What Are Raccoon Dogs? – The New York Times

On Thursday, scientists unveiled new information on the doable 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 extra-than-passing resemblance to these notorious raiders of city trash cans.

The animals had been at least occasionally sold on the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, the place many virologists suspect that the Covid-19 pandemic could have started.

Scientists had beforehand introduced that swabs from the market had examined optimistic for the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. The new information revealed that a few of these identical swabs additionally contained substantial genetic materials from raccoon canine.

The findings didn’t show that raccoon canine had been contaminated with the virus or that that they had handed it on to people. But they’re in step with the chance that wild animals on the market could have set off the Covid-19 pandemic.

Here’s what to know concerning the animal within the information.

Despite their identify, raccoon canine usually are not shut family members of raccoons. They are members of the canid household, a bunch that additionally contains home canine, and are most intently associated to foxes. Unlike different canids, they might hibernate in winter.

Raccoon canine are omnivores, eating on food sources like rodents and berries. Although they seem svelte in the summertime, they pack on the kilos for winter, when their fur additionally turns into thicker. They are monogamous, typically residing in pairs.

Raccoon canine are native to East Asia, together with components of China, Korea and Japan, the place they’re often called tanuki.

They have additionally turn into widespread in components of Europe, the place they’re thought of an invasive species. They are generally hunted as pests.

Raccoon canine 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 instances as many as Europe, according to one report.

They are additionally offered for his or her meat in reside animal markets. They had been offered on the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market at the very least as late as November 2019, researchers have reported.

Not essentially. Laboratory experiments have shown that raccoon canine are vulnerable to, and able to transmitting, the novel coronavirus. But that doesn’t imply that they’re the pure reservoir for the virus. Even if raccoon canine on the market had been contaminated, they could have been an intermediate host, selecting up the virus from bats or one other species.

Raccoon canine and bats had been each frequent on and round a few of the farms that provided the market, scientists have famous.

An identical situation could have unfolded twenty years in the past, after the emergence of SARS, which can also be attributable to a coronavirus. In 2003, scientists found evidence of contaminated palm civets and raccoon canine at a reside animal market in Shenzen, China. But subsequent analysis in the end pointed to bats because the pure reservoir for the virus that causes SARS; raccoon canine gave the impression to be intermediate hosts.

It’s in all probability not a good suggestion, as tempting because it is perhaps. Covid-19 apart, the animals are identified to be vectors for different illnesses, together with rabies. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends against conserving raccoon canine as pets.

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