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Palm Civets (Paguma larvata) and SARS

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It has come to light that palm civets and possibly  other small mammals such as badgers and raccoon dogs sold in the animal markets of southern China may be responsible for the worldwide SARS outbreak. Animals being implicated in the transmission of disease is nothing new (see "further reading" references below) but on no account should this danger be ignored.   


It should be noted that the animal that the scientists are referring to in these stories is the Palm Civet, Paguma larvata. Contrary to some of the initial media reports, Palm Civets and Civet cats are very different species. In fact the term "Civet" can refer to animals found in Asia, (Palm Civet, Paguma larvata), North America (Civet cat, Bassariscus astutus) and in Africa and Asia (Civet Cat, Felis libyca). The only member of the cat family in the above listing is Felis libyca and they are not implicated.-


The apparent causative agent for this disease is a corona virus based on ongoing research in Hong Kong.   Much like the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) outbreak in the United Kingdom in 1993,  it appears that inadequate preparation of the meat is the cause for this severe zoonotic health issue.

With the eyes of the world upon China, our hope at the World Chelonian Trust is that the Chinese government will take the necessary steps to prevent the reoccurrence of this type of worldwide human health problem.  It is also our hope that the illegal trafficking of turtles and tortoises (chelonians) in the markets of southern China will come to a complete halt.  An overview of these Animal Markets of China is presented here by the World Chelonian Trust 


While the current health crisis is focused on small mammals such as palm civets, the transmission of disease via the consumption of reptiles as well as the absolutely crushing issue of the impending extinction for numerous chelonian taxa in and around China mandate that the reptiles in these markets also be thoroughly regulated. The dangers of disease transmission, in particular Salmonella,  to people cannot be discounted (second Salmonella reference). 


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Web References used above:

Animal Markets of China -  The World Chelonian Trust Overview of the Animal Markets of China


World Chelonian Trust - Home Page of the World Chelonian Trust


extinction - World Chelonian Trust - Extinct in our Time Gallery


Salmonella -  ARAV Salmonella Bacteria and Reptiles: CLIENT EDUCATIONAL HANDOUT


second Salmonella reference -  ARAV Salmonella and Reptiles: Veterinary Guidelines


Educational References:

Stephen Morse,  ed.,  Emerging Viruses, New York,  Oxford University Press 1993


Mary Wilson et al, eds., Disease in Evolution, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, vol 740 (New York 1995)


Allan Steere, "Lime disease: A growing threat to urban populations", Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 91:2378-83 (1994)

Civets and SARS - Media reports:,1286,58975,00.html,0,3142686.story?coll=sns-ap-health-headlines

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