UNF Spinnaker

Pangolins: The cause of coronavirus?

Nathan Turoff, Critter Column

Pangolins – That might not be a term familiar with the average person, and it didn’t resonate with many of the staff here at Spinnaker. Pangolins are a key link in the initial transition of COVID-19, but they may also hold clues as to combat it.

Native to the trees in Africa and East Asia, Pangolins are a very unique animal in our current era. Its most iconic feature is its scaly armor, a trait exclusive to them among mammals. For example, an armadillo, unarguably the most well known armored mammal currently living, has a shell made of a material similar to bones. Pangolins on the other hand, their armor is made of Keratin, the same material that comprises our hair and fingernails, and serves many other purposes among other animals. Pangolins are the only known mammal with keratin armor. They are not however, the only known animal today that uses keratin armor as snakes and other reptiles also use keratin skin, but they are reptiles.

Pangolins have many other fascinating features that can be found among other mammals. They have a very long, thin tongue, similar to an ant-eater, as they share a similar diet, that being ants(obviously) and other small insects. Another interesting feature they have is that they can spray a putrid odor to deter predators, like a skunk. Also like an armadillo, pangolins can retreat and surround themselves in armor in a sort of ball of protection.

With all these traits, you would think that the pangolin would be a well respected and honored species. Unfortunately, this is not the case, at least not in terms of conservation. The pangolin is actually the most illegally trafficked animal in the world, far surpassing the elephant and rhino. This is moreso true among the East Asian species, as pangolin meat is considered a delicacy to eat, and their scales are purported to possess medicinal properties in many cultures.

 

While trade of Pangolins is illegal internationally, much like the aforementioned rhinos and elephants, that doesn’t seem to stop poachers. The illegal trade is so bad, and their numbers are decreasing so much, with over tens of thousands being trafficked annually, that all the species of pangolin in East Asia are listed as “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). For those not all too familiar with animal conservation, the next category in the IUCN’s classification system is “extinct in the wild.”

So how do Pangolins relate to Covid-19? Well, as some of you may now, the coronavirus is believed to have started among bats, and then spread to pangolins, who transmitted it to humans via the aforementioned illegal pangolin trade. What makes this so curious however, is that pangolins do not seem to be seriously affected by the effects of the virus.

Researchers believe that the fact the pangolin is able to possibly suppress the more severe aspects of the disease could help scientists in finding a cure and/or vaccine for this deadly virus. 

Hopefully soon, COVID-19 will be defeated and the disgraceful pangolin trade will end.

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For more information or news tips, or if you see an error in this story or have any compliments or concerns, contact [email protected].

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