The pangolin is one of the most trafficked mammals in the world. They are highly valued for food consumption and their scales are used to produce home remedies that promise to be the panacea that will cure all ills, ironically including respiratory ailments.
For those who are not familiar with the pangolin, it is a small mammal native to sub-Saharan Africa and a part of Asia, which lives on small insects such as ants or termites. In addition, it is equipped with a shell made of keratin scales (the same material as human fingernails and toenails), which it uses to protect itself from its predators, by wrapping itself around itself. Its appearance is very similar to that of an armadillo.
At first glance the pangolin appears as a harmless animal; However, rumors that link it to the transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 have discredited it. Currently, the eight species of pangolin that exist are listed as vulnerable and endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN, for its acronym in English), along with 31,000 other species. According to a study by the University of Sussex in England, it is estimated that around 2.7 million individuals are hunted annually in the forests of Africa, where seizures of pangolin meat exceed 30 tons.
Responsible consumption and ecotourism
Assuming that the pangolin is really related to the transmission of a virus, this would not be the first time that the human being is involved in a situation that relates the same elements: irresponsible consumption, vulnerability of the organism, disease and eventually death. massive of people. The origin of HIV, avian flu, the 2002 SARS epidemic and swine flu are some cases that serve to exemplify this fact.
Hunting wild animals, apart from representing something illegal in many countries like ours, involves direct contact with fluids of species loaded with pathogens and diseases that the human body cannot deal with. Now, if contact causes the disease, perhaps it would not be unreasonable to think that having opted long ago for an animal distancing could have been the solution to the current health situation.
Perhaps stopping the disturbance of ecosystems and making a significant change regarding consumption patterns could have balanced the global equilibrium between nature and human beings, so that people can live in an integral and sustainable way.
In 2017, the organization World Animal Protection (WAP) ranked Costa Rica number seven in the world ranking of countries that produce inappropriate photographs and selfies with wild animals. One of the main problems regarding the inappropriateness of this situation is the stress and suffering to which the fauna is subjected in order to obtain a unique and original photograph during vacations in the Costa Rican tropics.
Two years later, with the aim of remedying the situation, the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE) and the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) promoted the stop animal selfies campaign that sought to eliminate the incidence of this type of photographs, as well as their negative effects and the risks involved. This campaign was born to reinforce the commitment to the conservation of biodiversity and the promotion of sustainable ecotourism. This was also trying to prevent tourists from feeding wild animals.
A possible solution
During the launch of the campaign, the Vice Minister of the Environment of the Costa Rican government Pamela Castillo, mentioned that animals can be carriers of diseases or they can become infected with pathogens transmitted by people, for that reason it is necessary to maintain a prudent distance when observing them in their natural habitat and respect their behaviours.
According to an ICT survey, during the period between 2016 and 2018 almost 40% of foreign tourists indicated that observing flora and fauna was one of their main motivations for visiting Costa Rica, a country that is home to more than 5% of the species of the planet. Fortunately, several organizations have been promoters of this initiative for wildlife conservation. The German Cooperation (GIZ), the National Chamber of Tourism and AERIS are just some of the institutions that make up the alliance to promote sustainable ecotourism in the country.
It would be devastating if the pangolin were later found to be the transmitter of the coronavirus. In that case, it is likely that many will try to capture the poor animal instead of thinking of a more logical solution. It is preferable to stay away, not alter their environment and not promote practices that harm wild animals or humans.