On behalf of the Animal Protection Institute (API), a national non-profit animal advocacy organization with over 85,000 members and supporters, I am pleased to offer testimony regarding the importation of exotic species and the impact these species have on public health and safety. I wish to thank the Committee on Environment and Public Works for holding a public hearing on this very important issue.
For several years, API has been studying the issue of exotic animals held in private hands. We have tracked incidents across the country involving attacks, escapes, and transmission of communicable diseases, and have analyzed all of the state laws that govern these issues, including caging requirements and standards. API has worked on legislation in North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, and Washington State that would prohibit the private possession and breeding of exotic animals. Several cities have also passed API’s model legislation restricting the possession and breeding of exotic animals. In addition, we operate the API Primate Sanctuary, which is home to approximately 350 non-human primates, many of whom were rescued from private possession.
The trade in exotic animals is a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry. People are breeding captive wild animals in large numbers. Every year, thousands of animals enter the captive wild animal trade from a variety of sources. These animals are either “surplus” from various roadside menageries and zoos; are captured from their native habitat; are sold at auctions, pet stores, or over the Internet; or come from backyard breeders. These animals are then sold on the open market and freely moved via interstate commerce. For example, a primate bred in Kentucky can be shipped with ease to an individual in Texas in a matter of days.
Exotic animals, such as lions, tigers, servals, monkeys, bears, snakes, iguanas, wolves, prairie dogs, and binturongs are being privately possessed as “pets” across the country. These animals pose public safety and health risks to their possessors and to the community at large. By their very nature, these animals are wild and inherently dangerous and, as such, do not adjust well to a captive environment. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) have all opposed private possession of certain exotic animals.
Across the country, many privately held captive wild animals have attacked humans and other animals, or have escaped from their enclosures to freely roam the community. In many instances, children and adults have been mauled by tigers, bitten by monkeys, and asphyxiated by snakes. For example, monkeys are the most common non-human primates to be privately kept. After the age of two, monkeys tend to exhibit unpredictable behavior. Males often become aggressive, and both males and females bite to defend themselves and to establish dominance. There have been numerous reported monkey bites since 1990 resulting in serious injury to the individual involved who was either the possessor, a neighbor, or a stranger on the street.
Further, many exotic animals are carriers of zoonotic diseases, such as salmonella, Herpes B, rabies, and monkeypox, all of which are communicable to humans. For example, ninety percent of all reptiles carry and shed salmonella in their feces. Iguanas, snakes, lizards, and turtles are common carriers of the bacteria. Reptiles that carry salmonella do not show any symptoms, thus there is no simple way to tell which reptiles play host to the microbe and which do not. Salmonellosis associated with exotic pets has been described as one of the most important public health diseases, affecting more people and animals than any other single disease. The CDC estimates that 93,000 salmonella cases caused by exposure to reptiles are reported each year in the United States.
Eighty to 90 percent of all macaque monkeys are infected with Herpes B-virus or Simian B, a virus that is harmless to monkeys but fatal to 70 percent of humans who contract it. Monkeys shed the virus intermittently in saliva or genital secretions, which generally occurs when the monkey is ill, under stress, or during breeding season. At any given time, about two percent of infected macaque monkeys are shedding the virus. A person who is bitten, scratched, sneezed on, or spit upon by a shedding macaque runs the risk of contracting the disease.
Also, there are no known rabies vaccinations licensed by the Food and Drug Administration for exotic animals. Exotic animals that are not completely excluded from all contact with rabies vectors can become infected. As such, animals that are kept outside in cages can be infected from wild animals in the area. Therefore, all exotic animals that are capable of contracting rabies, such as lions, tigers, bears, etc., are potential carriers.
Moreover, according to the CDC, as of July 8, 2003, there have been a total of 71 cases of monkeypox reported to the CDC from Wisconsin (39), Indiana (16), Illinois (12), Missouri (two), Kansas (one), and Ohio (one) as a result from exposure to “pet” prairie dogs. This recent outbreak of monkeypox clearly demonstrates that it is extremely difficult to predict what other communicable diseases are out there waiting to jump from animals to humans.
The only way to stop the proliferation of the exotic animal trade and the public safety and health risks that possession of exotic animals causes is to stop the breeding, bartering, transporting, trading, and selling of exotic animals on the open market for profit and amusement, and by educating the public to understand that wild animals belong in the wild, not in our homes.
There is very little federal oversight on the exotic animal industry. The federal laws that do exist outline minimal care and treatment standards for specific animals according to the Animal Welfare Act, regulate threatened and endangered species, or regulate the interstate transport of specific animals that may spread communicable diseases.
Pursuant to 42 USC § 264, the “Surgeon General, with the approval of the Administrator [Secretary], is authorized to make and enforce such regulations as in his judgment are necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases from foreign countries into the States or possessions, or from one State or possession into any other State or possession” (emphasis added). Regulations implementing this section have prohibited the importation of all non-human primates into the United States, as well as restricted the number of turtles, tortoises, and terrapins that may be imported. Please see 42 CFR § 71.52 - §71.55.
Clearly, 42 USC § 264 gives Congress the authority to prohibit transport of exotic animals between foreign countries and states, as well as prohibit outright the possession of designated species of animals. Considering this broad authority, Congress can and should prohibit the interstate transport and possession of additional exotic animals that have the potential to spread communicable diseases.
With this in mind, API recommends that, at the very least, Congress acts under its authority and instructs the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Public Health Service, and/or the Department of Health and Human Services to adopt regulations that will prohibit the interstate transport and possession of all exotic animals that have the potential to spread a communicable diseases. The following is a partial list of exotic animals that are known to be possible carriers of zoonotic diseases transmittable to humans:
· Non-human primates – Herpes B with respect to macaque monkeys, ebola, and monkeypox
· Reptiles – Salmonella
· Prairie dogs – Monkeypox
· Exotic rodents (e.g. Gambian rats) – Monkeypox
· Bears - Rabies
· Exotic felines (e.g. lions, tigers, ocelots, servals, etc.) - Rabies
· Wolves -Rabies
In addition, API encourages Congress to devise an Advisory Committee, which would meet to discuss other exotic animals that should be considered as a potential health risk if privately possessed.
Currently, the Captive Wildlife Safety Act (H.R. 1006 and S. 269) is moving through Congress. These bills amend the Lacey Act to ban the interstate movement of lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, and cougars for private use as “pets.” A hearing was held on H.R. 1006 in which the bill was well received. This important bill attempts to address the exotic animal trade; however, stronger restrictions must be put into place that will protect the American public from the exotic animals that are in private hands.
There is a critical need for the federal government to step-in and regulate the exotic animal trade. API strongly asserts that the means to address this issue is to amend 42 USC § 264 to prohibit the interstate transport and possession of all exotic animals that have the potential to transmit communicable disease to humans.
Thank you for your consideration of this statement on behalf of the Animal Protection Institute. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact me at (916) 447-3085, ext. 214 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.