For Immediate Release

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Tanya Sanerib, (206) 379-7363, tsanerib@biologicaldiversity.org

Report: America’s Massive Wildlife Imports Fuel Global Pandemic Risks

Influx of millions of bat, primate, rodent parts raises disease danger in source countries.

WASHINGTON - The United States imported almost 23 million whole animals, parts, samples and products made from bats, primates and rodents over a recent five-year period, according to a report released today by the Center for Biological Diversity. Rodents, bats and primates harbor 75% of known zoonotic viruses — pathogens that spread from animals to people.

Today’s analysis of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service data found that the most common commercial imports were paperweights made with bats encased in acrylic, primate skulls for décor and rodent-fur fishing flies. Dealing in Disease, the Center’s report, notes that the wildlife trade creates ideal conditions for the emergence of new zoonotic diseases — including the virus causing COVID-19 — that could fuel the next pandemic.

“The voracious U.S. appetite for these imports wipes out wildlife and breeds disease,” said report author Tanya Sanerib, the Center’s international legal director. “Bats, primates and rodents are amazing animals, that naturally harbor diseases. When we exploit them through trade and habitat infringement, those diseases can infect us. The insatiable demand for wildlife products in the United States is a dangerous problem that can’t be ignored.”

The Center’s report also found that:

  • The majority of imports (99% of bats and 96% of rodents and primates) were dead, meaning that U.S. demand shifts the disease risk linked to the wildlife trade and the capture, transport and slaughter of wildlife to China and other source countries.
  • Of the imports analyzed, 93% of bats, 90% of rodents and 21% of primate imports were wild caught.
  • China, where the virus causing COVID-19 likely emerged, is the number one source of bats and primates imported to the United States and the fifth-largest source of rodents.
  • Commercial sale to U.S. consumers is among the top three reasons bat, primate and rodent parts, products, samples and animals are imported. This demand for wildlife parts for décor and hobbies drives the exploitation of primarily wild-caught bats and rodents and many wild primates.

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“It’s horrific that the U.S. is driving up disease risk and damaging ecosystems to import bat paperweights and other trinkets,” said Sanerib. “U.S. demand fuels the risky exploitation of wildlife and habitat globally, so we can’t just point a finger at China or biodiversity-rich countries in the developing world. We desperately need action at home to halt demand for wildlife.”

Overall, the United States consumes roughly 20% of the global wildlife market. In 2019 scientists convened by the United Nations predicted the loss of a million species in the coming decades, with habitat destruction and wildlife exploitation playing major roles in these extinctions.

To protect life on Earth and reduce the risk of another pandemic, the Center’s report calls for a ban on the wildlife trade along with funding and support to transition livelihoods and strengthen U.S. conservation efforts globally.

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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