Beijing | The pangolin, a small mammal with scales threatened with extinction, could be the animal that has passed the new coronavirus to humans, considered Friday by chinese scientists.
Researchers from the agricultural University of southern China have identified the pangolin as “a possible intermediate host” which facilitated the transmission of the virus, said the university in a press release, without more details.
An animal that hosts a virus without being sick and can transmit it to other species is called “tank”. In the case of the new coronavirus, it is certainly of the bat: according to a recent study, the genomes of this virus and those that circulated in this animal are identical at 96%.
But the virus of bats not being equipped to attach to the human receptors, it is without a doubt spent by another species to adapt to man, called the “intermediate host”.
However, after having tested over a thousand samples from wild animals, scientists have determined that the genomes of sequences of viruses collected on the pangolins were 99% identical to those found in patients with the new coronavirus, according to the news agency, state-owned new China.
The new virus made its appearance in December at a market in Wuhan (the centre), where a number of animals, including wild mammals, were sold to be eaten.
Given the nature of this coronavirus, the experts suspected that the “intermediate host” to be a mammal. The assumption of a snake, a time advanced, had been quickly swept away.
During the SARS epidemic (2002-03), also caused by a coronavirus, the middle was the civet, a small mammal.
As part of its measures to curb the recent outbreak, China announced in late January a temporary ban of the trade in wild animals, prohibiting for an indefinite period of time the farming, transport or sale of any wild animal species.
Around 100,000 pangolins are victims each year in Africa and Asia of illegal trafficking which makes the species the most braconnée in the world, ahead of the elephants or rhinos, whose cases are much more high profile in the media, according to the NGO WildAid.
Their delicate flesh is highly prized by gourmets chinese and vietnamese, as are their scales, their bones and organs by traditional asian medicine.
“Such trade in wild species is responsible for terrible suffering for the animals and endangers the health of humans, as we can see today,” said Neil Of the Cruze, a leader of the organization worldwide Protection of animals (WAP), in a press release.
“If we want to do everything in our power to prevent outbreaks of deadly diseases such as the sars coronavirus, then a permanent ban on the trade of wild species, in China and in the world, is the only solution”, he estimated.
In 2016, the Convention on international trade in endangered species (Cites) approved the registration of the pangolin in its appendix 1, which strictly prohibits its trade. Despite this, their traffic has been increasing, according to NGOS.