Get To Know About Zoonoses, Its Research, and Prevention, Especially in Bukit Lawang

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In the midst of the unfinished COVID-19 pandemic, people are now haunted by monkeypox; it’s something those who understand are seriously aware of. The World Health Organization (WHO) has even declared the monkeypox outbreak a global health emergency.

COVID-19 and monkeypox are two of hundreds of examples of zoonotic diseases. Then, what are zoonoses? What factors lead to an increased risk of zoonoses? How far has research been conducted regarding zoonoses in Indonesia, especially in tourism areas involving primates?

Zoonoses are diseases that are transmitted from animals, both wild animals, farm animals, and domestic animals (pets), to humans. Pathogens that are transmitted can also be bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi.

According to the WHO, at least six of the ten infectious diseases that exist today are zoonoses. In fact, three of the four new infectious diseases in humans originate from animals. The number of new diseases transmitted by animals continues to grow every year. According to WHO (who.int), it is estimated that there are more than 200 types of zoonotic diseases in the world today. Some of the zoonotic diseases that we are familiar with include Flu, Nipah virus (NiV), Hendra virus (HeV), Rabies, Malaria, Leptospirosis, COVID-19, and the latest, Monkeypox.

Pandji Wibawa Dhewantara, a young expert researcher at BRIN’s Research Center for Public Health and Nutrition, explained that zoonotic transmission can occur through direct or indirect contact with these animals. Direct contact, for example, resulting from direct exposure to blood, saliva, feces, or other body fluids from an infected animal. Direct-contact transmission is now a major concern for veterinarians and breeders.

Transmission through indirect contact can occur through various intermediate media. For example, we accidentally eat food that has been contaminated with urine or saliva from infected animals. In addition, transmission can also occur due to contact with the soil, water, and air that have been contaminated with pathogens. Pathogens can enter the body through mucous membranes, eyes, or scars.

Transmission can also occur through intermediate animals, generally insects. Zoonotic malaria, for example, is an infectious disease caused by the Plasmodium knowlesi parasite, which originates in primates such as long-tailed macaques and apes and is then transmitted to humans through the bite of an Anopheles mosquito. Malaria, as we know it today, originally originated in primates and was transmitted to humans via insects.

“Mosquitoes suck the blood of infected primates.” “Then, for example, there are hunters or people who enter the forest, and they were accidentally bitten by an Anopheles mosquito that had already carried the Plasmodium parasite; it can be started from that.” explained Pandji Wibawa Dhewantara, a young expert researcher at BRIN’s Research Center for Public Health and Nutrition.

It is well recognized that a number of species, including bats, rats, monkeys, pigs, and poultry, naturally harbor or act as reservoirs for infections that can be spread to both other animals and people. It is recognized that bats are the source of a number of viral infections, including Nipah disease, Hendra, Ebola, MERS-CoV, and SARS-CoV. In addition, intermediary hosts for the transfer of zoonotic illnesses from animals to humans can include insects like mosquitoes and mammals including pigs, horses, monkeys, and camels.

Environmental and Cultural Factors, Zoonotic Triggers.

The majority of zoonotic illnesses develop as a result of environmental damage. Human activity and direct contact with nature, such as forest encroachment, changes in the use of land for settlements, industry, and agriculture, wildlife consumption, and urbanization, as a result of population pressure, are becoming factors that lead to its formation.

BRIN Zoologist, Sugiyono Saputra highlighted that interactions between natural reservoirs (animals harboring infections) and humans, as well as other animals, might result in the spillover of those pathogens.

Deforestation, for example, disrupts the original habitat of wild animals and risks increasing contact between humans and wild animals. Hunting and trading in wildlife also increase the risk of disease transmission. The Hendra virus, which has appeared in Australia, was also triggered by forest fragmentation and urbanization.

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The first AIDS epidemic occurred in 1920 in Kinshasa, Republic of the Congo. A study conducted by Sharp and Hahn (2011) found that there were similarities in molecular characteristics between HIV and Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV) found in primates, such as chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and monkeys.

Wildlife Trafficking and Zoonoses.

It is possible that the virus could be transmitted from primates to humans, partly because of the local people’s habit of consuming raw primate meat and because of the rampant hunting and wildlife trade at that time. On the other hand, migrant mobility and sex trafficking are driving the spread of the virus from Kinshasa. HIV transmission can occur through bodily fluids such as blood, sperm, placenta, and breast milk.

In Indonesia, we must realize that there are still huge ongoing cases of wildlife trafficking, such as in some traditional markets (wet markets) or bird markets, which still sell wild animals for their meat (bushmeat) or to be kept as pets. Specifically for bushmeat, the existence of cultural factors, food needs, and an increase in population can encourage people to look for other sources of protein by consuming meat from wild animals.

Ecotourism, Environmental Awareness, and Conservation.

“Bukit Lawang, as an ecotourism area in North Sumatra, Indonesia, is involving activities of humans in close contact with animals, we must be aware of this. Education and strong self-awareness have to be committed from now on before it’s too late. Human resources have become the main issue in this matter, especially in the village. Ecological and biological understandings of certain issues relating to zoonoses in the future must be prepared with a  concept and direct involvement from the related parties and the Government of Indonesia, related government sector such as Palber Turnip-led 3rd GLNP division (Gunung Leuser National Park), has shown significant proven progress on few aspects by maintaining the direct impact of conservation, and proper control in the tourism sector. Turnip-led GLNP division as the main functioning authority in the focused region has stepped forward and aware in preparing the initial move in prevention.” Bobi Handoko.

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