Nautilus

The Superorganism That Created the Pandemic

I’ve spent years adventuring in exotic parts of the world seeking out wildlife—weeks in tents in remote wildernesses, nights uncomfortably holed up in hides in rainforests. I’ve drifted through mangroves on boats, even lodged in a tree-canopy camp. And yet, I know that the best place to find rare and endangered animals is a bushmeat market.

The first time I saw a pangolin, it was chopped up on a table for sale in a market in Yogyakarta in Java, Indonesia, about 20 years ago. That was the last time, too—the world’s only scaly mammal is now the most illegally traded wild animal on the planet, and so scarce that it’s almost impossible for even the most dedicated zoologist to see them in the wild. Today, pangolin products are difficult to find in local bushmeat markets, too, because they’ve become so high value they’re increasingly

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