Pangolins, unique scale-covered mammals, are drastically declining in numbers across Asia and Africa, largely due to illegal trade. Part of the trade, both legal and illegal, supports the traditional Chinese medicine market, which has attracted conservation attention. The level of demand for pangolins and other animals in traditional Chinese medicine, however, hasn’t been thoroughly studied.
In a new study published in the journal Nature Conservation, Dr Yifu Wang, currently a postdoc researcher at the University of Hong Kong, investigated pangolin scale trade in China, interviewing staff in hospitals and pharmaceutical shops in two provinces (Henan and Hainan). Between October 2016 and April 2017, she and her team talked to doctors from 41 hospitals and shop owners and assistants from 134 pharmaceutical shops.
The research found pangolin scales and their derivatives were widely available in hospitals and pharmaceutical shops across Henan and Hainan Provinces. The legislation in place, however, has not been able to prevent ongoing illegal trade in pangolin products. Her team found that 46% of surveyed hospitals and 34% of surveyed pharmaceutical shops were selling pangolin scale products illegally.
“Existing legal trade allows 711 hospitals to sell pangolin products as medicine with regulations on manufacturer, package, and national annual sale quantity,” explains Dr Yifu Wang. “However, we show that pangolin scales are under heavy demand and unpermitted sellers are commonly found illegally selling pangolin products.”
“Quantities of products traded by permitted legal sellers are estimated to greatly exceed the supply capacity of legal sources,” she continues.
This widespread illegal trade, coupled with the very limited legal supply capacity compared to market demand, is concerning. The researchers point to the urgent need to reduce demand from traditional Chinese medicine on pangolin scales and revise the current legal pangolin scale trade system.
“We also highlight the importance of incorporating the traditional Chinese medicine sector into combating illegal wildlife trade and species conservation beyond pangolins,” they conclude.
The researchers plan to continue investigating the pangolin scale market in China to understand the trade after COVID-19.
Pensoft’s flagship journal ZooKeys invites free-to-publish research on key biological traits of SARS-like viruses potential hosts and vectors; Plazi harvests and brings together all relevant data from legacy literature to a reliable FAIR-data repository
To bridge the huge knowledge gaps in the understanding of how and which animal species successfully transmit life-threatening diseases to humans, thereby paving the way for global health emergencies, scholarly publisher Pensoft and literature digitisation provider Plazi join efforts, expertise and high-tech infrastructure.
By using the advanced text- and data-mining tools and semantic publishing workflows they have developed, the long-standing partners are to rapidly publish easy-to-access and reusable biodiversity research findings and data, related to hosts or vectors of the SARS-CoV-2 or other coronaviruses, in order to provide the stepping stones needed to manage and prevent similar crises in the future.
Already, there’s plenty of evidence pointing to certain animals, including pangolins, bats, snakes and civets, to be the hosts of viruses like SARS-CoV-2 (coronaviruses), hence, potential triggers of global health crises, such as the currently ravaging Coronavirus pandemic. However, scientific research on what biological and behavioural specifics of those species make them particularly successful vectors of zoonotic diseases is surprisingly scarce. Even worse, the little that science ‘knows’ today is often locked behind paywalls and copyright laws, or simply ‘trapped’ in formats inaccessible to text- and data-mining performed by search algorithms.
This is why Pensoft’s flagship zoological open-access, peer-reviewed scientific journal ZooKeysrecently announced its upcoming, special issue, titled “Biology of pangolins and bats”, to invite research papers on relevant biological traits and behavioural features of bats and pangolins, which are or could be making them efficient vectors of zoonotic diseases. Another open-science innovation champion in the Pensoft’s portfolio, Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO Journal) launched another free-to-publish collection of early and/or brief outcomes of research devoted to SARS-like viruses.
Due to the expedited peer review and publication processes at ZooKeys, the articles will rapidly be made public and accessible to scientists, decision-makers and other experts, who could then build on the findings and eventually come up with effective measures for the prevention and mitigation of future zoonotic epidemics. To further facilitate the availability of such critical research, ZooKeys is waiving the publication charges for accepted papers.
Meanwhile, the literature digitisation provider Plazi is deploying its text- and data-mining expertise and tools, to locate and acquire publications related to hosts of coronaviruses – such as those expected in the upcoming “Biology of pangolins and bats” special issue in ZooKeys – and deposit them in a newly formed Coronavirus-Host Community, a repository hosted on the Zenodo platform. There, all publications will be granted persistent open access and enhanced with taxonomy-specific data derived from their sources. Contributions to Plazi can be made at various levels: from sending suggestions of articles to be added to the Zotero bibliographic public libraries on virus-hosts associations and hosts’ taxonomy, to helping the conversion of those articles into findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable (FAIR) knowledge.
Pensoft’s and Plazi’s collaboration once again aligns with the efforts of the biodiversity community, after the natural science collections consortium DiSSCo (Distributed System of Scientific Collections) and the Consortium of European Taxonomic Facilities (CETAF), recently announced the COVID-19 Task Force with the aim to create a network of taxonomists, collection curators and other experts from around the globe.
Accepted papers will be published free of charge in recognition of the emergency of the current global situation
Was it the horseshoe bat or could it rather be one of the most traded mammal in the world: the pangolin, at the root of the current devastating pandemic that followed the transmission of the zoonotic SARS-CoV-2 virus to a human host, arguably after infected animal products reached poorly regulated wet markets in Wuhan, China, last year?
To make matters worse, the current situation is no precedent. Looking at the not so distant past, we notice that humanity has been repeatedly falling victim to viral deadly outbreaks, including Zika, Ebola, the Swine flu, the Spanish flu and the Plague, where all are linked to an animal host that at one point, under specific circumstances transferred the virus to people.
Either way, here’s a lesson humanity gets to learn once again: getting too close to wildlife is capable of opening the gates to global disasters with horrific and irreversible damage on human lives, economics and ecosystems. What is left for us to understand is how exactly these transmission pathways look like and what are the factors making certain organisms like the bat and the pangolin particularly efficient vectors of diseases such as COVID-19 (Coronavirus). This crucial knowledge could’ve been easier for us to grasp had we only obtained the needed details about those species on time.
Aligning with the efforts of the biodiversity community, such as the recently announced DiSSCo and CETAF COVID-19 Task Force, who intend to create an efficient network of taxonomists, collection curators and other experts from around the globe and equip them with the tools and large datasets needed to combat the unceasing pandemic, the open-access peer-reviewed scholarly journal ZooKeys invites researchers from across the globe to submit their work on the biology of bats and pangolins to a free-to-publish special issue.
The effort will be coordinated with the literature digitisation provider Plazi, who will extract and liberate data on potential hosts from various journals and publishers. In this way, these otherwise hardly accessible data will be re-used to support researchers in generation of new hypotheses and knowledge on this urgent topic.
By providing further knowledge on these sources and vectors of zoonotic diseases, this collection of publications could contribute with priceless insights to make the world better prepared for epidemics like the Coronavirus and even prevent such from happening in the future.
Furthermore, by means of its technologically advanced infrastructure and services, including expedite peer review and publication processes, in addition to a long list of indexers and databases where publications are registered, ZooKeys will ensure the rapid publication of those crucial findings, and will also take care that once they get online, they will immediately become easy to discover, cite and built on by any researcher, anywhere in the world.
The upcoming “Biology of bats and pangolins” special issue is to add up to some excellent examples of previous research on the systematics, biology and distribution of pangolins and bats published in ZooKeys.
In their review paper from 2015, Chinese scientists looked into the issues and prospects around captive breeding of pangolins. A year later, their colleagues at South China Normal University provided further insights into captive breeding, in addition to new data on the reproductive parameters of Chinese pangolins.
Back in 2013, a Micronesian-US research studied the taxonomy, distribution and natural history of flying fox bats inhabiting the Caroline Islands (Micronesia). A 2018 joint study on bat diversity in Sri Lanka focused on chiropteran conservation and management; while a more recent article on the cryptic diversity and range extension of the big-eyed bats in the genus Chiroderma.
Buden D, Helgen K, Wiles G (2013) Taxonomy, distribution, and natural history of flying foxes (Chiroptera, Pteropodidae) in the Mortlock Islands and Chuuk State, Caroline Islands. ZooKeys 345: 97-135. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.345.5840
Edirisinghe G, Surasinghe T, Gabadage D, Botejue M, Perera K, Madawala M, Weerakoon D, Karunarathna S (2018) Chiropteran diversity in the peripheral areas of the Maduru-Oya National Park in Sri Lanka: insights for conservation and management. ZooKeys 784: 139-162. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.784.25562
Lim BK, Loureiro LO, Garbino GST (2020) Cryptic diversity and range extension in the big-eyed bat genus Chiroderma (Chiroptera, Phyllostomidae). ZooKeys 918: 41-63. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.918.48786
Zhang F, Wu S, Zou C, Wang Q, Li S, Sun R (2016) A note on captive breeding and reproductive parameters of the Chinese pangolin, Manis pentadactyla Linnaeus, 1758. ZooKeys 618: 129-144. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.618.8886