The deadly Corona virus pandemic had been traced to pangolins, the world’s most trafficked and endangered mammal, according to researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. This had been confirmed by researchers at the South China Agricultural University.
Burning Planet revealed on Monday ( Feb 10) that DNA analysed by the Baylor researchers appears to offer a near-perfect match for the current outbreak of novel Corona virus (nCoV-2019), an acute respiratory disease that has killed hundreds.
The Baylor analysis, based on a separate study of 21 Malayan pangolins (Manis javanica) at a wildlife rescue centre in China’s Guangdong province, shows that highly endangered pangolins are vectors for the viral strain nCoV-2019. The outbreak has unleashed a global health emergency.
China has temporarily placed a ban on the sale of wildlife and wildlife products, but this is the best reason to make the ban permanent. China is known for the biggest poachers of pangolins in the world. Malayan pangolins are listed as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Importantly, the analysis also shows that nCoV-2019 may be present in trafficked pangolins beyond the outbreak epicentre in Wuhan, a metropolis of 11-million people in Hubei province, where market wildlife is thought to have infected traders. The analysis found it in pangolins in Guangdong.
Hubei province and Guangdong province are both major nerve centres for China’s pangolin trade.
It is probable that the virus originated in bats, with pangolins being the vector into humans. In past epidemics, vectors had been pigs, chickens, ducks and camels.
At least 16 of the 21 Malayan pangolins handed to the Guangdong rescue centre by anti-smuggling authorities in March last year died after extensive rescue efforts, according to the separate study. Published by a Guangdong-based research team in 2019, the study reveals that “most of the dead pangolins had a swollen lung which contained a frothy liquid, as well as the symptom of pulmonary fibrosis”. (Symptoms of the Corona virus)
This research is significant for being the first report on the viral diversity of pangolins. It also provides insight into the “diversity of viruses that may be capable of directly or indirectly crossing over into other mammals”. (this includes humans as mammals.)