Viruses closely related to the novel coronavirus has been found in some smuggled pangolins.
To minimize the risk of future outbreaks, the sale of animals in wildlife markets should be strictly prohibited, say, scientists.
Pangolins are used both in traditional medicine and food and are the most commonly illegally trafficked animal. Handling these animals need caution, says the new research published in the journal Nature.
To understand pangolin’s role in the risk of future transmission to humans, further surveillance of those animals is required.
The Malayan pangolins smuggled into China have been identified with two groups of coronaviruses related to the one currently sweeping the world, the SARS-CoV-2, said Lead researcher Dr. Tommy Lam of The University of Hong Kong
He told that the sale of pangolins in wet markets should be strictly prohibited to avoid future zoonotic transmission, even though their role as the intermediate host of the novel coronavirus is not yet confirmed.
It is still a mystery how the virus jumped from a wild animal, probably a bat to another wild animal and then to humans. The precise sequence of events is still a puzzle even if animals like bats and pangolin are implicated.
Dr. Lam said finding the novel coronavirus like viruses in pangolins smuggled to China raises a question of where the animal contracted the disease. Was it in their native habitats in Southeast Asia or on their way to China?
According to conservationists, it would be catastrophic if the new discovery brings further harm to the endangered animal. Pangolin’s meat is considered a delicacy while its scales are in high demand for use in Chinese traditional medicine.
Elisa Panjang of Cardiff University, a pangolin conservation officer at the Danau Girang Field Centre in Malaysia, said this is time for the international community to force their governments to end illegal wildlife trade.
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, China is planning to ban the consumption of meat from wild animals. Vietnam is also considering similar actions.
Where did the novel coronavirus originate from is still unknown. It could have jumped from another species or could be a natural pangolin virus. It is important not to jump to conclusions from the paper, said Prof Andrew Cunningham of Zoological Society of London (ZSL)
Pangolin is a host for various strains of coronaviruses. To understand the emergence of current pandemic and to prevent similar outbreaks in the future, it is necessary to identify the source of SARS-CoV-2, said Dr. Dan Challender, of the University of Oxford.