Starting from November 10th, 2020, on the fourth floor foyer of the museum visitors can view our new exhibit “Wild Pandemics,” dedicated to the most relevant topic today — the emergence and spread of pandemics that originate from wild animals, known as zoonoses.
Zoonoses are bacterial, viral, or fungal diseases that emerge in a single animal species and go on to infect others, often via intermediate hosts, and may cause serious damage to humans and animals. Their study is highly significant, as evidenced by the fact that more than half of all infectious diseases known today are zoonotic in nature. Some of the more famous ones include the bubonic plague, the Spanish flu, AIDS, and COVID-19. The majority of animal diseases cannot be transmitted to people. But what makes zoonoses different? What are the specific mechanisms for transmission between animals, and what diseases can be transmitted between human beings after the initial infection, as is the case with COVID-19? What risks do these diseases hold and how can we reduce the damage they cause? With our new exposition, we at the National Museum of Natural Sciences at BAS present possible answers to these questions and examine different aspects of the topic.
You are welcome to the fully renovated space of Hall 16 on the fourth floor of the National Museum of Natural History, where you can view our informational panels, museum taxidermy specimens, and 3D models that illustrate the topic of zoonoses.
Also of interest to science are the cases of pandemic diseases in animals, transmitted by humans, as well as the “positive” side of viruses from the point of view of evolution. Humans are the most mobile species on the planet and can easily spread diseases on a global scale. The transmission of such diseases from humans to animals or via human between different animal species can cause immense harm to entire ecosystems. An example of this is the white-nose syndrome in bats — a fungal disease that has devastated bat colonies across North America, where it has likely been introduced by speleologists carrying fungal spores from Europe on their caving gear. Other factors for dispersal of deadly diseases include trade with wild animals and their meat at wildlife markets.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not the first pandemic humanity has had to face and will not be the last. Luckily, science also shows us ways to improve the situation. Scientists have significant amounts of data on how human activities affect the factors that lead to zoonose emergence, and how the danger of future pandemics can be reduced. Preserving wildlife habitats and implementing new regulations for land use that control the presence of humans in natural environments are examples of such measures. Wildlife markets must also be regulated more strictly, and agriculture should be optimised in order to secure access to food to everyone around the world, without the necessity for further agricultural land expansion.