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The dangers of the global wildlife trade

Indonesian Tokay geckos in the pet trade.
[Image courtesy of Michael Yabsley and Katherine Smith]

Like any other product, animals are bought and sold on the global market. The trade of wildlife from one part of the world to another represents a serious money-making business, but some researchers also call it a serious threat.

Moving animals across the globe can pose serious danger to the environment and to human health, which is why researcher Katherine Smith and colleagues are saying that the global trade of wild animals needs more regulation. These researchers offer suggestions about how the U.S. should take action to make sure that wildlife entering the country's borders is safe for the environment here and also free of diseases that humans could catch.

They say that, since 2000, more than half a million shipments of over 1.48 billion live animals have been imported to the U.S., and that more than 74 percent of those creatures came from Southeast Asia, which is a hotspot for dangerous diseases.

But, as of now, there is no national strategy or authority in the U.S. that is devoted to keeping an eye on this important, and possibly dangerous, trade.

Researchers claim that the environmental- and health-related costs associated with the invasion of foreign species is about $120 billion every year. So Smith and her colleagues suggest that the government start collecting important information on imported species immediately and performing risk analyses on the animals that enter the country.

They argue that this would save money in the long run, and that taking action now could go a long way in reducing the costs associated with invasive species and in protecting the public, environmental health, and animal health overall.


This research appears in the 01 May 2009 issue of Science.