This animal, the heavily trafficked pangolin, may be the key in how the new coronavirus spread from animals to humans.


China has officially removed pangolin scales from its 2020 list of approved ingredients used in traditional Chinese medicine, multiple media outlets report.

According to the country’s state-run media, the latest version of Chinese Pharmacopoeia for 2020 no longer includes the pangolin, which most scientists say may have transmitted the coronavirus from bats to humans as an intermediary animal.

Pangolins are small mammals covered in scales that live in Asia and Africa. Its scales are sometimes used as an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine as a way to boost fertility, according to associate professor of East Asian politics at the University of Houston-Downtown Peter Li, and its meat is also considered a delicacy by some.

The armadillo-like animal is protected under international law, but they’re still widely trafficked as “one of the most illegally traded mammals on the planet,” says the Environmental Investigations Agency, with an estimated 1 million sold in the past 15 years.

Just last year in Zhejiang, authorities arrested 18 smugglers and confiscated 23.1 tons of pangolin scales sourced from an estimated 50,000 creatures, according to Chinese state media.

Zhou Jinfeng, secretary-general of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Fund, said China’s native pangolins have been all but wiped out. Over the past five years, Zhou and volunteers found only five where hundreds of thousands lived just three decades ago.

Recent conservation efforts have worked to protect the eight pangolin species found in Asia and Africa threatened by illegal international trade. Earlier this month, China ordered its highest level of protection also forbidding the raising of pangolins in captivity.

‘A loaded gun’: Wet markets, wildlife trafficking pose threat for the next pandemic

What to know: Pangolins may have spread coronavirus to humans

The June 5 order from the National Forestry and Grassland Administration did not explicitly mention the outbreak as a reason for the measure, but the timing appears to indicate it could be part of China’s nationwide crackdown on the wildlife trade following the pandemic.

Trade in wildlife including bats and pangolins has been linked to so-called zoonotic diseases that leap from animals to humans.

Zhou said the new protections give groups like his the right to sue businesses and individuals selling pangolin scales. However, he wants to go a step further by releasing into the wild all captive pangolins in China and burning all confiscated pangolin scales, similar to how Kenya incinerated seized elephant tusks in a bid to end the illegal trade that continues to this day.

Contributing: Deirdre Shesgreen, USA TODAY; Associated Press. Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.


Show Thumbnails

The Most Powerful Sale & Affiliate Platform Available!

There's no credit card required! No fees ever.

Create Your Free Account Now!

Show Captions

Read or Share this story: