Animal isolation, sustainable funds, COVID-19 and apes: 3 stories you may have missed

© Levi Norton

Editor's Note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

1. These wild animals also practice social distancing to avoid getting sick 

From honeybees to bullfrogs, many animal species are able to detect disease within their populations — and take preventative measures to protect themselves. 

The Story: Similar to humans self-isolating to prevent the spread of COVID-19, wildlife across the animal kingdom tend to distance themselves from ill or infected members of their species, reported Sydney Combs for National Geographic. Many animal species are able to detect and avoid infected individuals in their population by the chemical signals they release — sometimes before any symptoms appear. For example, honeybees can smell bacterial diseases that infect their colonies, and will expel any infected honeybees from their hive to curb a disease’s spread. 

The Big Picture: “When human activities such as logging and mining disrupt and degrade these ecosystems, animals are forced closer together and are more likely to be stressed or sick, as well as more likely to come into contact with people,” explained ecologist Lee Hannah, a senior climate change scientist at Conservation International. To prevent future disease outbreaks, scientists agree that humans must limit their contact with wild animals by restricting activities that drive deforestation in wildlife habitats.

Read more here.

2. As coronavirus infects markets, sustainable funds prove their mettle 

Investments that support the environment may be more resilient to stock market changes, experts explain. 

The Story: Sustainable funds — those screened for environmental, ethical and social practices — have outperformed traditional funds during the recent stock market collapse, reported Naveena Sadasivam for Grist. As companies across the board witness falls in stocks, sustainable funds have dropped in value only half as much as the S&P 500, a stock market index that tracks the performance of 500 large companies in the United States. 

The Big Picture: “Companies that incorporate strong sustainability practices are often better connected to their customers, more operationally efficient and attract better talent, all of which leads to better investment performance,” said Murali Kanakasabai, the director of sustainable finance at Conservation International. According to recent research, 73 percent of millennials are willing to spend more money to ensure that their purchases are sustainable. The global market is also beginning to illustrate this trend, with more than US$ 30 trillion of the world’s assets held in sustainable funds.

Read more here.

3. Coronavirus could threaten endangered great apes, scientists warn

Chimpanzees, gorillas and other great apes could be vulnerable to COVID-19 due to human contact. 

The Story: Primate scientists are concerned that COVID-19 could infect and decimate large populations of the world’s great apes such as chimpanzees and gorillas, reported Karin Brulliard for The Washington Post. Although there have been no coronavirus studies focused on great apes yet, primates are known to be susceptible to many human respiratory diseases, such as the rhinovirus. In an open letter published in Nature, 25 disease experts and conservationists urged countries and zoos with great apes to temporarily restrict wildlife tourism to prevent the potential transmission of COVID-19 from humans to apes. 

The Big Picture: “Apes are endangered primarily because of habitat loss and poaching, and more and more we’re seeing that disease is becoming an important co-factor in their endangerment,” said Thomas Gillespie, disease ecologist and lead author of the open letter. Historically, respiratory diseases such as pneumonia that typically only cause minor symptoms in humans can cause wide-spread fatalities in ape populations — therefore, humans must avoid contact with these species during the coronavirus pandemic, scientists advise

Read more here.

News Spotlight

How climate change and wildlife influence the coronavirus

As the global wildlife trade continues and development projects expand deeper into tropical forests, humans are increasing their exposure to wild animals — and the diseases they may carry, a renowned ecologist says.

READ MORE: Expert: To prevent pandemics like COVID-19, ‘take care of nature’

Kiley Price is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: A chimpanzee in Uganda (© Levi Norton)

Further reading: