The pangolin may be the link that started the spread of the coronavirus across China, Chinese scientists said Friday.
Researchers have long suspected that the virus, which has now killed more than 630 people and infected some 31,000, was passed from an animal to a human at a market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
Researchers at the South China Agricultural University have identified the scaly mammal as a “potential intermediate host,” the university said in a statement, without providing further details.
The new virus is believed to have originated in bats, but researchers have suggested there could have been an “intermediate host” in the transmission to humans.
After testing more than 1,000 samples from wild animals, scientists from the university found the genome sequences of viruses found on pangolins to be 99 percent identical to those on coronavirus patients, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
The pangolin is considered the most trafficked animal on the planet and more than one million have been snatched from Asian and African forests in the past decade, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
They are destined for markets in China and Vietnam, where their scales are used in traditional medicine — despite having no medical benefits — and their meat is bought on the black market.