reducing animal trafficking to avoid future pandemics

reducing animal trafficking to avoid future pandemics

When reading or engaging in discussions about animal welfare, human-wildlife conflict, or zoonotic disease, things can become emotionally-charged very quickly.
For this article, I recommend using an indica to help keep you focused yet calm and emotionally-regulated. Grinding less than 50mg of indica (much less than 1/4 of a 1g bud) and then smoking just a small pinch of that once or twice over a 3-5hr period is perfect for maintaining a calm state of mind when studying socially-, emotionally-, and even politically-challenging concepts.
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Author: Pol Nadal

In December 2019, the outbreak of a serious pneumonia disease of viral origin was reported in Wuhan, central China. SARS-CoV-2, responsible for the COVID-19 disease, is the third and largest pandemic caused by a coronavirus in the past two decades after the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)2 from 2002-3 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)3 from 2012.

We are experiencing unprecedented lockdowns, healthcare systems on the verge of collapse, and we are fearing the largest economic recession in history, while scientists worldwide are on the largest global quest for the development of vaccines, novel treatments and further comprehension of the biology of the SARS-CoV-2. 

One of the most intriguing questions to prevent new outbreaks is to establish the origin of these viruses. Coronaviruses are common in bats, but they have been found to infect multiple animals including birds, dogs, cats, pigs, mice, horses, cows, whales and humans4. Although bats remain the main suspect, some scientists believe that SARS-CoV-2 was transmitted to humans from an intermediate host (a theory that has yet to be confirmed).

Born Free Foundation

In order to link the human SARS-CoV-2 virus to an animal source, scientists require the highest genome similarity. The origin of the SARS virus was successfully linked to civets, due to a 99.8% similarity between the human and the animal viruses5.

While the source of infection in the market of Wuhan still remains unknown, a recently published article in the prestigious journal Nature reveals the presence of very related SARS-CoV-2 viruses in pangolins seized from an anti-smuggling operation in Guangxi, China6.

Pangolins are cute animals found in China, India, Southeast Asia and certain parts of Africa that feed on ants, termites and other larvae using their long sticky tong. They are the only mammals with their full body covered in scales that they use to protect themselves from predators.

Unfortunately, now these scales are one of the main reasons why pangolins are highly endangered species and sit at the top of the World’s most trafficked mammal list1. Their meat is considered a delicacy and the scales are used in traditional and folk medicine for the treatment of inflammation and stimulation of blood circulation and lactation.

Silicone Wax / Dab Jars

The strains found in pangolin share between 85.5-92.4% of their genome with the human virus, far less than the 96% homology to SARS-CoV-2 that was previously reported in a bat strain7. While the search for the potential intermediate animal continues, worldwide efforts to palliate the tremendous impact of SARS-CoV-2 are undergoing. 

At this moment, the main priority is to save human lives and help patients over the course of the disease, prevent the spread of the virus through hard quarantines and avoid the collapse of the healthcare system while vaccines and treatments are being developed.

Subsequently, we will turn our focus of attention towards the economical crisis derived from this outbreak and somewhere after, where all other evils have been dealt with, we need to tackle the animal trafficking issue once and for all. Solutions to this problem need to be global and deal with all different aspects.


Whether pangolins, civets, bats or any other animal end up being the source of the outbreak, it is imperative to effectively address the problem derived from the illegal capture, processing and distribution of wild animals with a keen eye on endemic areas affected by coronaviruses.

These measures need to provide sustainable options for poachers in order to support their families without having to dodge authorities while heading to the dense jungle. Additional measures need also to be implemented to educate people on the fraud behind these remedies, the value of wildlife diversity, and the dangers of dealing with food products from unsanitary sources.

Together we can find many lucrative alternatives for poachers, but they need from everyone’s efforts and compromise. Financing eco-tourism, organising wildlife photography trips, sponsoring flights to these destinations but overall,  favoring the development of an eco-friendly market where the benefits are equally distributed.


Mills, G. Using forensics to track pangolin trafficking. Veterinary Record 183, 84–85 (2018).

Peiris, J. S. M. et al. Coronavirus as a possible cause of severe acute respiratory syndrome. Lancet 361, 1319–1325 (2003).

Zaki, A. M., Van Boheemen, S., Bestebroer, T. M., Osterhaus, A. D. M. E. & Fouchier, R. A. M. Isolation of a novel coronavirus from a man with pneumonia in Saudi Arabia. N. Engl. J. Med. 367, 1814–1820 (2012).

International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. Virus Taxonomy: Classification and Nomenclature of Viruses. Ninth Report of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (2012). doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-384684-6.00057-4

Guan, Y. et al. Isolation and characterization of viruses related to the SARS coronavirus from animals in Southern China. Science. 302, 276–278 (2003).

Lam, T. T.-Y. et al. Identifying SARS-CoV-2 related coronaviruses in Malayan pangolins. Nature (2020). doi:10.1038/s41586-020-2169-07. Zhou, P. et al. A pneumonia outbreak associated with a new coronavirus of probable bat origin. Nature579, 270–273 (2020).

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