Wild animals have always had viruses coursing through their bodies. But a global wildlife trade worth billions of dollars, agricultural intensification, deforestation and urbanization are bringing people closer to animals, giving their viruses more of what they need to infect us: opportunity. Most fail. Some succeed on small scales. Very few, like SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus, triumph, aided by a supremely interconnected human population that can transport a pathogen around the world on a jet in mere hours.

As the world scrambles to cope with an unprecedented public health and economic crisis, many disease researchers say the coronavirus pandemic must be taken as a deadly warning. That means thinking of animals as partners whose health and habitats should be protected to stave off the next global outbreak.

“Pandemics as a whole are increasing in frequency,” said Peter Daszak, a disease ecologist who is president of EcoHealth Alliance, a public health organization that studies emerging diseases. “It’s not a random act of God. It’s caused by what we do to the environment. We need to start connecting that chain and say we need to do these things in a less risky way.”