The recent announcement from international researchers regarding the discovery of a genetic link that may help understand the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic has shed some light on the potential role of raccoon dogs in the outbreak.
It was found that the virus probably came from animals in a Wuhan wet market, specifically, the common raccoon dog. This announcement has led to a renewed interest in these animals, which have been subject to bad PR and a generally rough time when it comes to interacting with human society.
Raccoon dogs are native to East Asia, and there are two species of them: the common raccoon dog and the Japanese raccoon dog. They are more closely related to foxes than raccoons or dogs, and are known for their cute appearance. In Europe, they are considered a threat to local ecosystems, having been brought in by fur traders in the 1920s.
They have a trait similar to raccoons of eating almost anything and adapting well to a variety of environments, which has led to them spreading everywhere they found damp forests. People have also sold them as exotic pets, furthering their spread. In Asia, however, the animals have a much more positive connotation, with the Japanese tanuki having mythical associations.
Raccoon dogs are small, weighing an average of around 16 pounds, and are not physically dangerous to humans. They are, however, intelligent and inquisitive, which can cause trouble in certain situations. They are also known to carry tapeworms, rabies, parasitic worms, and other pathogens, including coronaviruses.
Millions of raccoon dogs are killed in China every year for their fur, which is likely why they were being sold in the Wuhan market. To supply the demand for their fur, many sellers raise them in crowded facilities and sell them in small cages, which is a prime environment for getting sick.
The new research does not definitively show that raccoon dogs passed COVID-19 along to humans. However, it does highlight the potential role of these animals in the pandemic. It also emphasizes the importance of animal welfare and the need to address the demand for fur and the conditions in which these animals are raised and sold.
As we continue to navigate the pandemic and look towards preventing future outbreaks, it is crucial that we pay attention to the origins of these viruses and take steps to address the root causes. This includes addressing the demand for wildlife products, improving animal welfare standards, and promoting sustainable and ethical practices. By doing so, we can help reduce the risk of future pandemics and protect both human and animal health.
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