Coronavirus disease 19 (or COVID-19) is suspected to have originated at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, in the central Chinese province of Hubei, in December 2019. Wet markets such as this – ‘wet’ because of the melting ice used to preserve goods – are where traders sell fresh meat, fish and produce. Some, however, also sell live animals, which can be slaughtered and skinned for the customer upon purchase, to demonstrate their freshness. The Huanan Seaford Wholesale Market, for example, was selling a lot more than just fish – snakes, raccoon dogs, deer, porcupines and pangolins are just a few of the wild species that were also for sale there, both dead and alive.
If, like us, you found yourself during lockdown being overwhelmed by day after day of increasingly grim news, you may have found solace in the Netflix documentary Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness. Madness is certainly apt. Every few minutes of this messy, captivating, and at times surreal, series yields some new surprise or jaw-dropping twist, to the extent that if I tried to explain the seven episodes in detail to someone who had never seen the show, I might be accused of making it all up.
My favourite animal changes all the time. When I was younger, I cycled through various large, majestic cats such as tigers, jaguars and snow leopards. At one point, I considered the polar bear among my favourites; another time, the hippo. But now I much prefer stranger, more obscure, more underappreciated animals. And a weird, elusive, nocturnal creature that looks almost like a walking pinecone fits that bill perfectly – the pangolin.