Coronavirus : le pangolin, suspect numéro un de l’épidémie ?

Coronavirus : le pangolin, suspect numéro un de l’épidémie ?

Le Pangolin, c’est ce drôle d’animal à écailles qui serait à l’origine de l’épidémie mondiale de coronavirus. Les Chinois raffolent d’animaux sauvages mais cette épidémie pourrait peut-être changer la donne.

Le pangolin est un mammifère avec des écailles, de grosses écailles et un museau allongé. C’est l’espèce la plus braconnée au monde, beaucoup plus que les éléphants et les rhinocéros : 100.000 pangolins sont abattus chaque année.

Elle est en principe protégée, car elle classée dans les espèces menacées, voire en danger d’extinction en Chine mais il n’y a pas beaucoup de contrôles et le commerce pourtant illégal rapporte beaucoup d’argent aux trafiquants. On le tue pour sa viande, mais aussi pour ses écailles et ses os qui auraient des vertus médicinales.

Le pangolin, espèce réservoir au  virus

Mais serait-il à l’origine du Coronavirus ? C’est une piste très sérieuse et d’ailleurs ce serait une bonne nouvelle pour les scientifiques si les Chinois pouvaient la confirmer rapidement. Quand on trouve l’animal responsable d’un coronavirus, c’est le début de la solution pour enrayer l’épidémie.

Pour le SRAS en 2002, c’était la civette, elle aussi mangée pour sa chair, le MERS en 2012, c’était le dromadaire. Là les autorités chinoises soupçonnent fortement le pangolin qui aurait donc été vendu sur le marché de Wuhan. On parle d’espèce réservoir : c’est à dire qu’elle développe, mais n’est pas malade et ensuite elle le transmet aux humains.

Les génomes presque identiques à ceux de l’homme à 99% 

Les génomes des virus du pangolin et de l’homme seraient presque identiques à 99%, même si d’autres chercheurs chinois disent qu’il faut encore vérifier, il y a  toujours la piste du serpent, du rhume du serpent. Car sur le marché de Wuhan on vendait aussi des serpents.

En tout cas, cette épidémie risque de coûter très cher à la Chine. Les autorités risquent désormais de contrôler un peu plus le commerce d’espèces sauvages qu’il soit illégal ou pas. Dans une étude publiée dans la revue Nature, des scientifiques chinois ont préconisé une législation plus stricte contre l’élevage et la consommation de ces espèces.

Fin janvier, la Chine a déjà interdit le commerce de tous les animaux sauvages en attendant la fin de l’épidémie. Après les Chinois vont-nous répondre qu’on mange bien des escargots et des grenouilles. La différence c’est que chez nous la consommation des grenouilles, des escargots, des huitres est règlementée et provient d’élevages en principe contrôlés, avec des conditions sanitaires précises. Ce qui n’est pas toujours le cas sur les marchés chinois.



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