The world over is focused on bats as suspect number one for the recent outbreak of the Coronavirus, which has now infected over 31,000 people and killed more than 630 worldwide. It has however been said that bats cannot transmit this virus to humans. Chinese researchers in charge of investigating the origin of the Coronavirus, have found that the abused and critically endangered pangolin may be the missing link to this deadly infection.
David Barritt, executive director of animal welfare organisation, Network for Animals, believes this is another clear indictment of the destructive nature of China’s illegal animal trade.
“The illegal trade of endangered animals in China has consistently proven barbaric and inhumane. The poor pangolin is on the edge of extinction because of it. If the Coronavirus outbreak proves anything, it’s that this kind of practice is no longer acceptable and more destructive than we ever imagined.”
In the case of the Coronavirus, while almost every strain is contagious to humans, the bat-borne strain doesn’t have the makeup to latch onto human cell receptors. Scientists at the South China Agricultural University (SCAU) compared the genome sequences of viruses in pangolins. It was found to be a 99% match to those in Coronavirus patients.
In a similar fashion, the infamous SARS outbreak in 2002 was transferred to humans by the civet, a small mammal whose meat was freely traded in Chinese meat markets. This outbreak lead to the death of almost 800 Chinese citizens before the Chinese government proceeded to outlaw the sale of civet meat during this epidemic.
“The world needs to take a harder stance on this disgusting trade. The pangolin has borne the brunt of it with more than one million pangolins poached or trafficked in the last decade alone. We cannot allow this to continue. Something must be done,” says Barritt.
All eight known pangolin species are classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as being threatened or vulnerable. Two of these eight species have been classified as critically endangered. International trade in pangolins is prohibited in terms of the global Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) agreement. Yet, the trafficking continues unabated.
Pangolins are mainly traded for their scales, which are incorrectly believed to treat several illnesses in traditional Chinese medicine. The plight of the poor pangolin dates as far back as 1820, when King George III was presented with a coat and helmet made with their scales.
From civets to pangolins, the Coronavirus is just another example of the disastrous consequences of human beings consuming virus-carrying wild animals.
“It seems humanity only starts to take action when their lives are being affected,” says Barritt.
“Surely, it can’t take a full-blown pandemic in order for us to stand up and take action. When will China completely outlaw this trade? It is cruel, unnecessary and clearly has drastic consequences, not only for the animals involved, but for humanity as a whole.”