Recent studies suggest that the genetic sequences of viruses isolated from trafficked Malayan Pangolins are 99% similar to the SARS-CoV-2 (1), tracing Pangolins as the potential carriers of the virus that originated from bats (2, 3). Ironically, all eight species of Pangolins (Manis spp.) worldwide have been declared threatened to extinction by the IUCN and listed in the Appendix I category by CITES, implying a complete ban on their global trade (4, 5).
Despite their risk of extinction, Pangolins are still the world’s most poached and trafficked animals (4). They are sold across Asia and Africa (3, 6) for their meat and scales, in the name of traditional Chinese medicine (7). The WildAid group reported that more than a million Pangolins were poached over the past decade, with 20 percent accounting as illegal wildlife trading (8). In 2019, 8.3 tons of Pangolin scales, approximated to have come from 14,000 Pangolins, were seized in Hong Kong, in addition to 33 tons of Pangolin meat in Malaysia and another 14 tons of scales in Singapore (9).
Amidst the COVID-19 crisis, China, which is the largest market of Pangolin in Asia (4), has passed legislations to ban the consumption of terrestrial wildlife to protect public health (10). Other countries in Southeast Asia may follow, but the overall success is debatable (10). While the IUCN has pretty much played its part, CITES must seek to seize this opportunity and intensify its enforcement actions for protection of the Pangolin species globally (11). As for the public, governments and wildlife conservation NGOs should create greater awareness on the gravity of the situation and debunk existing cultural beliefs which encourage Pangolins consumption. Iterating the words of the WildAid campaign “when the buying stops, the killing can too”.
1. P. Zhou et al., Nature 579, 270–273 (2020).
2. K. G. Andersen et al., Nature Medicine, 1–3 (2020).
3. D. Cyranoski, Nature News (2020). doi:10.1038/d41586-020-00364-2.
4. A. Yee, Science. 363, 1142–1143 (2019).
5. D. Cressey, P. Nature News (2016), doi:10.1038/nature.2016.20775.
6. P.Sherwell, "Asian wildlife markets a ticking time-bomb" The Australian (2020); www.theaustralian.com.au/world/the-times/asian-wildlife-markets-a-ticking-timebomb-expert-warns/news-story/be21d7bcc8b9385936df5ceda2cd2879).
7. Y. Liu et al., Science. 345, 884–884 (2014).
8. C. Vallianos, "Pangolins on the brink" WildAid Report (2016); www.wildaid.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/WildAid-Pangolins-on-the-Brink.pdf.
9. W. Yu, "Coronavirus: Revenge of the Pangolins?" The New York Times (2020); www.nytimes.com/2020/03/05/opinion/coronavirus-china-pangolins.html.
10. H. Wang et al., Science. 367, 1435–1435 (2020).
11. E. G. Frank et al., Science. 363, 686–688 (2019).