When an outbreak of monkeypox linked to pet prairie dogs and Gambian pouched rats was confirmed in June 2003, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Department of Human Health and Safety (HSS) issued a joint order that banned the import of several African rodents and also the transport, sale or release of pet prairie dogs.
At the time, it was clear that although the outbreak was quite mild, it was potentially serious enough that the exotic pet trade was going to come under close scrutiny. With a few exceptions, the import of exotic species from around the world into the US is a largely unregulated industry. The outbreak of monkey pox made many people consider the potential for human health risks related to importing exotic species.
On November 4 2003, the CDC and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a joint "Interim Final Rule," that makes the previous order permanent as well as adding some new restrictions. The new order specifically bans the capture of wild prairie dogs, and the trade in prairie dogs within states as well as between states. The imports and sale of several African rodents is also banned. The order also has a provision where any other animals that are found to carry monkeypox can be added to the ban.
Summary of the New Interim Final Rule:
- Import of the following African rodents is banned (both directly from Africa and via other countries)
- Tree squirrels (Sciurus)
- Rope squirrels (Funisciurus)
- Dormices (Graphiurus)
- Gambian Giant Pouched Rats (Cricetomys gambianus)
- Brush-tailed porcupines (Atherurus africanus)
- Striped mice (Typomys)
- "Capture, offers to capture, transport, offers to transport, sale, barter, or exchange, offers to sell, barter, or exchange distribution, offers to distribute, or release of a listed animal into the environment" are all prohibited, for prairie dogs and the rodents listed above.
- Note that the capture of prairie dogs in the wild with the intent of keeping in captivity is now banned.
- The regulations were clarified to now specifically prohibit trade both within states and between states.
These restrictions are meant to diminish the potential for spread of monkeypox in the US. While prairie dogs were directly involved in the June 2003 outbreak, they seem to have become a scapegoat in the final rules. Their role in the spread of monkeypox was secondary and accidental. Given the suspected source of the virus in the outbreak, the ban on importing the the rodents that might carry monkeypox may have merit. However, in theory the import ban should prevent the possible spread of monkeypox to prairie dogs, so I am not sure I understand the need to ban prairie dogs as pets too.
You can share your thoughts on this new order with the FDA; instructions are available at the end of this news release.