On Thursday, scientists released new information about how the Covid-19 pandemic might have started. They also put a strange, short creature in the middle of the story.
The raccoon dog gets its name from the black markings on its face that make it look like it’s wearing a mask. It also looks a lot like raccoons, known for getting into city trash cans.
Many virologists think that the Covid-19 pandemic may have begun at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, where the animals were at least sometimes sold.
Scientists have already said that swabs taken from the market were found to contain the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. According to the new information, some of these same swabs also had a lot of genetic material from raccoon dogs.
The results did not show that the virus was in the raccoon dogs or that they had given it to people. But they fit with the idea that wild animals at the market may have started the Covid-19 pandemic.
Here are some facts about the animal that has been in the news.
What Is A Raccoon Dog?
Even though they have the same name, raccoon dogs are unrelated to raccoons. They belong to the ” carnivores family,” which also includes dogs, and are most closely related to foxes. As opposed to other canids, they may sleep through the winter.
Raccoon dogs are omnivores, meaning they eat animals and plants. Even though they look slim in the summer, they put on weight in the fall and winter, and their fur gets thicker. They live in pairs and only have one partner.
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Where Do They Live?
Raccoon dogs are native to parts of China, Korea, and Japan in East Asia. There, they are called tanuki.
They have also spread to a lot of places in Europe, where they are now thought of as an invasive species. They are sometimes killed because they are bothersome.
Why Are They Raised And Sold?
People have raised raccoon dogs for their fur for a long time. One report says that China makes the most raccoon dog pelts. In 2014, the country made more than 14 million pelts, 100 times as many as Europe.
They are also sold at live animal markets for their meat. Researchers have found that they were sold at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market at least as late as November 2019.
Are They The Source of The Virus That Causes Covid-19?
No, not always. Lab tests have shown that raccoon dogs can catch and pass the new coronavirus on to other animals. But that doesn’t mean they are where the virus naturally lives.
Even if the raccoon dogs at the market were infected, it’s possible that they got the virus from bats or another animal.
Scientists have noticed that raccoon dogs and bats lived on and around some farms that grew food for the market.
After the spread of SARS, which is also caused by the coronavirus, a similar thing may have happened 20 years ago. In 2003, scientists in Shenzen, China, found evidence that palm civets and raccoon dogs had been infected.
But as more research was done, it became clear that bats are the natural source of the virus that causes SARS. Raccoon dogs seemed to be intermediate hosts.
Can I pet a raccoon dog if I see one?
Even if it sounds good, it’s probably not a good idea. Aside from Covid-19, the animals are known to spread other diseases, such as rabies. The Royal Society for Preventing Cruelty to Animals says that raccoon dogs shouldn’t be pets.
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