of COVID-19, and have urged people to take sanitary precautions when in direct or indirect contact with wild or feral mammal species.

Domestic cats, American mink, Egyptian fruit bats and North American deer mice are among the species identified as being susceptible to the virus, as well as most Old World primates and a high number of distantly related mammal species. Domestic dogs appeared to be less susceptible and less likely to transmit the virus sustainably onwards.

Although most people rarely come into close contact with live wild animals, the researchers said human-wildlife transmission could: ‘readily occur during [field] activities of wildlife researchers, conservationists, forestry workers, pest control staff, feral population control staff, ecological consultancy workers, managers and staff of protected areas and natural environments, wildlife tourists and tourism operators and staff in wildlife rehabilitation centres.’

Sophie Gryseels, PhD student at the University of Antwerp’s Department of Biology and the University of Arizona’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and lead author of the paper that was published recently in the journal Mammal Review, said it was important not to turn the pandemic into a multi-species problem.

“It’s difficult enough to control COVID-19 in human populations – imagine what it will be like if it spreads among wild mammals. They could also get sick and form a reservoir from which they can then infect humans, but we can’t ask animals to wear face masks and keep physical distance,” she said.

Due to the difficulties in predicting which animal species are likely to be the most at-risk, the study urged anyone interacting with wild animal species to take sensible sanitary precautions. These include physical distancing and wearing masks and gloves in order to reduce the risk of humans spreading the virus to animals.

‘Risk of human-wildlife transmission of SARS-Cov-2’ is available online.

Anne Layton-Bennett

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