Opinion Essay

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Submitted By bokhieva
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Opinion

The Problem of Exotic Pets
Published: July 13, 2003
Over the past few months we've had several unfortunate reminders of the biological common ground we share with other species. The SARS virus probably crossed over from animals to humans in Guangdong Province in China. Humans got monkeypox from pet prairie dogs, which probably caught it, in turn, from an imported Gambian rat. Meanwhile, at the movies, there is ''28 Days Later,'' a horror film about a ''rage'' virus that passes swiftly and catastrophically from chimpanzees to humans. We can probably discount the dangers of a fast-acting horror-movie virus, but not the others.
If nothing else, the emergence of SARS and the recent outbreak of monkeypox in the United States are reminders that the potential biological effects of globalization can be chilling. Ordinarily, prairie dogs, native to America, do not catch diseases from rats native to western and central Africa. And humans do not ordinarily catch diseases from prairie dogs. What made the chain of monkeypox infection possible were humans who keep wild animals -- prairie dogs and Gambian rats -- as pets.
Although the federal government has now banned the distribution of prairie dogs and the importation of rodents from Africa, the monkeypox scare demonstrates how poorly regulated the ownership of and traffic in wild or exotic pets really are. A dozen states and some localities outlaw owning dangerous animals, and the federal government, as a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, prohibits, in most cases, owning or transporting endangered animals. But that still leaves most of the world's wildlife free to be captured, transported, sold and kept as pets. There has been a significant escalation in the trafficking of such pets in recent years.
For selfish reasons alone, Americans should avoid keeping exotic pets. The…...

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