COVID-19: How pangolins trafficking can cause a pandemic
New Delhi, Apr 09: Ever since the novel coronavirus started spreading Covid-19, scientists around the world have been scrambling to figure out how this virus was transmitted to humans.
While most experts agree that bats are a natural reservoir of SARS-CoV-2, but an intermediate host was needed for its 'jump' from bats to humans.
A new study published in the Journal of Proteome Research of the American Chemical Society has placed pangolins as a natural reservoir of coronaviruses similar to SARS-CoV-2, the one behind the COVID-19 pandemic. Another recent study had identified the presence of SARS-CoV-2 like viruses in Malayan pangolins smuggled into China to be sold in wet markets.
Pangolins, which are endangered species, are a great delicacy in China and their scales are valued for their medicinal virtues.
Tamilnadu and Uttarakhand hotspots of pangolin trafficking in India
While pangolins have been regarded as the potential intermediate hosts of the novel coronavirus transferred from bats to humans, the Indian wildlife conservationists warn that the states of Tamilnadu and Uttarakhand are emerging as the hotspots for the poaching of the endangered scaly anteater mammal.
"The discovery of multiple lineages of pangolin coronavirus and their similarity to SARS-CoV-2 suggests that pangolins should be considered as possible hosts in the emergence of novel coronaviruses and should be removed from wet markets to prevent zoonotic transmission," said Ved Kumar, a former wildlife conservationist with Wildlife Institute of India (WII), and founder of Maaty Biodiversity Conservation & Societal Research Organization in Uttarakhand.
Kumar told PTI that over the last decade, the demand for pangolin biological parts in China and other Southern Asian markets has increased due to their perceived medicinal properties, and value as a delicacy.
According to the research, between 2003 and 2014, states in Northeast India like Assam, Manipur, and Meghalaya were the hotspots for pangolin poaching in the country, adding that trafficking of the animals is also increasing in other places. It then spread to southern states including Tamilnadu and Uttarakhand.
The research also indicated that between 2014 and 2018 most of the cases were reported from central, northern, and eastern Indian states where Maharashtra and Uttarakhand report the second highest position with 12 per cent of overall seizures.
According to the scientists, the poached animals are transported by traffickers into China and Myanmar through road and postal services.
The poachers have made use of road transport, local taxi and postal service as the modes of trafficking. In southern states, transportion of pangolins was carried out via road in trucks and other heavy vehicles by West Bengal to Assam, Nagaland, and transport into China via Myanmar.
Pangolin, the most trafficked mammal in the world have been used extensively in traditional Chinese medicine, and their meat viewed as a luxury item by Chinese.
Recently, Chinese pharmaceutical companies received permits to use the scales of roughly 73,000 pangolins. The scales, which are made of the same substance as fingernails, are believed to have medicinal properties, and are the primary reason that pangolins are critically endangered.