Female Tree Pangolin with BabyPhoto by Jiri Prochazka / Shutterstock

— By Jessica Hallstrom—

In the days since coronavirus began sweeping across our planet, many of us have experienced moments of extreme fear and grief. And in those moments, many of us have reached out for the comfort of connecting with a beloved animal.

For those of us who love animals deeply, there is nothing as healing as being in their presence, whether it be stroking the warm fur of a dog or cat curled up beside us, watching a bird perched in a tree, or catching a glimpse of a deer walking silently through the woods. Animals of all kinds have a way of bringing us back to the present moment―teaching us not to dwell in what has already passed, or to dread what may come in the days ahead.

Here at Earthfire, each day we have the honor of caring for over 30 animals, including wolves, bears, foxes, cougar, and many more. For a variety of reasons, they can no longer live in the wild—and thanks to the support of many of you who love animals as much we do, our team is able to provide them a safe and loving sanctuary for life. In the darkest days of this pandemic, it’s a gift to live among them, watching them embrace the warmth of early spring here in the Teton Valley.

Collage of animal pictures, including bear, badger, deer, moose, wolf, and fox

Some of the animals that have lived at Earthfire over the years: Teton Totem the Grizzly Bear (Photo by Michael Bleyzer), Miss Clover the Badger (Photo by Roger Holcomb), Runs-Like-The-Wind the Deer, Rehabilitated Moose babies, Earthfire the Wolf, and Feather the Fox

Yet as much joy as they bring us, they also make us think of all the animals, whether wild or domesticated, who are suffering right now. And in this time of crisis for humanity, it’s more important than ever to awaken to the fact that the health and well-being of animals is inextricably linked to our own.

Global public health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tell us that 75 percent of “new or emerging diseases,” including Ebola, Zika, avian flu, swine flu, and now COVID-19, have crossed over from animals to humans. How does this happen? It’s the direct result of humans causing damage to the natural world. The trafficking, selling, and eating of wildlife is a critical problem, but certainly not the only one. Many of the ways we treat animals, from destroying their natural habitats for our own uses to keeping them in cramped and unsanitary conditions common in large agricultural production facilities, bring harm not only to them but to us.

In a new video responding to these issues, the United Nations Environment Programme also shares some good news. Just as destroying ecosystems endangers human health, ensuring biodiversity and the health of natural ecosystems actually makes it more difficult for pathogens to leave the wild and become human diseases. As the UN shares, the coronavirus is a message from nature. In order to protect our own lives, we must also support the health of the millions of other extraordinary species that call our planet home. We can no longer see the natural world as separate from our own: we are truly in this together.

And there’s even more good news. Through our actions, we can all make a difference. The inimitable Jane Goodall has some powerful ideas on where to begin:

“Solutions to the threats discussed above are within our grasp. The laws we create now to protect wildlife will also protect human communities. Restoring and protecting forests through legislation and empowering local communities will save species and prevent disease transmission. Creating alternative sustainable livelihoods will create more resilient, successful human communities. It is desperately important, in the window of time remaining, that we should all do our bit to heal the harm we have inflicted on the natural world—of which we are a part.”

As we emerge from this dark time in our history, let’s not go back to business as usual. Let us work together, with intelligence as well as compassion, to make these and other changes a reality. Let us truly honor the voices of all living beings.

For more reading on this issue:

The Pandemic Is Not a Natural Disaster

Want to Stop the Next Pandemic? Start Protecting Wildlife Habitats

Our Cruel Treatment of Animals Led to the Coronavirus

Jessica Hallstrom grew up in rural Pennsylvania in a farmhouse full of beloved animals. As far back as she can remember, she was set on caring for any dog, cat, horse, or wild creature that crossed her path—and on creating a more compassionate world for all of them. Jessica shares a home with her husband and three rescued pit bulls, and can be found walking dogs at the Animal Humane Society in her spare time.

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