The global trade in wildlife is one of the most dynamic, ill-defined, and lucrative networks in the world. Legal trade of wildlife has been valued at hundreds of billions of dollars per year worldwide, although true estimates are impossible to derive due to lack of adequate data. Estimates at the regional level often exceed estimates at the global level and indicate an unsustainable impact on source populations.1,2 Understanding the extent of the illegal trade in wildlife is also highly difficult due to the vast, covert, and sophisticated nature of the business. One study found that nearly 90% of CITES member countries report illegal trade, producing an average decrease in source populations of 60 to 70%.1 In addition to its impacts on conservation, the global wildlife trade may contribute to emergence and spread of infectious diseases, pest introduction, and economic losses.3,4 The U.S. is the world’s largest importer of wildlife, importing nearly one and a half billion live animals since 2000, most of which are destined for the pet trade.5 The vast majority of invasive species and pathogens introduced via the wildlife trade have been identified only after their introduction to the U.S. Enhanced pathogen surveillance of both live and non-live wildlife entering the country could improve assessment of health risks to humans, native wildlife and the agricultural industry. Governmental regulatory initiatives, innovative disease surveillance programs, and options for engagement by the veterinary community are components of the current strategies employed to target this issue.
1. Asmussen, MV, Ferrer-Paris, JR, et al. Estimates and Trends of Illegal Wildlife Trade in the World. In prep.
2. Fa JE, Peres CA, Meeuwig JE. Bushmeat exploitation in tropical forests: an intercontinental comparison. Conservation Biology. 2002;16(1):232–237.
3. Karesh WB, Cook RA, Bennett EL, et al. Wildlife trade and global disease emergence. Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2005;11(7):1000–1002.
4. Pimentel D, Zuniga R, Morrison D. Update on the environmental and economic costs associated with alien-invasive species in the United States. Ecol Econ. 2005;52:273–288.
5. Smith K, Behrens M, Schloegel LM, et al. Reducing the risks of the wildlife trade. Science Policy Forum. 2009;324:594–595.