Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) was the first pandemic transmissible disease of previously unknown aetiology in the twenty-first century. Early epidemiologic investigations suggested an animal origin for SARS-CoV. Virological and serological studies indicated that masked palm civets ( Paguma larvata), together with two other wildlife animals, sampled from a live animal market were infected with SARS-CoV or a closely related virus. Recently, horseshoe bats in the genus Rhinolophus have been identified as natural reservoir of SARS-like coronaviruses. Here, we review studies by different groups demonstrating that SARS-CoV succeeded in spillover from a wildlife reservoir (probably bats) to human population via an intermediate host(s) and that rapid virus evolution played a key role in the adaptation of SARS-CoVs in at least two nonreservoir species within a short period.