My name is Sarah Tyack and I am the Deputy Director of the Animals in Crisis and Distress Program for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). IFAW is a non-profit organization with over two million supporters around the world. Our global headquarters is in Massachusetts, and we have offices in Australia, China, Japan, Russia, Germany, France, The Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Canada, India, Belgium, Kenya, South Africa, Mexico, and in Washington, D.C.
IFAW’s mission is to work to improve the welfare of wild and domestic animals throughout the world by reducing commercial exploitation of animals, protecting wildlife habitats, and assisting animals in distress. IFAW seeks to motivate the public to prevent cruelty to animals and to promote animal welfare and conservation policies that advance the well being of both animals and people.
I am pleased to submit this statement for the official hearing record in regard to the importation of exotic species and the impact that this trade has on public health and safety.
Humans have kept pets, or companion animals, for centuries. While the majority of pets are domesticated animals such as cats and dogs, “exotic” animals are quickly growing in popularity and numbers. These animals are either removed from the wild, often illegally, or bred in captivity from wild animals Wild animals kept as pets include species of reptiles, primates, birds and both small and large mammals. The exotic pet trade is a major component of the global and illegal wildlife trade, which is second only to the international trade in arms and narcotics. The exotic pet trade threatens the survival of many species worldwide, seriously compromises the welfare of the animals involved and undermines international conservation efforts.
However, there are also serious public health implications in keeping an imported or captive bred wild animal due to the high risk of disease transmission. Diseases that can be transferred from animals to humans are known as zoonoses and many animals kept as exotic pets harbor dangerous, and potentially deadly diseases. Zoonoses can be transmitted through the air, direct physical contact, ingestion, or through various arthropods such as ticks and lice. Although a number of animal species can transmit disease, non-human primates pose a more serious threat to human health due to similarities in their genetic make up to humans. Chimpanzees have long been known to harbor Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV) and, in 1999, Dr. Beatrice Hahn of the University of Alabama at Birmingham concluded that chimpanzees in central Africa were the primary source of human HIV infections. The transmission of the virus to humans is believed to have occurred from bushmeat poachers handling butchered carcasses and the subsequent consumption of the meat by the public.
Chimpanzees also harbor Ebola and Marburg viruses, which due to their extreme pathogenicity and the lack of an effective vaccine or antiviral drug, are classified as high biosafety risks to human health. Multiple species of non-human primates additionally transmit a fatal Herpes-B virus, human monkey pox, smallpox, yellow fever and viral hepatitis and Tuberculosis. Intestinal disorders are transmitted as well, including tapeworms, Shigella, Salmonella, Giardiosis and Entamoebic Dystenery. The methods of transmission are, again, predominantly through the bushmeat trade. However, primates, and other species, that are captured for the pet trade also carry many of these diseases. Until the commercial and largely illegal trade of wildlife is addressed, these animals will continue to be a source of disease transmission to humans.
Given the unknown potential of the transmission of zoonoses from exotic pets to humans, the threat to public health and safety and the economic implications of controlling an outbreak, IFAW urges the Committee to establish an advisory committee within the Human Health Services to review and expand the Injurious Species list defined by the Lacey Act. This commission could also make further recommendations as to which species are appropriate to be kept as pets and assess which species pose a threat to human health and safety.
Thank you for the opportunity to submit these comments.