While the loss of many animal species native to this land can be attributed to British colonisers and contemporary local trophy hunters, the fact remains that independent Bangladesh has not shied away from destruction of wildlife habitats
At the onset of Covid-19 outbreak in China, many social media users from Bangladesh began peddling the theory the virus was a result of Chinese people's consumption of 'haram' food. They also deduced from that that Muslims would not be affected by the virus.
This theory is actually based on scientific facts wrapped in religious terminology, but the ensuing deduction that Muslims would be okay has already been proven wrong.
Not that it was just factually wrong, it was logically wrong from the very beginning.
According to science journal Nature, researchers in China have suggested that the novel coronavirus has passed from smuggled pangolins to humans at a wet market in Wuhan in December last year.
The article also mentioned other coronaviruses. For example, the virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is thought to have "jumped" to humans from civets in 2002. Horseshoe bats have also been identified as natural reservoir of SARS-like coronaviruses.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) banned the import of civets in 2004. After the Covid-19 outbreak, China also issued a ban on consumption and farming of wild animals, and wildlife markets.
According to the CDC, the Ebola virus is also believed to be animal-borne, with bats or nonhuman primates being the most likely source. Infected animals carrying the virus can transmit it to other animals like apes, monkeys, and humans.
The virus spreads to people initially through direct contact with blood, body fluids and tissues of animals. Ebola virus then spreads to other people through direct contact with body fluids of a person who is sick with or has died from the disease.
Based on these experiences and numerous studies, environmental experts are now warning that the novel coronavirus will not be the last pandemic to wreak havoc on human race if human beings continue to ignore links between infectious diseases and destruction of the natural world.
In a recent interview with The Independent, Dr Enric Sala, marine ecologist and part of National Geographic's Campaign For Nature, said: "I am absolutely sure that there are going to be more diseases like this in future if we continue with our practices of destroying the natural world, deforestation and capturing wild animals as pets or for food and medicine."
Dr Samuel Myers, principal research scientist at Harvard's Department of Environmental Health and director of the Planetary Health Alliance, told The Independent that wildlife is an enormous reservoir of pathogens, and human incursions into wildlife habitat exposes them to these pathogens.
The Independent article also quoted David Quammen, author of the 2012 bestseller Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, as saying that our highly diverse ecosystems are filled with many species of wild animals, plants, fungi and bacteria.
"All that biological diversity contains unique viruses. When we tear down tropical forests to build villages, timber and mining camps, and kill or capture wild animals for food, we expose ourselves to those viruses.
"It is like if you demolish an old barn then dust flies. When you demolish a tropical forest, viruses fly. Those moments of destruction represent opportunity for unfamiliar viruses to get into humans and take hold," added Quammen.
The UN's environment chief, Inger Andersen, echoed the same sense of urgency and said nature is sending humanity "a message" with the coronavirus pandemic and climate change.
In an interview with The Guardian, the Danish environmentalist warned that while the immediate goal should be to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the long-term response must tackle habitat and biodiversity loss.
"We are intimately interconnected with nature, whether we like it or not. If we do not take care of nature, we cannot take care of ourselves. As we hurtle towards a population of 10 billion on this planet, we need to go into this future armed with nature as our strongest ally."
Let us now return to the social media reaction to covid-19 outbreak. Once a pathogen has made the jump from animals to humans, it has the capacity to spread among the humans no matter what they really eat.
This is where the social media deduction that the coronavirus would spare the Muslims was wrong. That being said, we need to pay heed to WHO chief Tedros Adhanom when he stresses on eating nutritious food, and avoiding alcohol and smoking to boost our immune system in order to fight the virus.
While China's wildlife trade has come under severe criticism, other countries do have their fair share of habitat destruction activities. We Bangladeshis also need to reflect a bit and see what we have done to our wildlife stock.
Many of the species that were native to this land have gone locally extinct. The single-horned Javan rhino, striped hyena, leopard, peafowl, nilgai – the list is long.
While the loss of many of these species can be attributed to British colonisers and their local trophy hunter friends, the fact remains that independent Bangladesh has not shied away from destruction of wildlife habitats.
As we read this article, an old growth forest named Kirstaung in Alikadam of Bandarban is being razed by loggers. Ironically, commercial exploitation of the likes of Kirstaung, which falls under the category of unclassed state forest (UCF), is not illegal.
The UCFs are under the control of the deputy commissioners of the hill districts, not the forest department. Much of such de facto forest lands have been transformed into rubber, agar, teak or acacia plantations, depriving the wildlife of their natural habitat, and there is no stopping in sight.
Besides, for ordinary people, it is common to beat to death every fishing cat, civet or snake they come by. These acts can potentially expose humans to possible pathogen transmission too.
Therefore, as we rightly condemn China's wildlife trade, we need to correct our own course. Because, it is also haram to act in contrary to the idea of khilafah – the man being the vicegerent of the creator on earth.
If mass extinction of God's creations caused by humans is not a sin, what is?