Pangolins keep popping up in COVID-19 discussion

Interpol Wildlife Crime
(Photo courtesy of the NRDC)

There’s a tiny tidbit in the June 7 Columbus Dispatch about pangolins – those scaly anteater-type animals that are mostly found in Africa and the Far East and are valued for their scales and meat.

It seems the Chinese have ordered the highest level of protection for pangolins in order to keep poachers at bay and punish transgressors severely. Pangolins now have the same level of protection in China as do giant pandas and red-crowned cranes.

There may be good reason for upping pangolin protection – and it has more to do with worldwide public health than species protection.

I wrote about pangolins in March for Ohio Outdoor News after attending a program at the Mob Museum in Las Vegas regarding the international wildlife poaching trade.

At the time, some scientists thought pangolins might have been the source of the current coronavirus pandemic since they (and their meat and scales) are sold in the Wuhan, China market where the virus is believed to have originated. Other types of coronaviruses have come from the hard-shelled critters in past years.

However, the more widely held belief in March was that the current virus came from bats as have many similar (zoonotic) diseases of the 20th and 21st centuries. Zoonotics are diseases that interchange from animals to humans such as rabies.

Bats are eaten (generally fried) in the Far East and are considered a delicacy – as are many other creatures that we in the Western Hemisphere would never consider consuming. Cobras, tigers, and civets are good examples.

Pangolins, which are about the size of an armadillo, are also on the dinner table in that part of the world. And their scales are ground and consumed as medicine by many Asians, although there’s no scientific proof that pangolin scales cure anything.

The short article in the June 7 paper said researchers now believe pangolins may have been an intermediary conductor (or vector) of the current disease. Meaning, the virus originated in bats, then was picked up by pangolins before mutating and moving to humans.

It all could have taken place in the Wuhan wildlife market where bats, pangolins, and other wild things are routinely sold either alive or butchered.

Considering how secretive and guarded the Chinese government is, we may never know exactly how this pandemic started. It’s doubtful officials there will ever allow the disease investigators to trace it to Patient One.

But the word “pangolin” keeps popping up when any discussion of COVID-19 and its origin is discussed.

We will see what happens in the future.

Categories: Ohio – Jane Beathard

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