On Thursday, scientists unveiled new knowledge on the attainable origins of the Covid-19 pandemic — and put an odd, squat creature squarely within the highlight.
Meet the raccoon canine; it earns its identify from its black facial markings, which give the animal a masked look and a more-than-passing resemblance to these notorious raiders of city trash cans.
The animals had been at the least often bought on the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, the place many virologists suspect that the Covid-19 pandemic could have began.
Scientists had beforehand introduced that swabs from the market had examined constructive for the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. The brand new knowledge revealed that a few of these similar swabs additionally contained substantial genetic materials from raccoon canines.
The findings didn’t show that raccoon canines had been contaminated with the virus or that they’d handed it on to people. However they’re according to the likelihood that wild animals on the market could have set off the Covid-19 pandemic.
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Right here’s what to know in regards to the animal within the information.
What are raccoon canines?
Regardless of their identify, raccoon canines are usually not shut family of raccoons. They’re members of the canid household, a bunch that additionally consists of home canines, and are most carefully associated to foxes.
Raccoon canines are omnivores, eating on meals sources like rodents and berries. Though they seem svelte in the summertime, they pack on the kilos for winter, when their fur additionally turns into thicker. They’re the one canid species recognized to hibernate and are monogamous, typically dwelling in pairs.
The place do they stay?
Raccoon canines are native to East Asia, together with elements of China, Korea and Japan, the place they’re referred to as tanuki.
They’ve additionally develop into widespread in elements of Europe, the place they’re thought-about an invasive species. They’re generally hunted as pests.
Why are they farmed and bought?
Raccoon canines have lengthy been farmed for his or her fur. China is a number one producer of raccoon canine pelts; in 2014, the nation produced greater than 14 million pelts, 100 occasions as many as Europe, based on one report.
They’re additionally bought for his or her meat in stay animal markets. They had been bought on the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market at the least as late as November 2019, researchers have reported.
Are they the supply of the virus that causes Covid-19?
Not essentially. Laboratory experiments have proven that raccoon canines are vulnerable to, and able to transmitting, the novel coronavirus. However that doesn’t imply that they’re the pure reservoir for the virus. Even when raccoon canines on the market had been contaminated, they may have been an intermediate host, choosing up the virus from bats or one other species.
Raccoon canines and bats had been each widespread on and round a number of the farms that provided the market, scientists have famous.
An analogous state of affairs could have unfolded 20 years in the past, after the emergence of SARS, which can also be brought on by a coronavirus. In 2003, scientists discovered proof of contaminated palm civets and raccoon canines at a stay animal market in Shenzen, China. However subsequent analysis finally pointed to bats because the pure reservoir for the virus that causes SARS; raccoon canines gave the impression to be intermediate hosts.
Can I pet a raccoon canine if I see one?
It’s most likely not a good suggestion, as tempting because it could be. Covid-19 apart, the animals are recognized to be vectors for different ailments, together with rabies. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends in opposition to retaining raccoon canines as pets.