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Note: This article is from Conservation Magazine, the precursor to Anthropocene Magazine. The full 14-year Conservation Magazine archive is now available here.

Undocumented Immigrants

July 16, 2009

Millions of unidentified animals are pouring over U.S. borders

Poor labeling of wildlife imports means that four out of five species entering the United States are improperly identified, according to an analysis in the journal Science.

Between 2000 and 2006, researchers found, importers carted 1.5 billion live animals over U.S. borders—a number that corresponds to the purchase of five pets by every person in the U.S. over those years.

This incoming tide of animals can facilitate the introduction of foreign species and harmful pathogens into ecosystems. Ninety percent of the imported animals came from wild populations in areas lacking mandatory disease testing, and more than two-thirds came from Southeast Asia, a hotspot for emerging diseases, the study reports.

Currently, there is no national strategy, authority, or dedicated funding for oversight of the wildlife trade. Better risk analysis and pre-border screening are desperately needed, the authors write. But with a third of the crates labeled only by the most general categories—such as “live invertebrates”—the current state of record-keeping makes this all but impossible. ❧

— Jessica Leber

Smith, K.F. et al. 2009. Reducing the risks of the wildlife trade. Science 324: 594–595.

Photo: ©Wojciech Walter/

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