Unless we wilfully close our eyes, we may, with our present knowledge, approximately recognise our parentage; nor need we feel ashamed of it. The most humble organism is something much higher than the inorganic dust under our feet; and no one with an unbiased mind can study any living creature, however humble, without being struck with enthusiasm at its marvellous structure and properties.
He was often ridiculed at the time, but Darwin is now celebrated as the father of evolutionary biology. He even has his own statue in the Natural History Museum, an appropriate reminder of the relevance of natural history to human beings.
Because we are part of the animal kingdom. The human genome is 99% similar to great apes and 95% to pigs. Genetically, humans can be seen as only slightly remodelled chimpanzee-like apes.
This relation becomes frightening in the context of the global extinction crisis:
Our planet is now in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals — the sixth wave of extinctions in the past half-billion years. We’re currently experiencing the worst spate of species die-offs since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago… Scientists estimate we’re now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate, with literally dozens going extinct every day… Unlike past mass extinctions, caused by events like asteroid strikes, volcanic eruptions, and natural climate shifts, the current crisis is almost entirely caused by us — humans.
The ‘One Health’ movement has responded to this situation by stressing the interrelationships between the health of humans, animals and ecosystems:
The convergence of people, animals, and our environment has created a new dynamic in which the health of each group is inextricably interconnected. The challenges associated with this dynamic are demanding, profound, and unprecedented. While the demand for animal-based protein is expected to increase… animal populations are under heightened pressure to survive, and further loss of biodiversity is highly probable.
On top of that, of the 1,461 diseases now recognized in humans, approximately 60% are due to multi-host pathogens characterized by their movement across species lines. And, over the last three decades, approximately 75% of new emerging human infectious diseases have been zoonotic. Our increasing interdependence with animals and their products may well be the single most critical risk factor to our health and well-being with regard to infectious diseases.
Although focused on the spread of disease, the implications of ‘One Health’ are important. Because we have always lived alongside and depended on animals. In thinking about health we might be able to learn something from them: