Thinking Conservation During a Global Health Pandemic

Suddenly, the unexpected happened, then there was no more waiting for ambiguous consequences in the long-term creating political opportunities for inaction. The world has been brought to its knees and most decision-makers around the world, right or left, are between a rock and a hard place. They open the economy and death rates will likely rise or prevent deaths by locking down cities and the economy collapses. Unlike climate change and biodiversity loss, Covid-19 presents unambiguous and immediate consequences to all sectors of society that cannot be ignored or minimized as a problem for another day. But then, was it really all so unexpected? It is perhaps a time to briefly reflect on what SCB can do moving forward.

Created in 1985, the Society for Conservation Biology’s mission is to advance the science and practice of conserving biodiversity on earth. It is within the current pandemic then that we all need to deeply consider how advancing our mission can meaningfully engage with debates to addressing central issues of society. How can we seize this opportunity to make biodiversity conservation more relevant? I argue that SCB provides a platform from where we can all rally this effort.

SCB is a worldwide network of professionals working from various disciplines and applying them using different strategies. We are bound by our values around biodiversity conservation. Hence, SCB could be conceptualized as a knowledge-based community working to support decision and policy-making processes that advance sustainability. Currently, the world is rushing to find a way out to the crisis, which hinges on medical research for treatment and vaccination. Meanwhile, governments and the private sector are coming to terms with the challenges of dancing between livelihoods and lives. However, once the dust settles, the world will likely be looking for answers not only to improve our capacity for response to pandemics, but also to prevent them.

And just like that, protecting pangolins is no longer a pursuit of only a few passionate conservationists. Wildlife trade and land use change now take central stage in debates about pandemic prevention. The science is already backing how outbreaks spilling into pandemics are very likely associated with the wildlife trade and changes to natural ecosystems. Conservation scientists and practitioners can help shape policy responses that advance biodiversity conservation goals in synergy with pandemic prevention efforts. To achieve that, we will need to be able to construct powerful discourses capable of persuading the highest political levels, work widely across disciplines, and deeply engage with governance practitioners from other issue-areas, particularly public health and food security. SCB provides spaces through which strategies for policy influence can be debated and devised. Let’s take advantage of our local chapters, sections, and working groups, as well as our conferences and journals. This may be the time for establishing a working group on zoonotic diseases and conservation.

This too shall pass, and when that time comes, there will likely be a window of opportunity for policy reform across the world, likely ranging from public health to social welfare, and of course the environment. So, if we can, let’s take this time of uncertainty to start gearing up and be ready to seize the opportunity for advancing SCB’s mission!

Stay healthy.

Best wishes,

Eduardo Gallo-Cajiao

VP of Education and Outreach, SCB Board of Governors