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Please stop eating pangolins

Malcolm Potts, professor of population and family planning | March 11, 2020

Some years ago I was in Gabon. My host asked if I would like lunch in the French restaurant or to have traditional food. Without thinking, I said the latter. Sadly, it was one of many places that depended upon bush meat. We ended up having fricassee of pangolin and roast civet cat. I did go to the kitchen after the meal and retrieved the animal skulls, which I still have.

At night pangolins eat using their long tongue to gather up ants and termites. Their scales are unique among mammals. Surprisingly, as I can attest, once well-cooked, pangolin scales are edible, if rather tasteless .

Pangolins are one of the many species traded to the innumerable shops in China that sell exotic animals, both dead and alive. As many as a million pangolin are poached and sent to China each decade. It has yet to be proved, but it is widely suggested, that the coronavirus’s came from pangolins that carried the disease without symptoms. Those handling the pangolins in Wuhan became infected.

The Chinese People’s Congress has issued a decision for “comprehensively prohibiting the illegal trade of wild animals, eliminating the bad habits of wild animal consumption and protecting the health and safety of the people.”  A similar law put in place after the SARS epidemic began in 2020. But when the epidemic ended the law was allowed to lapse, allowing the coronavirus pandemic to emerge. It remains to be seen if the lesson will be learned, or if the exotic animal trade will be resumed as it was after the SARS epidemic.