A number of scientific papers have recently been published asking the question: where did the corona virus originally come from? And the answer is not China. Which animal initially incubated the virus before passing it on via bats or pigs to humans? It turns out that the very cute pangolin has become the chief suspect. Apparently this scaly, ant-eating mammal (it is not a reptile) is able to live quite happily with variations of the SARS-CoV virus in its body. Unfortunately, humans cannot live happily with either the harmless pangolin or with the harmful virus it so innocently hosts.
The pangolin’s habitat ranges across Asia and Africa. It is the must illegally hunted animal on the planet. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC):
The primary threat to most pangolin species is illegal hunting and poaching for local use and illicit international trade. Recent estimates based on seizure data suggest that the equivalent of more than 895,000 pangolins were trafficked globally between 2000 and 2019. This trade mainly involves pangolin scales and meat and to a lesser extent other body parts, which are primarily trafficked to East and Southeast Asia.
One of the ironies is that part of the demand that is driving the illicit trade in pangolins is the belief that their scales and claws have healing qualities especially against invisible, plague-like diseases.
Pango what? Aardvark yes, but who’s ever heard of the pangolin? (And admit it, the only reason we know of the aardvark is because of the double a.) To get an idea of the pangolin’s vulnerability think of a hedgehog – prickly on the top but soft underneath.
Over the last few years I have learnt more and more about the plight of this lowly creature whose only form of defense is to roll itself up in a ball and hope that its scaly outer-self protects it from predators until the danger passes – a little bit like the social isolation we are experiencing now. Why did I become interested in such a strange creature? I wrote a treatment for an animation film Running Wild (originally called Going Viral) in which the protagonist’s buddy is Andi the Pangolin. She lives in constant fear that her fate will be to disappear like her missing parents and siblings. She is pitied by the other animals who leave her alone to brood on the existential fragility of life. But, in spite of all her pain and trauma, she never lets go of her vision that, someday somehow, all creatures will be able to live in peace with each other à la Prophet Isaiah 11:6.
As part of my research, I travelled to China, went to wild animal markets, and was offered savoury dishes of fresh Pangolin flesh (which I graciously declined). In 2017, the famous actor/producer Jackie Chan took upon himself to head up an international campaign to protect this rapidly disappearing creature. But apparently, all to no avail. Until now.
Now it seems that the lowly pangolin is taking its revenge, hitting us on our soft, vulnerable underbelly.
Is this simply a coincidence or is it Gaia – the global consciousness – striking back for our greed and arrogance towards our fellow travelers on this lonely but beautiful planet using the poor pangolin as its vector of transmission? I would suggest that we take the second option very seriously – whether true or not.
Right now, the air over Tel Aviv is clear of the constant grey-brown cloud; chemical pollution levels are down everywhere, as is the ubiquitous noise pollution from planes and cars, and CO2 emissions have plummeted. Deforestation has ground to a halt. The lungs of the world are becoming less clogged. The autoimmune system of the world is under less stress. Finally it can breathe freely again. The opposite of what is happening to those of us sick with this virus, and sick of this virus.
In my book – God’s Prayer: A Sacred Challenge to Humanity (Albion-Andalus Books, 2nd Edition 2015, p.18-20) God gives the following warning:
Children of Adamah, know this:
If you disappear off the face of the planet,
no one will grieve for you.
The birds will sing free,
the forests will grow back.
The seas will be renewed,
the fish will repopulate the waters.
Those creatures that you have enslaved will suffer,
but that is the way of the enslaved.
No one, no thing, will grieve your passing.
Do you hear that, O false kings and queens?
But I will cry.
You are my partners,
I love you.
If you fail, I have failed,
but the world will live on.
Know, Children of Adamah,
that if the earth decides to vomit you out,
I will not protest.
I will not fight back.
But I will grieve for you,
as I grieve for you now.
I will miss you,
as I miss you now.
Only you can stop this expulsion.
You must choose.
Life and death – is in your hands.
I cannot interfere anymore,
I can only cry out a warning.
Hear and understand:
your freedom to do harm has never been greater.
your freedom to do good has never been greater.