China has removed pangolin parts from its official list of traditional medicines, state media reported Tuesday, days after increasing legal protections on the endangered animal.
Pangolins were left out of the official Chinese Pharmacopoeia this year, along with substances including a pill formulated with bat faeces, the state-owned Health Times reported.
The pangolin, the world’s most heavily trafficked mammal, is thought by some scientists to be the possible host of the novel coronavirus that emerged at a market in China’s Wuhan city last year.
Its body parts fetch a high price on the black market as they are commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine, although scientists say they have no therapeutic value.
China’s forestry authority on Friday gave pangolins the highest level of protection in the country due to its threatened status.
“Depleted wild resources” are being withdrawn from the Pharmacopoeia, Health Times reported, although the exact reason for the removal of pangolins was unclear.
China has in recent months banned the sale of wild animals for food, citing the risk of diseases spreading to humans, but the trade remains legal for other purposes — including research and traditional medicine.
The World Wide Fund for Nature on Saturday said it “strongly welcomed” China’s move to upgrade protections for the pangolin, calling it an “important respite” from the illegal pangolin trade.
The coronavirus outbreak in China may end up saving one of the world’s most trafficked animals after Beijing announced a total ban on the sale and consumption of the pangolin.
The scaly mammal — listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN) as threatened with extinction — is a traditional delicacy across China and much of southeast Asia.
Following research linking the critters with the transmission of coronavirus to humans in the outbreak epicentre of Wuhan, Chinese officials on Monday slapped a ban on eating wild animals.
The measures, intended to halt the spread of the virus that has infected over 80,000 people worldwide and killed more than 2,700, could end up helping a number of endangered species — but only if the ban holds long term.
“I applaud the ban, as we see that the Chinese government is determined to change a thousands-year-old tradition which is so inappropriate in today’s society,” said Jeff He, China director at the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
“I think the ban is an important Step One for wildlife conservation in China.”
He called for “stronger and more progressive revisions” of China’s existing wildlife protection laws.
Beijing implemented similar measures following the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s, but the trade and consumption of wild animals, including bats and snakes, made a comeback.
“I do think the government has seen the toll it takes on national economy and society is much bigger than the benefit that wild-eating business brings,” said He.
The pangolin, the most trafficked mammal on Earth, is prized for its meat and its unique scales, which are said to have medicinal properties.
Peter Knights, CEO of the WildAid charity, said that while China’s ban was welcome, a global effort was required to end the drastic decline in the world’s pangolin populations.
“The only question is what will happen in the longer run,” he said. “We hope that China can lead the world in banning these markets globally.”
The coronavirus outbreak should serve as a “warning” for humans to seek to conserve more of nature, or face health and financial backlashes, Knights said.
“If we heed the warning not only will we protect human life but we could actually save species like pangolins,” he added.
The international sale of pangolins was outlawed in 2016 under the CITES convention against species exploitation.
CITES secretary-general Ivonne Higuero welcomed China’s move to ban the domestic trade but stressed that the animals were far from out of the woods.
The illegal trafficking of wild species is estimated by the WWF to be worth around $15 billion annually, particularly among booming Asian markets.
“What we’ve seen is that there is a lot of illegal wildlife trade going on with China as a destination country,” said Higuero.
She said a ban on pangolin consumption in China could significantly dent international trafficking by removing the financial incentives that drive criminal gangs to smuggle the creatures en masse.
While the ban has been welcomed by the conservation communities, there are fears that humans could come to blame pangolins for the outbreak, and seek revenge.
“People could become more wary of pangolins and therefore become more sensitive to their consumption and use,” said Ray Jansen, Chairman of the African Pangolin Working Group and member of the ICUN.
“But on the other side of the sword, they could also start viewing pangolins as a threat, which would put them in danger. We are not quite sure how the public will take it.”
For Andrew Muir, CEO of Wilderness Foundation Africa, the solution is simple.
“If we do not eat wildlife they will not harm us,” he said.
The endangered pangolin may be the link that facilitated the spread of the novel coronavirus across China, Chinese scientists said Friday.
Researchers have long suspected that the virus, which has now killed more than 630 people and infected some 31,000, was passed from an animal to a human at a market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
Researchers at the South China Agricultural University have identified the scaly mammal as a “potential intermediate host,” the university said in a statement, without providing further details.
The new virus is believed to have originated in bats, but researchers have suggested there could have been an “intermediate host” in the transmission to humans.
After testing more than 1,000 samples from wild animals, scientists from the university found the genome sequences of viruses found on pangolins to be 99 percent identical to those on coronavirus patients, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
The pangolin is considered the most trafficked animal on the planet and more than one million have been snatched from Asian and African forests in the past decade, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
They are destined for markets in China and Vietnam, where their scales are used in traditional medicine — despite having no medical benefits — and their meat is bought on the black market.
– Shadowy wildlife trade –
Experts on Friday called for the Chinese scientists to release more data from their research.
Simply reporting the similarity between the genome sequences of viruses is “not sufficient,” said James Wood, a veterinary medicine professor at the University of Cambridge.
Wood said the results could have been caused by “contamination from a highly infected environment.”
“We would need to see all of the genetic data to get a feel for how related the human and pangolin viruses are,” Jonathan Bell, a professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham, said.
China in January ordered a temporary ban on the trade in wild animals until the epidemic is under control.
The country has long been accused by conservationists of tolerating a shadowy trade in endangered animals for food or as ingredients in traditional medicines.
A price list that circulated on China’s internet for a business at the Wuhan market showed a menagerie of animals or animal-based products including live foxes, crocodiles, wolf puppies, giant salamanders, snakes, rats, peacocks, porcupines, camel meat and other game — 112 items in all.
The SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus that killed hundreds of people in China and Hong Kong in 2002-03 also has been traced to wild animals, with scientists saying it likely originated in bats, later reaching humans via civets.
“Working to end the trade in wildlife can help to resolve some of the longer-term risks associated with animal reservoirs of zoonoses,” Wood said, referring to infectious diseases that can be passed between animals and humans.
Vietnam has seized eight tonnes of pangolin scales and elephant ivory shipped from Nigeria, police said Friday, the second such haul in a week in a country which both consumes and trafficks huge volumes of endangered African wildlife.
The ivory and pangolin trade is banned by Vietnam, but sales continue to flourish on the black market due to demand domestically and from neighbouring China, which feeds the global $20 billion industry.
The eight-tonne shipment was discovered Thursday at a port in the coastal city of Danang, according to the Hai Quan online newspaper, a state-run mouthpiece for Vietnam’s customs office, making it “the country’s biggest ever bust over the past several years.”
“The batch originated from Nigeria,” it said, adding that officials took several hours to tally up the ivory tusks and pangolin scales, which were listed as “scrap metal” on the container’s shipping bill.
Customs officials refused to comment when reached by AFP.
Last Friday, authorities in Hanoi found almost 1,000 kilograms of pangolin scales and elephant ivory on a commercial flight arriving from Nigeria.
Information in the communist state is tightly controlled by the government, which is fighting an uphill battle against the lucrative ivory and pangolin trade.
The timid and noctural pangolin, which rolls into a ball when threatened — making them defenseless against poachers — is one of the most heavily trafficked mammals.
It is sought after for its meat and the unproven medicinal properties of their scales.
While the sale of ivory is also officially outlawed in Vietnam since 1992, the trade persists in the open with shops selling tusks that shopkeepers claim pre-date the ban.
Last year 2.7 tonnes of tusks were found inside crates on the back of a truck in central Thanh Hoa province while a similar 3.5 tons were discovered in a sea port in Ho Chi Minh City in 2016.
Experts in Environmental and Wild Life Preservation across the world have kicked against wild life trafficking in the African continent especially in Nigeria.
The concern was part of the groups’ consensus at the 2016 World Pangolin Day which was held at the University of Ibadan’s Zoological Gardens on Saturday.
The programme, which was jointly put together by several stakeholders including IITA, University of Ibadan, the US and French embassies, NESREA and Local Hunters, sought to prevent further depletion and consequent extinction of the Pangolin in Nigeria, Africa and Asia where they are found.
The Pangolin, also known as ‘Akika’ in Yoruba, is a scaly animal with tremendous financial and medicinal potential which produces only one offspring per year.
The scales of a Pangolin have the most extraordinary features – they are extremely hard, calibrated serving as a cocoon of sort for the flesh, protecting it from preys and predators.
The hard exterior, however, has not been enough to protect Pangolin from poachers and hunters, who see it only as a special delicacy that must be hunted down.
The US government’s representative, Mr Nicholas Austin, said that there was need for constant and sustained dialogue, not only for Pangolin, but to discourage wild life trafficking in Nigeria.
The Head of IITA Forest Unit, Dr. Deni Brown, also opined that more serious efforts must be put into wild life conservation in Nigeria, as the country loses a lot of income to poachers and local hunters who only kill them for meat.
It is also worrisome to note that the Zoological Garden in the University of Ibadan, which hosted the event, does not have Pangolin to show participants at the event.
Recently, a container load of Pangolin scales and fresh elephant tusks which was loaded from Lagos and worth $1.3 million, was intercepted at Singapore.