She estimated 2,241 non-native species were imported to the U.S. between 2000 and 2006 and says there have been 335 outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases since 1940, 75% of which had animal origins. Among the outbreaks: a 2003 US outbreak of monkeypox traced to African rodents imported for pets, SARS in 2002, West Nile Virus in 1999, smallpox in the 1500s and syphilis in the 1400s.
"The threat to public health is real, as the majority of emerging diseases come from wildlife," says Dr. Smith, who listed dozens of fevers, encephalitis, Leishmaniasis, and schistosomiasis among the health threats.
Just 100 inspectors at US borders are tasked with inspecting the shipments, she adds. From 2000 through 2006, the U.S. imported more than 1.5 billion live animals, roughly equal to five animals for every citizen.
Pet shops could face tighter restrictions if the controversial Nonnative Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act gets voted into law.
The researchers call for:
The conference concluded with a major plenary, chaired by leading expert Lijbert Brussaard, of Wageningen University, The Netherlands, on ways to reconcile the competing Millennium Development Goals of protecting biodiversity, reducing world hunger and alleviating poverty.
|Contact: Terry Collins|