After Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that jigsaw puzzles are “essential” items during the COVID-19 lockdown, giving the public permission to leave home to buy them, animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has sent a customised jigsaw puzzle to his office with an important message to help him piece together the best way to avoid future pandemics.
The 500-piece puzzle, made by Jigsaw Puzzles Australia, depicts a cow, a pig, a chicken, a civet, a bat, and a pangolin holding signs with the names of the zoonotic diseases they’ve transmitted to humans as a result of being exploited for food and proclaiming, “Enough is enough. Leave us alone.”
By now, most people are aware that the COVID-19 pandemic began in a wet market in Wuhan, China, where animals – including fish, birds, badgers, bats, and pangolins – were slaughtered and sold for human consumption.
However, many people don’t realise that zoonotic viruses such as the novel coronavirus don’t originate exclusively in wet markets, and in fact, the types of animals most commonly connected to viral outbreaks in humans are chickens and pigs. Overall, 75% of recently emerging infectious diseases affecting humans were transmitted from other animals.SARS, which originated in bats, claimed 774 lives. Swine flu (H1N1), which originated in pigs, claimed 18,036. COVID-19 has already caused more than 45,000 deaths, and the toll is rising very rapidly.
Zoonotic disease can break out wherever animals are being bred, intensively confined, and slaughtered.
In fact, in a paper published in 2018, Belgian spatial epidemiologist Marius Gilbert found that Australia had generated more instances of historical “conversion events” (that is, when a not very pathogenic avian flu strain suddenly becomes dangerous to humans) than China.
Australia is home to countless farms on which chickens are crammed together in small cages and pigs are packed into filthy sheds as well as abattoirs where these animals are killed on floors soaked with blood, urine, and other bodily fluids.
To understand why COVID-19 has emerged, we urge Morrison to look at the big picture, including all the pieces of the puzzle. Deadly zoonotic diseases will keep breaking out until the world stops exploiting animals. If we had all been vegan, COVID-19 – along with SARS, MERS, HIV, Ebola, swine flu, avian flu, and others – would almost certainly never have affected humans.