Update: Rescued pangolin returns to the wild!
Photo Cred: Endangered Wildlife Trust

Pangolin are possible hosts of coronavirus, a study led by South China Agricultural University has found.

 

Global (11 February 2020) – The South China Agricultural University has issued a statement saying that research has identified pangolins as a possible coronavirus host.

Parasitologists have suggested that pangolins spread the 2019-nCoV coronavirus to humans — although the research is yet to be published in full. Two researchers from the South China Agricultural University in Guangzhou say that coronaviruses present in pangolins are genetically similar to 2019-nCoV. Scientists have already suggested that the virus originated in bats, then probably transmitted to humans through another animal.

This information comes as the number of deaths from the Wuhan coronavirus had risen to over 1,000 and infected topped 43 000 by Wednesday morning.

Professor Andrew Cunningham, Deputy Director of Science, ZSL (Zoological Society of London), explained that from the virology evidence available to date, the virus is almost certainly from a species of bat. It is, however, entirely possible that a relatively promiscuous virus could jump from bats to pangolins – or other species – in a wet market or similar unnatural situation, and then from pangolins to people. Hendra virus, for example, jumped from bats to horses to people. Although all humans known to have been infected by Hendra have been infected from horses, it is still a bat virus.

“Where large numbers of live animals of different species are brought together from different areas and held in captivity in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions, the likelihood of an animal being present that carries a potentially zoonotic virus is increased. Also, the chances that that animal will be stressed and will be shedding (or excreting) the virus will be increased.

Live wild animal markets, such as the huge “wet” markets in China, therefore, are ideal places for zoonotic virus emergence to occur. Just as SARS did, the new coronavirus is thought to have emerged from a wet market in China. The highest priority for the protection of human health is, therefore, to ban “wet” (live wild animal) markets and to carefully regulate any future legal wildlife trade.”

Several reasons have been proposed for bats being the source of many recently emerging zoonotic viruses. Bats are widely harvested as a source of food, and both the number of people eating bats and the number of bats being harvested has increased over recent years, possibly because populations of many traditionally eaten larger wild animals have been so depleted by hunting. Also, bats are thought to carry a larger number of some types of viruses (such as coronaviruses) than most, if not any, another group of animal. This might be because they often live in huge congregations and can fly, covering large distances to infect far-away populations of other bats.

“Importantly, if we understand the risk factors for zoonotic virus spill-over, we can take steps to prevent it from happening in the first place without adversely affecting wild animals in which the viruses occur naturally. Although bats are thought to carry many potentially zoonotic viruses, they are also essential for ecosystems to function. Insectivorous bats eat huge volumes of insects such as mosquitoes and agricultural pests, while fruit bats pollinate trees and spread their seeds. It is imperative that these species are not culled through misguided “disease control” measures.”

You may be asking why the Pangolin carrying this virus might be good news?

Well, the Pangolin is the world’s most trafficked mammal. As a result, this elusive little fellow is now threatened with extinction across its home range. Pangolin numbers are now so low that every animal counts and we cannot afford to lose even one more!

News that the scaly anteaters might carry a deadly virus means that humans might finally have a reason to not hunt and kill them for their scales and meat.

But the fight to save the Pangolin is not over!

Many Pangolins are still being trafficked and all pangolins, without exception, are compromised both physically and mentally when rescued from the illegal trade.

During the hospitalisation and rehabilitation process, the aim is to attain ‘full and fit health’ before release. However, old injuries and illness picked up during capture often reoccur post-release. There have been instances where these traumatised animals have deteriorated post-release and had to be readmitted to the hospital, or worse, have succumbed to their illnesses.

How to help the Pangolins in South Africa?

Both the Endangered Wildlife Trust and the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital do amazing work in South Africa to help the endangered animals.

They have several ways that people can help. They accept donations here or see their full wishlist here. An easy way to get involved is to also nominate them on your MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet rewards card; which you can do so here.


Sources: South China Agricultural University | Professor Andrew Cunningham | Endangered Wildlife Trust | Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital
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