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WATCH: Hopes that pangolin link to coronavirus outbreak may cause decline in poaching

By Tanya Waterworth Time of article published Feb 15, 2020

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The endangered pangolin may be confirmed next week as the intermediate link between the original host, a bat, and humans in the spread of coronavirus.

Today is World Pangolin Day, dubbed “the most trafficked animal on earth”. But is this about to change?

The virus, which was named this week as Covid-19 by the World Health Organisation or Sars CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy, has wreaked havoc in China where the source of the disease was identified as a market in Wuhan where live bush animals are sold. While the impact of the virus has largely been felt in China, it has also spread to at least 24 countries.

On Friday at a seminar held on the coronavirus, Professor Tulio de Oliveira from the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform, University of KwaZulu-Natal, said the scientific journal, Nature, “is likely to publish next week on the genome of a virus from a pangolin that was in the market of Wuhan and which has a 99.9% match to the coronavirus which is responsible for the current world outbreak”.

On Friday, Pangolin Africa also published a release on the “99% genetic match between a virus found in pangolins and the new human coronavirus by researchers at the South China Agricultural University in Guangzhou”, with the organisation expressing fears that the ban on wildlife markets may drive such markets underground and hike prices for pangolin meat and scales.

“The hope of this finding is that humans, frightened of coronavirus infection, would reduce their demand for pangolin meat and scales,” said the release, but that may be premature.

“The Chinese government has placed a temporary ban on all wildlife markets and trade, based on the fact that these markets are ideal for the cultivation and spread of zoonotic diseases, which are transmitted between different animal species, including humans. This has led to the closure of China’s ‘wet markets’ where live wild animals are sold, which is obviously good news for animal rights,” stated the release.

But Pangolin Africa said the move was only temporary and should it be extended, “the ban will only drive the markets underground, since the demand for animal body parts, which has existed for millennia for use in traditional Chinese medicine, will not change overnight, regardless of the viral risks.

“Reducing access to wildlife parts by only selling them on the black market is likely to increase the street value of pangolins even further, not only in the end markets in China and Vietnam, but also in Africa where the chain of illegal wildlife trade begins.

“A higher street value for pangolins may trigger even more poaching. This is applicable not only to the pangolins, but also to rhino horn, lion bone and elephant tusk,” read the release.

It also said the link to pangolins may be limited to Asian pangolins which would drive demand for the four species of “uninfected” African species.

“Currently, one African pangolin is seized from the wild every five minutes, with one study suggesting that up to 2.7million pangolins are poached on the African continent. Any increase in this rate of trafficking and consumption will be catastrophic to their survival,” said the release. 

Saturday Star

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