The deadly coronavirus outbreak, which has killed over 600 people and infected thousands more, may have been transmitted from bats to humans via pangolins, according to new research.
An as-yet-unpublished study by Chinese scientists has pinpointed these endangered scaly anteaters – the world’s most trafficked mammal – as “the most likely intermediate host” of the virus.
If verified, the findings could have enormous implications for the future of these endearing and intriguing animals.
With leadership from China, global authorities are working hard to contain the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus. The Chinese government has already imposed a temporary ban on all wildlife trade in Wuhan, effective from 26th January.
In light of the outbreak, state-controlled Chinese media outlets have condemned the practice of wild meat consumption and called for permanent bans on wildlife trade. Thousands of Chinese citizens are reported to be echoing these calls on social media channels.
On 3rd February, the most powerful committee within the Chinese Communist Party issued a statement confirming that it will “strengthen market supervision, resolutely ban and severely crack down on illegal wildlife markets and trade, and control major public health risks from the source.”
Welcome though this announcement may be, the sad truth is that China is now paying a heavy price for an outbreak that was both predictable and preventable.
In 2002, a strain of coronavirus from wild civets infected humans at a wildlife market in Guangdong province in southern China. The ensuing epidemic of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) resulted in more than 8,000 reported cases across 26 countries, and caused almost 800 deaths.
Almost two decades later, it is a case of history repeating. This latest coronavirus, which emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan, is hypothesised to have been transmitted to humans at a ‘wet’ wildlife market (where live and dead wild animals are sold).