Eating Bats and Pangolins Banned in Gabon as a Result of Coronavirus Pandemic

Eating and selling bat and pangolin meat has been banned by officials in Gabon. The decision was made over fears related to the global coronavirus pandemic, which is thought to stem from wild animal meat sold at a market in Wuhan, China.

"Gabon has signed a law to stop trade in bats and pangolins as a precaution," Lee White, Minister of Forests, Oceans, Environment and Climate Change, Gabonese Republic, tweeted last Friday.

Two important papers published in Nature and Current Biology show that Bat and Pangolin Coronaviruses may be the source of SARS-CoV-2 which causes #COVID19. Gabon has signed a law to stop trade in bats and pangolins as a precaution.

— Prof. Lee White CBE (@LeeWhiteCBE) April 3, 2020

According to AFP, officials at the water and forest ministry cited scientific research showing Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was a combination of two viruses, one similar to bats and another similar to pangolins. "A similar decision was taken by the authorities when our country was affected by the Ebola virus—a ban on eating primates," White told the AFP. Like COVID-19, the virus that causes Ebola is zoonotic, meaning it can be transferred from animals to humans. According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), African fruit bats are thought to be carriers of Ebola and may even be the source of the disease.

There is some evidence suggesting the Sars-CoV-2 virus may be a recombination of two different viruses. Alexandre Hassanin, Lecturer at Sorbonne University in France, explained that for this to happen, two different viruses will have had to have infected the same organism at the same time.

While the exact origin of COVID-19 is yet to be confirmed, there have been studies linking the novel coronavirus to both bats and pangolins. The latter is considered to be a possible "intermediate" host, transferring the virus from bats to humans—but it is only a hypothesis at this stage.

Bushmeat is commonly sold in Gabon and the popularity of pangolin meat is highlighted by a 2018 study published in African Journal of Ecology. Researchers comparing village sales and trade chains in 2002, 2003 and 2014 found pangolins were the most frequently requested species of 2014. In the country's capital, Libreville, prices for giant pangolin and arboreal pangolin increased 211 percent and 73 percent within that time frame. In contrast, inflation rose 4.6 percent.

Even before the ban was announced, demand for pangolins had dropped in Gabon following suggestions they may have hosted the virus, AFP reported in March.

The issue of bushmeat and wildlife markets as a potential source of zoonotic disease has been heavily debated following the outbreak of COVID-19, which began at the end of 2019. Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the acting executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, recently called for a ban on wet markets to prevent future pandemics.

"The message we are getting is if we don't take care of nature, it will take care of us," Mrema told The Guardian.

But, she explained, it is also important to realize many people are reliant on the sale of wild animals for their livelihood and to find alternatives for communities sustained around bushmeat. "Unless we get alternatives for these communities, there might be a danger of opening up illegal trade in wild animals which currently is already leading us to the brink of extinction for some species," she said.

market where pangolin and other bushmeat are sold
A general view of a market where pangolin and other bushmeat are sold in Libreville on March 7, 2020. The Gabonese government has issued a ban on the sale and consumption of pangolin and bat meat. Steeve JORDAN / AFP/Getty

In addition to the banning of certain bushmeats, the Gabonese government is seeking to strengthen measures designed to tackle the spread of the virus. This includes the introduction of mass screening.

On Friday, President Ali Bongo Ondimba announced plans to build 60 centers across the country that will provide citizens with free tests, the Gabonese Press Agency reported.

According to Johns Hopkins, there have been 24 cases of COVID-19 reported in Gabon. One person has died and another has recovered. The rest remain active.

Newsweek has contacted The Ministry of Water & Forests for comment.

The below graphic from Statista shows the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. as of April 6, 2020 3:00 a.m. EST.

Coronavirus COVID-19 United States Statista
Spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. Statista

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