In a span of less than three months, coronavirus disease Covid-19, whose origins have been traced to a live animal market in Wuhan, China, has killed tens of thousands of people and counting globally with over 445,000 infected.
The viral infection, which is believed to have been transmitted from wildlife to humans, has resulted in disruption of life as we know it and is literally bringing the world to a standstill.
There are fears that this global pandemic will have far-reaching socioeconomic consequences for many months, even years.
Wildlife markets are often in less-than-stellar conditions. The animals are often kept in small cages, which make it difficult for the larger ones to comfortably move around.
The cages are stacked on top of each other and, as the animals defecate, their faecal waste drops onto those below them, leading to intolerable conditions and easy transmission of infections that eventually led to our current predicament.
When the consumers purchase their product of choice, most of these animals are often killed in inhumane and painful ways – which are all violations of animal welfare.
There are five freedoms of animal welfare. They include freedom from hunger or thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour; freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment, including shelter and a comfortable resting area, and freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
The others are freedom to express (most) normal behaviour by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind; and freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.
From a scientific and ethical position, animal welfare seeks to provide objective assessments of the physical and mental wellbeing of animals in relation to the quality and suitability of their environments.
When justifying our treatment of animals, we must consider why an action is necessary and how it will affect them.
An animal welfare philosophical position requires that any use of an animal must be justified and that that justification must balance the ‘benefit’ to wider society against the ‘cost’ to the individual animal.
WHO IS TO BLAME?
There are limits to what we should do to animals, no matter the perceived benefits, particularly now when wildlife trafficking is no longer only about conservation but has also become a public health issue.
This is by no means a justification that we, the human populace, deserve what we are going through.
I deeply empathise with the pain and suffering of those who are unwell and those who have lost loved ones due to this pandemic.
With the world heading for a complete lockdown and mandatory stay-at-home directives, we will have moments to reflect on how we co-exist with other species.
I leave you with a question to include in this reflection: could the current situation we find ourselves in been avoided if animal welfare had been considered?
Ms Nyagah is the communications manager - East Africa at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw). [email protected]