Shutterstock via WorldWildlife.org
The poor beleaguered pangolin, trapped to near extinction, sold by man for its scales and meat, and now fingered as an intermediate host of the coronovirus that passed to humans...
Pangolins Studied As Potential Carrier Of Original Coronovirus
As an "intermediate host," the pangolin is suspected of coming in contact with the dropped feces of bats, the suspected originators of the cononovirus. The hypothesis is that bats carrying the coronovirus dropped virus-laden feces on the floor of the forest and the ground-dwelling pangolins picked it up. This theory is based on the fact that there were hundreds of trapped pangolins, bags of pangolin scales, and pangolin meat in the market at Wuhan, where the coronovirus is said to have started.
Pangolin scales (via)
Chinese scientists also found an almost identical coronovirus (2019-nCoV) in tested pangolins and humans; however, that does not mean that pangolins transmitted the disease to humans. There may, in fact, be more than one origin of the disease, as the first two humans found to have the coronovirus were nowhere near the Wuhan market, where the human version of the disease is said to have started. According to The Guardian, "An inventory list at the Da Zhong domestic and wild animals shop inside the market includes live wolf pups, golden cicadas, scorpions, bamboo rats, squirrels, foxes, civets, hedgehogs (probably porcupines), salamanders, turtles and crocodiles. In addition, it offered assorted parts of some animals, such as crocodile tail, belly, tongue and intestines."
Any one or more of these trapped animals might have come in contact with bat feces in their natural environments. Experts focus on bats as the originator of the disease because their feces were found to be behind other large scale outbreaks like SARS (via the Asian palm civet), MERS (via camels), Ebola (via gorillas and chimpanzees), Nipah (via pigs), Hendra (via horses) and Marburg (through African green monkeys). source
Pangolins Are Essential To Land Ecology
But now that the focus of attention is on pangolins, the "shy, gentle, slow-moving, nocturnal mammals" that dwelll in many forests and grasslands across Africa and Asia, perhaps we should know more about the critters because, as ant and termite feeders and soil aerators, pangolins are ecologically essential to their native lands. They are also one of the oldest species of mammal on earth, having been around for 80 million years!
Pangolins of the World (via)
Pangolins are the only scally mammals in existence, often referred to as scaley anteaters, although they are not related to anteaters. Pangolins were first discovered in Europe, but are now native to Asia and Africa.
There are eight species of pangolins (see chart above) and all of them are considered endangered at some level. It is supected that those in Asia are totally extinct and that African pangolins are near extinction, all due to illegal trapping and sale. They are sold primarily in Asian countries for their scales that are used for "medicinal" purposes, although there is no scientific medical evidence for their use. The meat of the pangolin is also desirable in Asia and Africa, where it is considered a delicacy.
Pangolins are nocturnal. They hide in their shells and sleep during the day and hunt at night with their long tongues that start all the way down in their stomachs. Their tongues are often longer than their whole bodies.
Pangolins do not do well in even large confined spaces. Though a few humans have taken in wounded pangolins in their native lands, once bonded with a human, it's difficult to return them to the wild. Very few zoos, with an exception being the Chester Zoo in Great Britain, have been able to provide pangolins with environments that would encourage breeding programs. In the wild, males only connect with females to mate. But female pangolins make excellent mothers, carrying their offspring on their backs for up to two years, before the youngsters begin life on their own.
Pangolin offspring on mom's back (photo via)
There are many organizations trying to stop the illegal killing and sale of the pangolin. If you are interested in becoming involved in stopping the killing and trafficking of pangolins, visit the the IUCN specialist group for pangolins and BornFree USA.
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