Washington - David Sandalow, executive vice-president of World Wildlife Fund, the largest privately supported international conservation organization in the world, released the following statement before the Senate hearing today on the importation of exotic species and its impact on public health and safety.
"The recent outbreak of monkey pox in the United States, traced to an African rat imported for the pet trade, should serve as a warning that we need to do a better job of stopping infected wildlife from entering our borders. The agencies responsible for regulating wildlife trade and ensuring that diseases and illegal animals aren't brought into the United States - the Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Agriculture and Centers for Disease Control - are grossly underfunded and understaffed. Only a minority of wildlife shipments gets physically inspected by even one of these agencies.
"The total declared value of wildlife shipments entering and leaving the United States exceeds $1.4 billion a year and there are more than 120,000 legal wildlife shipments moving across U.S. borders every year, yet the government employs just 92 wildlife inspectors nationwide to monitor them.
"In addition to the legal imports, law enforcement agents must search for smuggled animals, which pose a greater disease risk and are even less likely to be detected. Every year, thousands of birds, mammals, reptiles and other animals are imported to the United States illegally and escape detection.
"Congress must reassess the level of spending on wildlife trade controls at our borders, to ensure adequate funding for protection of the public health and the conservation of species in wildlife trade."