STUDIES have suggested that the missing link allowing the coronavirus to jump from bats to humans could be an animal called a pangolin.
But what are pangolins and can they carry the coronavirus?
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What are pangolins?
A pangolin is a scaly creature similar to an anteater found in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
They have large protective scales covering their skin – the only known mammal with this feature – and are 30 to 100cm in length.
They are nocturnal and typically live in hollow trees or burrows.
They are threatened by poaching and routinely trafficked in Asia for use in food and alternative medicines.
Can they carry coronavirus?
Covid-19 is thought to have originated in bats, but for it to have passed to humans would have required an intermediary animal.
Pangolins are known to carry coronaviruses, and were thought to be among the possible candidates.
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Researchers in China used genetic sequencing to establish a 99 per cent similarity to part of one coronavirus carried by pangolins and Covid-19.
However, further research suggested that the two viruses were not in fact similar enough for pangolins to have been the direct source.
Could pangolins pass coronavirus onto humans?
Pangolins are still one of a number of animals being considered as possible intermediaries.
If humans did contract coronavirus from pangolins, it would almost certainly have occurred in the course of illegal trafficking.
Another possible intermediary animal that has been suggested is snakes.
Concerns have been raised that the speculation surrounded pangolins could lead to mass killing by authorities in China, as happened with civets in the aftermath of the 2003-2003 Sars outbreak.
The coronavirus has infected over 100,000 people around the world after breaking out in the Chinese city of Wuhan in November.
The first infection is thought to have occurred at a wild animal market in the city.
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