Mitigating conservation threats associated with global wild and exotic animal pet trade, infectious diseases, and regulatory importation gaps in the United States
In 2013, almost 209 million exotic pets were owned in the United States. To meet consumer demand, the United States—the world’s leading import market for live animals—annually imports millions of animals, especially fish, reptiles, and amphibians, for the booming exotic pet industry. Most of these imported animals are captured from the wild. Imported animals, either wild-caught or captive-bred, may harbor infectious diseases that could harm our native wildlife if accidentally or deliberately released into the wild. Amphibian species worldwide, for example, are threatened by chytridiomycosis, a fungal disease spread, in part, through the pet trade. The United States currently has no specific import regulations to mitigate disease threats facing native wildlife from imported wild and exotic animals. Better understanding of the intersection of supply and demand of wild and exotic animal pets, risk of introduced disease, and current gaps in U.S. import regulations will help develop targeted, cost-effective responses. This project will provide the necessary scientific, evidence-based recommendations to develop policies and interventions that (a) prioritize the disease threat, (b) regulate the problem, and (c) assure social and economic benefits from the trade. The project will compile and synthesize data from multiple sources on live-animal trade, infectious diseases, and current gaps in import regulations to determine how these variables interact to increase risk of introduced disease and, more importantly, how to best mitigate this risk to protect our native wildlife.