AAP reveals many exotic animals kept in Europe carry dangerous diseases, potentially lethal to humans
Brussels, 4 October 2019 – While the global community celebrates World Animal Day, AAP Animal Advocacy and Protection today reveals worrying data on diseases found in exotic animals kept in captivity in Europe. It calls on EU decision-makers to establish a positive list of species that are allowed to be traded and kept as pets as a way to limit the health risks caused by the private ownership of these animals. AAP is also urging the European Parliament to seize the opportunity provided by the current update of the EU Animal Health Law to properly manage specimens of unknown health status.
The exotic pet trade - legal and illegal - is booming throughout Europe, affecting millions of animals which are completely unsuitable to a life in captivity and seriously impairing their welfare. Additionally, there are severe public health concerns attached to this trade. In the past five years across Europe AAP has rescued a number of exotic mammals which are susceptible to more than 120 different viruses, bacteria and parasites that can be easily transmitted to humans, including rabies and salmonellosis.
“After analysing the health status of the exotic animals that we rescue, we see that many of them are carriers of viruses and parasites that can be fatal to humans,” warned Raquel García-van der Walle, AAP´s Head of Public Policy. “Despite the imminent threat to human health, in many EU countries owning potentially dangerous species - such as wild primates and bats - as pets is perfectly legal,” she added.
The situation is particularly alarming among primates. Between 2015 and 2019 AAP rescued 61 primates which were infected with one or more viral infections that can be transmitted to humans. For instance, almost 60% of the Japanese macaques rescued by AAP were infected with STLV, viruses for which there are no vaccines. After a bite from a STLV-positive monkey, the virus can be transmitted. STLV is closely related to human HTLV, which causes cancer in humans.
The health status of primates is currently under discussion in the context of an EU Delegated Act, recently published by the European Commission and aimed at supplementing the EU Animal Health Law. According to AAP and the Eurogroup for Animals, the legislation as it stands could have the unintended consequence that primates of unknown health status (and therefore at risk of carrying dangerous and contagious diseases) remain out of any official control because the quarantine conditions for facilities willing to take in primates from unknown origin have not been defined. It also remains unclear if it will be possible to transport primates with unknown origin to a certified quarantine facility in a different Member State.
“There are not many high standard quarantine facilities for primates in Europe,” flags Raquel García-van der Walle. “As a result, if the Delegated Act goes ahead as proposed, primates of unknown health status might have to remain in that status with all the risks attached to it or be unnecessarily euthanized.”
The danger posed by exotic animals for public health is well known. There are at least 70 exotic pet-related human diseases referenced in the EU (Warwick et al, 2012) and cases of dangerous diseases transmitted from exotic animals to humans are regularly reported. Pet reptiles are responsible for approximately 6000 cases of salmonella infections in the UK every year. The treatment costs around €2,000 per day and often takes between 7 and 14 days, imposing a substantial economic burden on the public purse.
According to AAP, there should be a positive list of species that are allowed to be kept as pets in the EU. “A positive list is the most effective, concise, transparent, enforceable and economically feasible way of dealing with all the problems emerging from the exotic pet trade,” said Raquel García-van der Walle. To date, three EU Member States - Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg - have officially introduced a positive list. In Belgium, where the impact of the legislation has been documented, the result has been remarkably positive, with low levels of illegal activity.
AAP Animal Advocacy and Protection is an international animal welfare organization working for a better future for exotic, non-domesticated animals. AAP operates two rescue and rehabilitation facilities, one in the Netherlands (Stichting AAP) and one in Spain (AAP Primadomus), and is engaged in advocacy and campaigning for better legislation at regional, national and European level.