China has improved the protection of pangolin, which is believed to be the intermediate host of the coronavirus, to that of the top-rated protected animals that are on par with endangered species such as giant pandas.
Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy in China, and its scales are commonly used in traditional Chinese medicines to promote lactation and cure impotence, resulting in massive mammalian poaching.
The pangolin is also believed to be the most traded mammal in the world. It is estimated that about a million pangolins have been poached in the past ten years, and according to the TRAFFIC wildlife trade surveillance network, 20 tons of pangolins and their parts are traded internationally each year.
After initially suspecting the snake and bat for the COVID-19, Chinese scientists believe that the pangolin could be an intermediate host of the novel human coronavirus.
The contagion, which has become a pandemic with the worst global health crisis, was believed to have spread to the Huanan seafood wholesale market in Wuhan, the virus's first epicenter, which subsequently closed.
This weekend, China announced it would switch all types of pangolin from second-class protected animals to first-class protected animals as their numbers rapidly declined due to over hunting and habitat destruction, the state-run Global Times reported on Saturday.
Other top-rated protected animals include giant pandas, Tibetan antelopes and red cranes.
The country's animal welfare agency said it will work harder to protect and save the species. These include measures to improve their habitat, combating poaching and human trafficking, as well as setting up a protection research center and a gene bank for pangolin.
Currently, all eight pangolin species in the world are listed as endangered species in their respective countries and regions, Sun Quanhui, a World Animal Protection scientist, told the Global Times on Friday.
Chinese pangolins were widespread in 17 provinces in the south of the Yangtze River.
However, a national survey in 2003 found that the number of Chinese psoriasis dropped to about 64,000 and their living area was reduced to 11 provinces, the Xinhua news agency reported.
China banned pangolin hunting in the wild in 2007 and completely stopped commercial imports of pangolin and pangolin products in August 2018.
However, their numbers have continued to decline due to ongoing habitat destruction and inadequate punishment for pangolin consumption, the Global Times report said.
In February, as part of the COVID-19 pandemic, China's top lawmaker decided to completely ban illegal wildlife trade and eradicate bad wildlife eating habits. This was seen as an important step in combating poaching of wild animals, including pangolin.
Improving protection against pangolin triggered mixed reactions on Chinese social media.
"Please let go of the shed, people already have so many things to eat," wrote one Sina Weibo user.
"It won't help if we don't completely ban the use in medicine," said another.
Sun suggested removing the pangolin from the Chinese pharmacopoeia and strengthening the protection of wildlife used in medicine.
"In modern medicine, there is no scientific evidence that pangolin scales have certain therapeutic or health benefits," he said, adding that a large number of herbs and synthetic products can replace the effects of wild animals used in medicine.
Expanding the population through artificial breeding is not an effective way and there are rarely successful cases worldwide, Sun said.
"Based on our giant panda protection practice, habitat protection, fighting poaching, and reducing consumption are the most effective ways to protect pangolins," he said.
Sun also called for international cooperation as the illegal trade in pangolin has increased significantly in recent years.
(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and is generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)