Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Illegal Wildlife Trafficking Not Only Big Business in US, May Also Transmit Fatal Diseases Such as Bird Flu

Here’s some disturbing news for you – seems that the US and China basically run this trade; second only to arms and drugs.

“The United States and China are the biggest markets for an estimated $10 billion global trade in illegal wildlife. The black market in wildlife and wildlife parts is second only to trafficking in arms and drugs.”


Bird Flu watchdogs worry about smuggled animals


April 30, 2006 - WASHINGTON -- Bird flu entering the U.S. through smuggled wildlife is a growing worry for government officials already on the lookout for migrating wild birds. The concern over the trade in wild animals, pets and animal parts has some precedent, here and abroad.
Gambian rats imported from Africa brought the monkeypox virus to the United States in 2003. They infected prairie dogs purchased as pets. Seventy-two people in the Midwest became ill, but none died.

In 2004, two Crested Hawk-Eagles carrying the virulent strain of the H5N1 bird flu virus were seized from the hand luggage of a Thai passenger at Brussels International Airport in Belgium. The passenger had planned to sell the birds to a Belgian falconer. Not one of the 25 people exposed to the virus became ill. Officials killed 200 parrots and 600 smaller birds that had contact with the Crested Hawk-Eagles.

"We're very concerned about it coming into the U.S. by whatever means," Assistant Secretary of State Claudia McMurray said. The deadly H5N1 virus that has spread through Asia, Europe and Africa but has not arrived in the U.S. Scientists fear the virus could evolve into a form that would pass easily from person to person, sparking a global epidemic.

A surveillance plan for monitoring migratory birds says a migrating wild bird is the most likely carrier of the H5N1 virus. The plan, developed by the Interior and Agriculture departments and the state of Alaska for use in all 50 states, also says the virus could arrive through smuggled poultry, an infected traveler, black-market trade in exotic birds or even an act of bioterrorism.

Authorities in other countries are similarly wary. An estimated 4,500 chickens from China are smuggled into Vietnam every day and the H5N1 virus has shown up in samples taken from some of the confiscated birds.

The United States and China are the biggest markets for an estimated $10 billion global trade in illegal wildlife. The black market in wildlife and wildlife parts is second only to trafficking in arms and drugs. "It's not just a matter of the U.S. telling China, 'Clean up your act.' The two of us are both going to get a handle on it together," said McMurray, head of the State Department's Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

About 330,000 live birds were imported into the United States in 2004. Just 374 were denied entry, suggesting smugglers may focus on different routes. The ones denied entry came mainly from Mexico, Guyana and Ghana. The biggest sources of live birds were Canada, with 117,000; Taiwan, 50,000; Tanzania, nearly 40,000; and Belgium, 24,000.

The U.S. banned imports of all live birds, bird parts and bird products from Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam in February 2004. Since then, the ban has been expanded to any country or region where bird flu is thought to exist.

"The borders are where the increased emphasis needs to be," said Simon Habel, director of TRAFFIC North America, which works closely with the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, based in Geneva, Switzerland. "There's an endless string of clever ways people try to bring birds and animals into the country," said Habel, whose trade-monitoring network is a joint program of the World Wildlife Fund and IUCN-The World Conservation Union.

More than 200 Fish and Wildlife Service special agents also do old-fashioned police work to try to stop the trade. "The problem is illegal trade that's underground, where smugglers are bypassing that whole structure of quarantine and permits," said Nicholas Throckmorton, an agency spokesman. An additional 120 agency field officers inspect wildlife shipments at 35 ports, airports and other locations, alongside Customs and Border Patrol officials. The State Department hopes to also enlist private businesses in that effort.

"The labeling on these items that come in, people don't tell the truth about what's in them," McMurray said. "That's part of the reason why I want to talk to the airlines, the shippers, the FedExes and the UPSes of the world and say, 'Help us with this."'

On the Net: State Department: http://www.state.gov/g/oes Fish and Wildlife Service: http://www.fws.gov TRAFFIC: http://www.traffic.org

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