“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regulates the importation of wildlife and wildlife products known to “present a significant public health concern,” focusing primarily on bats, African rodents, and nonhuman primates, Jasmine Reed, a CDC spokesperson, wrote in an email. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) intervenes only if there’s a disease risk to poultry or livestock animals of agricultural importance.
This leaves millions of animals that come into the U.S legally each year unchecked for diseases that have the potential to spill over to humans or other animals.
It shouldn’t be too difficult to develop a program in the U.S. to monitor imported wildlife for pathogens and develop risk assessments, says Peter Jenkins, senior counsel for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an environmental nonprofit. “We have a very good model of this, and it’s the U.S. livestock trade.” The USDA’s Animal Plant and Health Service implements a comprehensive system of veterinary services and trade controls to reduce the risk of importing pathogens that can harm animals, including cattle, sheep, poultry and others.”