"This incredible number of imports is equivalent to every single person in the U.S. owning at least five pets," said biologist Katherine Smith of Brown University, co-leader of the study.
More than 86 percent of shipments contained animals that were not classified to the level of species, making it impossible to assess the full diversity of animals imported, or calculate the risk of non-native species introductions or disease transmission.
"Shipments are coming in labeled 'live vertebrate' or 'fish,'" said Daszak. "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 wildlife trade has previously led to disease introductions such as the 2003 monkeypox outbreak following the import of infected African rodents for the pet trade.
"The threat to public health is real, as the majority of emerging diseases come from wildlife," said Smith. "Most of these imported animals originate in Southeast Asia--a hotspot for emerging diseases."
The research team calls for direct measures to decrease the risk of such "pathogen pollution" and proposes guidelines to protect human, animal, and ecosystem health.
"We need to
|Contact: Cheryl Dybas|
National Science Foundation