Pets: Stick to Dogs and Cats
wolffnm at yahoo.com
Tue Jun 10 08:07:36 EDT 2003
Editorial: Pets: Stick to dogs and cats
>From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
June 9, 2003
The growing quest for exotic pets in this country -
the more exotic the better - has unleashed a serious
biological backlash, and Wisconsin, unfortunately, is
at the epicenter of the trouble. At a minimum, this
episode ought to be a lesson for owners of exotic
animals: If you own it, you're responsible for it -
and for the consequences.
At least 19 people in Wisconsin are believed to have
been sickened by a rare virus never before seen
outside African rain forests; cases also have been
reported in Illinois and Indiana.
Experts believe that the virus was spread by infected
prairie dogs - mammals not indigenous to this part of
the country. These experts fear that the disease could
spread to indigenous animals such as rabbits and
squirrels if an infected prairie dog is released into
the wild by a reckless owner. Should that happen, the
experts warn, monkeypox is here to stay - an alarming
development, to say the least.
The disease surfaced in the Midwest in the last few
weeks, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention positively identified the illness on
Sunday. Public health officials say the outbreak has
dramatically illustrated the risks of owning imported
exotic animals without stopping to realize that exotic
animals also can be carriers of exotic diseases.
It's believed that the prairie dogs, which were sold
as pets, likely were infected with the monkeypox virus
at a Chicago-area pet distributor when they came into
contact with a large Gambian rat. Such rats,
indigenous to Africa, also are being sold in this
country as pets.
Monkeypox is similar to smallpox but not nearly as
dangerous; it can cause blistering rashes, fevers,
sweats, chills and coughs. The fatality rate for
monkeypox in Africa ranges from 1% to 10%, but experts
say the fatality rate in the United States probably
would be much lower because of better health care and
While there always has been some interest in exotic
pets, that interest has escalated in recent years.
Trouble is, people who buy such animals often know
nothing about how to care for them. Worse, when the
owners grow weary of the pets or the animals become
too large or hard to handle, the owners often
recklessly release the animals into the wild.
As a result of the monkeypox outbreak, Wisconsin and
Illinois have wisely banned the sale, importation,
display and exchange of prairie dogs. The Illinois ban
also covers Gambian rats, which can grow as big as 10
pounds. Public health officials, including
Milwaukee's, are closely monitoring the outbreak,
which is reassuring. But the trend toward keeping
exotic animals and the subsequent health risks to
humans strongly suggest that the federal government
needs to do more to control the problem at its source
by considering more rigorous restrictions on the
importation of non-indigenous exotic animals.
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