Can Covid 19 Save Pangolin?


Covid-19 is a human disaster. However, for one group of animals, there may be a silver lining. Pangolins are one of the most heavily trafficked animals in the world, and as a result they are endangered. But in the past few weeks they have been linked to the initial outbreak of the Covid-19 disease in China. The evidence is inconclusive, but it has already prompted the Chinese government to take action. If more actions against the wildlife trade follow, the incident could prove to be a turning point for pangolin conservation.

A key question is where Covid-19 came from. Many animals carry coronaviruses and are potential sources of infection. That is important to know, if only because it should help us prevent future outbreaks. Several ideas have been proposed, but arguably the most dramatic is that pangolins were the source.

Pangolins look like scaly anteaters. Uniquely among mammals, their bodies are covered in hard protective scales made of keratin: the same material as our nails. They feed on insects such as ants and termites, and are often nocturnal and shy. While they look like anteaters, they are not closely related to them, and their closest living relatives are actually carnivorans: the group that includes wolves and cats.

There are eight species of pangolin. Four live in Africa and four in Asia. All are at risk of extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Two of the African species are considered vulnerable and two are endangered. Of the Asian species, one is endangered while the other three are critically endangered.