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The World Health Organization is asking Chinese authorities to release data that could show a link between raccoon dogs and the coronavirus. This left many people wondering – what is a raccoon dog, anyway?
First, here’s why we’re talking about them. They were being sold at a seafood and meat market in Wuhan, China, where researchers found evidence of the coronavirus in January 2020. Data that was briefly published and then deleted from an international database appeared to show that genetic material from raccoon dogs appeared in the same swabs as the virus that causes COVID, implying that the animals could have been an initial host.
OK, so what are they?
In simple terms, it is a wild dog whose face resembles that of a raccoon. In slightly more scientific terms, raccoon dogs are members of the Canidae family with similar fur markings and head shapes to raccoons.
The omnivorous animal is native to East Asia, including parts of China, Korea, and Japan. The breeding of the fur farming industry introduced thousands of them to the former Soviet Union, and they are now a widespread invasive species in northern and western Europe.
They prefer to live in forests and dense vegetation, as well as in areas bordering water.
They are closer to foxes than domestic dogs. Raccoon dogs are a completely different species from coonhounds, which are a domesticated breed of hound also known as the coon dog.
Have they been linked to other diseases?
Yes. Raccoon dogs and related mammals sold for food at a live animal market in China in 2003 were found to carry a coronavirus similar to the virus found in humans during an outbreak of the SARS coronavirus in China. era. In 2004, Chinese health authorities ordered the slaughter of 10,000 animals for sale in the market, including raccoon dogs, after a man tested positive for a new strain of the SARS virus and fear another epidemic.
A 2022 study sampled around 2,000 animals of 18 different species from different settings in China, including natural habitats, zoos and fur farms. It revealed that wild animals known to be eaten by humans, including raccoon dogs, carried 102 different viruses from 13 virus families.
According to the researchers, 21 of them pose a high risk to humans, either because they have already infected people or because they are used to jumping easily from one species to another.
The raccoon dogs specifically carried four canine coronaviruses that were genetically similar to those found in humans. They also carried enteric viruses, or viruses that are transmitted when infected feces enters the mouth or nose.
The researchers said this evidence confirmed the danger of live markets like the one in Wuhan.
“It’s hard to think of a more effective way to ignite and fan the flames of an epidemic,” evolutionary biologist and study co-author Edward Holmes told the newspaper. Science. “We keep allowing these things to thrive and it’s only a matter of time before we get another outbreak and maybe another pandemic.”
However, they are so cute! Can I keep one?
Raccoon dogs are wild animals, not pets. They live in large home ranges, which means they need a lot of space and are difficult to manage in pens or other small spaces, according to the UK’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. United.
They also have a strong odor as they use scent to communicate, making them a bad indoor guest.
And, if a raccoon dog escapes or is released into the wild, it can threaten native wildlife in areas of the world it is not native to.