Gabon banned the sale and consumption of pangolins and bats, which are suspected sources of the COVID-19 outbreak in China.
Pangolins are critically endangered and have long been protected, but they are sold in the markets of the capital, Libreville, where their meat is popular. They have long been illegally trafficked to China, where they are highly prized in traditional medicine.
The Central African nation is 88% covered in forest, and hunting and bush meat have long been a way of life.
The Water and Forest Ministry said early studies indicate COVID-19 was a “combination of two different viruses — one close to bats and the other closer to pangolins.”
Gabonese authorities said the move follows other restrictions taken during past outbreaks. “A similar decision was taken by the authorities when our country was affected by the Ebola virus — a ban on eating primates,” Forestry Minister Lee White said.
The national parks agency announced in mid-March that tourists would no longer be allowed to interact with great apes to avoid any risk of contamination by COVID-19.
The pangolin, the world’s most heavily trafficked mammal, also called the scaly anteater, is believed to have possibly been a vector in the leap of COVID-19 from animal to human at a market in Wuhan, China, in 2019.
Its scales fetch a high price on the black market because they are commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine, although scientists say they have no therapeutic value.