People are buying pangolins on social media despite links with Covid-19

Report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said that illegal trafficking of pangolins is contributing to the coronavirus risks to humans


                            People are buying pangolins on social media despite links with Covid-19
(Getty Images)

A recent report from the watchdog group Tech Transparency Project has shown that pangolins, who are at risk of extinction and are also studied as a potential coronavirus host, are open for sale online.

Despite their protected status under international laws, people have been buying and selling them openly on social media platforms like Facebook. The Tech Transparency Project investigation report that was published on Wednesday, May 6, also said that in spite of Facebook’s guidelines that prohibit content that attempts to sell, trade, donate, gift, or solicit endangered species or their parts, several pages on the online site were offering pangolins and their scales for sale.

In their investigation, the group found several sites like ‘Pangolin Scales for Sale in Vietnam’ and ‘Rhino Horns And Pangolin scales For sale In China’ on Facebook, were openly advertising the sale of the forbidden animal products, such as pangolin oil and their scale.

While the first page asked its potential buyers to send a message to the seller over WhatsApp or email, the latter one, which was created in March, directed its clients to embrace their "businesses like never before” as the coronavirus recedes. “We discretely hunt and sell Rhino Horn and pangolin scales contact us for more information on purchase, WhatsApp me,” one page read.

“The pangolin is the world's most trafficked animal. And it's still easy to find these animals to buy on Facebook,” the Tech Transparency Project’s executive director, Daniel Stevens, said.

Soon after the pages were discovered by the Tech Transparency Project, two of them were taken down by Facebook, saying it does not tolerate the illegal trading of endangered wildlife and their parts on its platform. “We prohibit the trading of endangered wildlife or their parts. It's illegal, it's wrong, and we have teams devoted to stopping activity like this,” a spokesperson for Facebook told BuzzFeed News.

According to new research, pangolins are a concern because they carry other types of coronaviruses that could pose a future threat to humans. Also, a recently released report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said that illegal trafficking of pangolins is contributing to the coronavirus risks to humans.

“These shy mammals do not pose any immediate threat to human health if left in their ecosystem. But when pangolins are poached from their natural habitat, butchered and sold illegally, a potential health hazard is brought close to home,” the report added.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, pangolins are increasingly becoming victims of illegal wildlife crime, mainly in Asia and in growing amounts in Africa, for their meat and scales. Eight species of them are found on the two continents and have been ranged from ‘Vulnerable to Critically Endangered’.

Talking about the recent discovery of the pages, Sarah Uhlemann, an international program director and senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said that she was not surprised that the Tech Transparency Project found pangolins on Facebook. Uhlemann said that with one simple search on Google, one can find online vendors the same way that the watchdog group researchers did.

She also said that one just has to google the word “pangolin" in simplified Mandarin. “It's not that hard to find. I would say that the Vietnamese link is not surprising to me,” Uhlemann added.

Continuing further, Uhlemann noted that the Vietnamese Facebook users selling pangolin scales might have a link to a larger network that smuggles African pangolins from countries like Nigeria to Vietnam and then into China. She also explained how pangolin scales are used. They are powered before being combined with other Chinese herbal medicines. They are usually sold in a mixture that can be consumed in a pill.

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