Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) IUCN Red List category and criteria: Critically Endangered A2d+3d+4d ver 3.1
Order Chiroptera; Families: Hipposideridae, Rhinolophidae, Megadermatidae
The COVID-19 pandemic has been ravaging the world since late 2019, till now, we have known about its severity and lethality, but only little is known about the origin of this viral disease. So, where did this new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 come from? And how did it start its journey to haunt the human population?
In March 2020, a group of researchers leading by Dr. Tommy Lam from The University of Hong Kong (HKU) published a study reporting that SARS-CoV-2 related coronaviruses were detected from the confiscated Sunda pangolins (Manis javanica) seized in China during 2017-2019 (Lam et al., 2020). The finding suggested that Sunda pangolins might be the possible hosts for SARS-CoV-2. Therefore, HKU is now collaborating with DGFC to further this research.
Sunda pangolin, M. javanica also known as Malay pangolin (Order: Pholidota), is one of the eight extant pangolin species that is endemic to Southeast Asia. This scaly anteater is known for being the most trafficked mammals on earth, despite being listed in CITES Appendix I; any trade involving the Sunda pangolin or any of its body parts are prohibited. This animal also has been classified as Critically Endangered in the IUCN RED List of Threatened Species since 2014.
Despite the fact that SARS-CoV-2 related coronaviruses were detected in the confiscated Sunda pangolins in southern China, the existence of these viruses in the wild population remains unknown. The wild Sunda pangolin might or might not be the natural or intermediate host of these viruses. Therefore, this collaboration aims to identify the viral diversity (virome) of the wild Sunda pangolins, as well as its sympatric wildlife, primarily the bats (Order: Chiroptera) and other small mammals, which might be the reservoir or intermediate hosts for the viruses associated with the wild Sunda pangolins.
In order to fulfill the research objectives, biological samples will be collected from the wild Sunda pangolins and the sympatric animals alongside with the faecal and environmental samples from their sleeping sites for genomic analysis. Camera traps and VHS transmitter tags will also be used to facilitate the research in identifying more Sunda pangolins sleeping sites in their home range as well as their interaction with other wildlife.
This research is anticipated to provide more comprehensive knowledge of the viral disease ecology of this elusive scaly mammal. This research is not aiming to prove that the Sunda pangolin is responsible for the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19, but to provide preliminary information on the possible future zoonotic diseases. With the expected results, we pin one’s hopes on creating awareness to the world that wildlife belongs to the wild and should be removed from the tables and medical prescriptions to prevent any possible zoonotic transmission.