Some scientists claim pangolins as the host of coronavirus

As China is battling the outbreak of coronavirus, many theories have been doing the rounds linking the virus with wild animals.

Experts with the World Health Organization (WHO) say there’s a high likelihood the new coronavirus came from bats.

However, some scientists claim the host to be pangolins. There have been speculations that a seafood market in Wuhan in China could have been the starting point for the outbreak. China put a temporary ban on the wildlife trading as a measure to control the spread of coronavirus, but conservationists say it’s not enough and urged China to apply a permanent ban on the wildlife trade protecting human health.

he Coronavirus has so far killed 1,800 people in China and sickening more than 64,000 – eight times the number sickened by SARS. The outbreak of the virus has prompted calls to permanently ban the sale of wildlife but the Chinese government has made it clear the ban would be temporary.

Beijing announced a similar ban in the event of the outbreak of Sars in 2002. However, authorities relaxed the ban and the trade bounced back.

Many in China want the temporary ban on wildlife to be permanent while Chinese leader Xi Jinping said the country should “resolutely outlaw and harshly crackdown” on the illegal wildlife trade because of the public health risks it poses.

Chinese officials revealed that about 1.5 million markets and online operators nationwide have been inspected since the outbreak of coronavirus and 3,700 have been shut down while around 16,000 breeding sites have been cordoned off.

A WWF study showed illegal wildlife trade is worth around $20bn per year. It is the fourth biggest illegal trade worldwide, after drugs.

Markets selling live animals are considered a potential source of diseases that are new to humans

Most of the samples taken from the Wuhan market that tested positive for the coronavirus were from the area where wildlife booths were concentrated. It is said that more than 70 per cent of emerging infections in humans are estimated to have come from animals, particularly wild animals.

Rapid deforestation and rampant destruction of habitats bring wildlife into close proximity with human habitations. It is more likely there are chances of spread of deadly viruses as people come into closer contact with animals and their viruses. The viruses behind Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) are also thought to have originated in bats.

Civet cats and camels respectively, are thought to be the carriers of these viruses before being transmitted to humans.

A large number of viruses in the animal world have the potential to spread to humans, warn experts. Dormant deadly viruses could be transmitted to humans through wildlife like bats, pangolins, geckos etc as these animals have been largely traded. Markets selling live animals are considered a potential source of diseases that are new to humans. The Sars virus was found to have come from civet cats sold in Chinese markets. Bushmeat in Africa is thought to be a source for Ebola.

The wildlife products industry is a major part of the Chinese economy and has been blamed for driving several species to the brink of extinction. China’s demand for wildlife products, which find uses in traditional medicine, or as exotic foods, is driving a global trade in endangered species.

“The Chinese market largely remains a threat to wildlife conservation, said Mubina Akhtar, a wildlife activist.

“The rampant killing of wildlife continues in Northeast India and China remains the major consumer. From rhino horn to geckos, pangolins, skin-paws- bones of tiger and other wild cats have been regularly smuggled to the markets in South Asia. A permanent ban on the trade-in wildlife by China would have been a vital step in the effort to end the illegal trading of wildlife,” she added.

Conservationists hope the outbreak could provide China with an opportunity to prove it is serious about protecting wildlife. China had earlier put a ban on the import of ivory – after years of international pressure to save elephants from extinction.

However, an end to wildlife trade seems distant. Even if China regulates or bans it, wildlife trade is likely to continue in the poorer regions of the world where it continues to be an important food source. Wildlife trade needs to be regulated globally both for conservation and protecting human health.

While it allows for greater surveillance and testing for viruses in farm animals, in case of wildlife- regulation, improved monitoring and public education hold the key to better control the problem.

Therefore countries need to contribute to exchange information as well as to improve food safety measures across a range of issues that also include pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and parasites.