The Chinese government has placed an immediate ban on the illegal trading of wildlife and the consumption of wild animals. This follows a link between pangolin meat and the coronavirus outbreak.
Pangolins are the world’s most trafficked and endangered mammal, according to researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and confirmed by researchers at the South China Agricultural University.
Before now, news stories about pangolins, endangered ant-eating scaly mammals found in West and Central Africa and Asia, have focused on how China’s insatiable thirst for their meat and scales has led to a rapid decline in its global population.
China has been in the news as the major consumer of pangolin which is smuggled in mostly from Africa.
Tens of countries are involved in the illegal trade of wild pangolins, but Asian countries — and the dirty, “pressure-cooker” conditions of wildlife markets of China, in particular — are the most prolific consumers.
The massive demand for pangolin in China and Vietnam, where the animal is consumed as meat and their scales used for traditional medicine, has led to the decimation of the animal in these countries.
Every year, as many as 2.7-million wild pangolins are plucked from central Africa’s forests alone.
Pangolin meat is popular as a high-end restaurant delicacy and, in 2019, in just two seizure events, Singapore authorities flushed out an eyewatering 26 tons in scales.
Though trade in pangolin meat and scales has been banned internationally, domestic sales of medicines containing pangolin scales are still allowed in China.
A 2016 report by the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation shows that provincial authorities have issued approval codes to more than 200 pharmaceutical companies to extract exotic medicines from the scales of supposedly captive-bred animals — although it is an open secret that a variety of wild contraband, from rhino parts to live chimps, are laundered through the system.
As China has become a global economic powerhouse over recent decades, Chinese demand for African mammals for medicines and other products has had a significant impact in countries which have lax conservation laws.
In recent years, rhino and elephant populations have been devastated in southern Africa, driven in part by demand for their horns and tusks.
Donkey populations have also been hit as gelatin from donkey skins is used in the traditional Chinese medicine ejiao. At least four countries in Africa have barred sales of donkey products out of concern that demand from Asia will quickly outstrip local supply.
Despite international outrage, South Africa is allowing a quota of at least 800 lion skeletons a year for consumption in South-East Asia, including China, where they’re used for traditional medicine and tiger bone wine. They’re not checked for TB and could be infused with dangerous tranquilisers used to pacify the animals before they’re shot.
“Many of the pandemic scares we’ve seen in the 21st century are the result of viruses that exist in nature being able to suddenly ‘jump’ and infect humans,” said Professor Joseph F. Petrosino, Baylor chair in the department of molecular virology and microbiology. “This ‘jumping’ occurs as a result of viral mutational change as well as through sharing viral genetic components.”
Can we hope that the Chinese wildlife ban could be the death knell of the lion bone industry?
If so, it’s not a moment too soon. If not, it’s Nature’s revenge.
Irrespective – the question remains: when will we ever learn?