Conserving biodiversity is all about protecting health – Federal Minister Müller at Zoo Berlin on International Day for Biological Diversity

Federal Development Minister Dr. Gerd Müller, Dr. Andreas Knieriem, Director of the Zoo Berlin, Dr. Eckart von Hirschhausen, Ambassador of the Development Ministry and Kim Grützmacher from the World Conservation Society present the new "International Alliance against Health Risks in Trade with Wild Animals and Wild Animal Products" at Berlin Zoo.

Press release of 20.05.2020 |

BERLIN – The COVID-19 pandemic is partly also a consequence of the destruction of natural resources and of the way mankind is exploiting the planet. That was the message sent today by Dr Gerd Müller, German Development Minister, together with Dr Eckart von Hirschhausen, founder of the 'Gesunde Erde – Gesunde Menschen' foundation (healthy planet – healthy people) and Ambassador of the Development Ministry, and the director of the Zoo Berlin, Dr Andreas Knieriem on the occasion of World Biodiversity Day on 22 May at Zoo Berlin. 

Minister Müller said "there is a rapid and alarming decline in biodiversity. Up to 150 plant and animal species become extinct each day. Every four seconds a forest as big as a football pitch is cut down – for instance for soy or palm oil plantations. Shrinking natural habitats increase the risk that viruses jump from animals to humans. COVID-19 is the most recent example. That is why we need to act with much more determination to protect natural habitats and address wildlife trade and markets. Together with WWF, WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) and the ZGF (Frankfurt Zoological Society) we are launching an international alliance to address health risks posed by wildlife trade. One of our goals is to close as quickly as possible the fifty wildlife markets that pose the highest health risks. And we need to step up our research efforts to better understand the interaction between human and veterinary medicine. That is why we are setting up a new working unit 'One Health'."

Protecting biodiversity is one of the priority areas of Germany's development cooperation. The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) is supporting more than 500 protected areas around the world covering 1.8 million square kilometres – five times the size of Germany. Germany already is the biggest bilateral donor in the field of anti-poaching efforts.

Dr Eckart von Hirschhausen said "it is an honour for me to make the Sustainable Development Goals more widely known in Germany and to do so in cooperation with the Development Ministry. As a doctor, I feel especially committed to goal 3, i.e. health. During my medical studies I spent part of my practical training year in South Africa; and I very much appreciate the positive light we are shining on the opportunities of this continent. The SDGs are important because we have only a few years left to create acceptable living conditions for all people. The climate crisis, biodiversity loss and the current COVID-19 pandemic are very closely linked to one another. If we want to prevent diseases in future, wildlife trade needs to be finally put to a stop around the world. A virus jumps from one species to another just as it jumps across borders. The concepts of One Health and Planetary Health are revolutionary: human health is dependent on animal health and on a healthy planet."

Christoph Heinrich, head of nature conservation at WWF Germany, said "healthy, unspoiled ecosystems are a bulwark against new pathogens or pandemics; hence they are of vital importance for our health. Healthy ecosystems, sustainable development and the protection of biodiversity must be addressed in combination. We need to reduce the risks of infection, for instance by rigorously combating illegal wildlife trade. High-risk wildlife markets need to be closed."

Zoo director Dr Andreas Knieriem calls on policy makers to commit even more to protecting nature: "we can support nature conservation efforts on the ground, but in the end we need political backing. We can only really bring about change if we work together."

22 May is International Day for Biological Diversity. At the moment, roughly one million out of eight million animal and plant species worldwide are facing extinction. Climate change and the destruction of natural habitats, such as tropical forests, are likely to accelerate biodiversity loss even more.

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