The general scientific consensus is that the COVID pandemic most likely began in a live animal market in Wuhan, China. That makes a lot more sense to me than the theory that it came from a lab, regardless of its careless reputation. First of all, the first cases of COVID in humans were clustered all around that market. And scientists confirm that this virus doesn’t have markers that indicate genetic modification.
I think the primary reason that people are so resistant to the animal market idea is that they’d then have to realize how little control we actually have over nature. And it’s always nice to have some intentionally evil entity to blame for a worldwide catastrophe, isn’t it? But without the cooperation of China, we’ll never be exactly sure where it came from. Based on the evidence we have, though, I believe it came from the natural world. More specifically, it seems to have originated in raccoon dogs being sold in that market.
When I read that, my first thought was, “What in the sweet, suffering baby jeebus is a raccoon dog?” Had you ever heard of these things prior to this pandemic? I hadn’t. And you know me. I just had to find out more about them.
It turns out that raccoon dogs, also known as tanuki, aren’t raccoons, and they’re more closely related to foxes than to dogs. Given their beautiful fluffy coats, they are often sold in the fur trade, and in China, they’re also sold for meat. Some people have kept them as pets, but it’s a really bad idea for multiple reasons.
These creatures are wild animals. They don’t cope well with being penned in. They range widely. That, and they use scent to communicate, so let’s not mince words: they often stink. They also hibernate, mate for life, are very adept at climbing and swimming, and are escape artists. They don’t pose a physical threat to humans, but at 16 pounds, they can terrorize small livestock.
Their primary threat to humanity is that they carry disease, including various forms of the coronavirus. They’ve been linked to SARS. They also carry enteric viruses in their fecal matter, and harbor fleas, ticks, tapeworms and other parasites, as well as rabies, distemper, anthrax, tuberculosis, and mange.
Raccoon dogs originated in Eastern Asia, but they have become an invasive species in Europe. They were originally brought there in the 1920’s for fur farms. They eat pretty much anything from fruit and other plants to bugs, small mammals, fish, birds, amphibians, carrion and trash. (In that way, as well as in the color patterns on their face, they’re very much like raccoons.) Their litters usually contain 5-12 young, and their gestation period could be as short as 60 days, so once they got into the wild there was a population explosion.
Even though many of us have never heard of this species before, they’re rather a big deal. It is illegal to import one into the United States, and in all 50 states it is illegal to own one unless you’re an accredited zoo. Zoo Atlanta had two of them, but I can’t confirm that they’re still there. From an article in 2017, that zoo said it was the only one in America to house them. But they’ve sort of become silent about all things tanuki since then.
We’ll never know for sure if raccoon dogs are the primary culprits in causing a pandemic that killed at least 7 million people to date. Either way, these beautiful creatures are best avoided. Let’s hope they never gain a foothold in North America.
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