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Pangolins: The First Victims of COVID-19

March 26, 2020

In a matter of four months, a novel strain of coronavirus–known as COVID-19–has swept the world by storm and has turned everyday life upside-down for billions of people. Nearly 500,000 people have been infected, while projections state that many more will become infected in the coming months. People have resorted to shutting themselves indoors, stockpiling canned goods and toilet paper, and hunkering down for what feels like a small apocalypse while hospitals are stretching their every last resource to treat the sick.

Scientists and infectious disease researchers are scrambling to pinpoint exactly what caused the outbreak of this novel coronavirus that is wreaking havoc on humanity, and a majority of them agree that the animal-to-human jump occurred at a specific wet market in Wuhan, China. Furthermore, the researchers suggest that a small scaled mammal called the pangolin was the ill-fated carrier of the virus.

A “wet market” is an open-air market that sells dead and live animals, including wild animals like bats, turtles, and crocodiles. Animals are often slaughtered at the market to ensure “freshness,” resulting in a mixture of blood and feces on the market floors.

What was a pangolin doing at a wet market in China?

Despite being critically endangered, these armadillo-like creatures are the most trafficked mammals in the world (aside from humans). While wealthy people in Asia consider pangolin meat a delicacy, many others peddle expensive “medicines” and powders made from ground up pangolin scales–which have no actual medicinal or nutritional value.

These helpless animals are often smuggled into wet markets–like the one in Wuhan–where live wild animals are sold next to fish, chickens, pigs, and other more-common animals raised for food and are slaughtered on site to guarantee “freshness.” Researchers believe that a pangolin carrying a virus with a 99% genomic concordance to the SARS-CoV-2 virus was brought to a wet market in Wuhan when it came into human contact, and thus COVID-19 made its first animal-to-human mutation. Since this discovery, the Chinese government has banned the sale of wild animals at wet markets, but unfortunately for the pangolin, poachers continue to trade them illegally to this day.

This is not the first time and probably won’t be the last.

Many pandemics have been traced back to animals. For instance, the H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic of 2009, which caused the deaths of 17,000 people across the world, originated at a small pig farm in Mexico. The Spanish Flu of 1918 which claimed the lives of 50 million people is believed to have come from birds, according to the CDC. Many researchers believe that fruit bats butchered for human consumption were the source of the Ebola virus. The list goes on, and it will continue to go on, until we stop the inhumane treatment of animals.

Pangolins are harmless animals, and they thrive living a life of peaceful solitude, scavenging for ants and termites along the forest floors of eastern Asia. Still, their entire species is in danger of being wiped out because of the greed and gluttony of humans which has caused an eruption of panic, sickness, and death.

For the sake of the animals and for a better future for ourselves, let us treat every animal with love and kindness. Please support legislation that bans the import and export of wild animals and that calls for stricter enforcement of these laws. Please support legislation that calls for higher standards of care and treatment of animals raised for food, and consider lowering your consumption of animal products or eliminating them from your diet. Together, we can create a more humane world.

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