London: Two groups of coronaviruses related to the virus behind the human pandemic have been identified in Malayan pangolins smuggled into China. This was told by lead researcher Dr Tommy Lam of the University of Hong Kong.
BBC News quoted him as saying, “Although their role as the intermediate host of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak remains to be confirmed, sale of these wild animals in wet markets should be strictly prohibited to avoid future zoonotic [animal to human] transmission.”
Smuggled pangolins have been found to carry viruses closely related to the one sweeping the world.
Scientists recommended ban on the sale of the animals in wildlife markets to minimise the risk of future outbreaks.
Used both as food and in traditional medicine, Pangolins are the most-commonly illegally trafficked mammal.
Saying that handling these animals requires “caution”, the researchers in a study published in the journal Nature suggested that further surveillance of wild pangolins is needed to understand their role in the risk of future transmission to humans.
They observed that exactly how the virus jumped from a wild animal, presumably a bat, to another animal and then humans remains a mystery. They added that the horseshoe bat and the pangolin have both been implicated, but the precise sequence of events is unknown.
It is still unknown how the smuggled Malayan pangolins contracted the virus. Dr Lam wondered, “Was it from bats along the trafficking route to China or in their native habitats in Southeast Asia?”
Conservationists have observed that it would be devastating if the discovery led to further persecution of the endangered mammal. The animal’s scales are in high demand for use in traditional Chinese medicine, while pangolin meat is considered a delicacy.
Elisa Panjang of Cardiff University, a pangolin conservation officer at the Danau Girang Field Centre in Malaysia noted: “This is the time for the international community to pressure their governments to end illegal wildlife trade.”
In the wake of the outbreak, China has already banned the consumption of meat from wild animals.
However, Prof Andrew Cunningham of Zoological Society of London (ZSL) has advised not to jump to conclusions from the paper. “The source of the detected coronavirus really is unknown – it might have been a natural pangolin virus or have jumped from another species between capture and death.” He said.
Saying that pangolins are known to host various strains of coronaviruses, Dr Dan Challender, of the University of Oxford, said. “Identifying the source of SARS-CoV-2 is important to understand the emergence of the current pandemic, and in preventing similar events in the future.”