Animals sold for food in China. Biosphoto / Jean Robert

Since the SARS outbreak in 2002, a number of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome related coronaviruses (or ‘covids’) have been discovered in bats. Scientific studies have indicated that some of those bat ‘covids’ have the potential to infect humans but the same studies say that it’s highly unlikely that bats directly infect humans. Instead, scientists suspect that the ‘covid’ infects another animal, an “intermediate host” and it is only then transmitted to humans – so-called zoonotic (animal to human) ‘covids’.

The virus basically jumps from one species to another. For SARS in 2002, it jumped from bats to racoon-like civet cats sold in wildlife markets. However, the latest pandemic is believed to have started when the virus jumped to pangolins. Pangolins are sold in Wuhan despite the fact that they are a Critically Endangered species and their trade is illegal.

So, even if the bats were infected by one of the two research institutes in Wuhan (which remains a theory) that doesn’t mean bats are to blame. ‘COVID19’ is believed to have originated from the Wuhan Seafood Wholesale Market where wild animals – including pangolins, peacocks, wolf-pups, turtles, rabbits, bats and snakes – are sold ‘warm’ basically transported live and slaughtered to order. This live wildlife trade, in which many different species of wild animals are brought together to be killed and sold in ‘wet’ markets provide the perfect conditions for so-called ‘spillover’ events.

So, arguably it wasn’t bats that caused the COVID19 pandemic but people. The species in these markets would not be found together in such close proximity in the wild. It’s people that created the environment which resulted in the disease spillover from wildlife to people. Bats, civet cats, pangolins. All just animals. People hold the key to preventing another pandemic.


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  • 2. Peng Zhou et al (Jan 2020), ‘Discovery of a novel coronavirus associated with the recent pneumonia outbreak in 3 humans and its potential bat origin’, Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, People’s Republic of China.
  • 3. Quammen, D (2020), ‘We made the coronavirus epedemic’, The New York Times. 4. Mollentze & Streicker (2020) ‘Viral zoonotic risk is homogenous among taxonomic orders of mammalian and avian reservoir hosts’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
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