Wildlife Trade Endangers Health and Habitat

Imported tokay geckos. Credit: Michael Yabsley, University of Georgia

Spotted geckos, colorful parrots, and fighting fish are just a few of the animals that are imported for the pet trade, a wildly unregulated industry that could be endangering public health and natural ecosystems, according to a recent study published in Science.

Researchers from the Wildlife Trust, Brown University, Pacific Lutheran University, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Global Invasive Species Programme found that 86 percent of the 200 million animals imported every year are barely identified.

“Shipments are coming in labeled ‘live vertebrate’ or ‘fish,’” Peter Dyszak, president of the Wildlife Trust, said in a National Science Foundation press release. “If we don’t know what animals are in there, how do we know which are going to become invasive species or carry diseases that could affect livestock, wildlife—or ourselves?”

The global wildlife trade is a booming industry, generating hundreds of billions of dollars each year, but which animals are bringing in the big bucks is largely unknown, say the researchers. The majority of human diseases come from wildlife, so it’s important to know which species are coming in to the country. Others can wreak havoc of they’re set free, as Burkhart Bilger explained in his recent article in The New Yorker (registration required).

In order to avoid disaster, the researchers recommended these changes to the importation process:


  • - Stricter record keeping should be required to inform risk analysis on animal imports.
  • - Third-party surveillance and testing should be established for both known and unknown pathogens at the exportation points in foreign countries.
  • - Great public education is needed to educate individuals, importers, veterinarians and pet industry advocates about the dangers of diseases that emerge from wildlife and that can make their way to domesticated animals and humans.

If officials take those suggestions and implement them, maybe we could all rest a bit easier while tackling other environmental crises. Next week: global warming.


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