Raccoon dogs and other animals illegally sold in cruel live markets in Wuhan, China, may have contributed to — or even caused — the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed nearly 7 million people across the globe, according to a new study.

An international team of scientists gathered genetic data from swabs taken at Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in January 2020. DNA found in the swabs from raccoon dogs, bamboo rats, and palm civets — all wild animals — also tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, according to news reports.

Although the new findings can’t definitively prove how the pandemic began, some experts say it’s the strongest evidence yet that COVID-19 jumped from animals over to humans.

“There’s a good chance that the animals that deposited that DNA also deposited the virus,” said Stephen Goldstein, a virologist who helped analyze the findings. “If you were to go and do environmental sampling in the aftermath of a zoonotic spillover event … this is basically exactly what you would expect to find.”

Other scientists say the virus could have jumped from an infected person to the susceptible wild animals in the market and then spread. Either way, the new data is part of growing evidence showing the devastating consequences of cramming wild animals in small, filthy cages and killing them at live animal markets for human consumption.

A growing number of studies are emphasizing that people need to change the way we treat animals if we want to see an end to these deadly diseases.

Live markets can pose a risk to the public whether they’re in China or anywhere else in the world. You can help today by signing our petition urging officials in New York and New Jersey to ban them for good and by sharing information and the petition with your friends and family.

SIGN: Stop Animal Suffering and Death in Filthy, Dangerous Live Markets