Prairie Dog Lover's Burrow

Outreach * Rescue * Advocacy

 

"Yesterday"

MPV and the Ban of 2003

 

 UPDATE

FDA RESCINDS BAN - SEPTEMBER 8, 2008

Follow the link below to FDA docket:

http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2008/pdf/E8-20779.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

On June 11, 2003, CDC and FDA issued a joint order announcing an immediate embargo on the importation of all rodents from Africa because they were found to be potential transmitters of the Monkeypox virus [MPV].  That embargo was implemented as a federal ruling in Novermber 2003.  The joint order banned within the United States, any sale, bartering, offering for distribution, transport, or release into the environment, one native animal - the prairie dog - along with six specific African rodent species that were implicated in the Monkeypox outbreak.  Prairie dog pet owners, advocates, Veterinarians, and biologists refuted the allegations that MPV is a "prairie dog disease" as government officials implied.  This ban not only affected prairie dogs as pets, but more importantly, in the wild, because the authorities feared that an infected prairie dog might be "set free", thus introducing yet another foreign borne disease such as plague, which will wipe out entire prairie dog towns.  All rescue and relocation efforts in the wild were halted, as were educational efforts involving the movement of prairie dogs, and an exemption permit was required in advance unless a blanket permit (pre-approval) was issued by the FDA.

The prairie dog was unfairly associated with a virus that mainly occurs in the rain forests of central and west Africa.  Due to flaws in our country's importation and exportation quarantine laws, and the government's failure to regulate the pet trade, an infected African Gambian Giant rat was allowed to slip across the United States border to a dealer in Texas.  That dealer unknowingly shipped the infected, foreign animals with approximately 200 baby prairie dogs to a pet store in Chicago during the Spring of 2003.  As a result of human negligence, many baby animals were infected, and subsequently there were 70 suspected cases in humans, but 37 were confirmed cases according to CDC officials.  The animals were further distributed throughout a handful of mid-western states at pet swaps and other pet distributors.  The FDA was particularly interested in the fact that all laboratory confirmed cases of MPV in humans were traced to the baby prairie dogs, and were unfamiliar with the pet trade and the fact that prairie dog pups were only available in the Spring.  The selling of prairie dogs was a profitable business that grew in popularity over the years, as did intense relationships between humans and prairie dogs.  Even though prairie dogs were not the source of Monkeypox, and NOT the only native species to be infected with the virus, they were singled out as the only native species included in the ban.  Simply because it was pup season and there were more prairie dog pups than any other species in that "transaction", they were associated with MPV.  The remaining pups and other animals in the Illinois pet store, and many that were distributed elsewhere, were tracked down and euthanized, and tested for the virus.  However, due to the inaccuracy of pet distributer's records, not all animals were recovered from that shipment.

According to CDC officials, "14 prairie dogs, 2 Gambian giant pouched rats, 6 dormice, 4 rope squirrels, 1 groundhog, 1 hedgehog, 1 jerboa and 2 opossums tested positive for MPV.  Additional animals from the Illinois distributor were euthanized and sent to the US Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases for laboratory evaluation.  The results were as follows:  3 prairie dogs, 6 gerbils, 7 hamsters, and 1 chinchilla all tested positive for MPV."  Incidentally, the majority of the animals that were euthanized in the investigation tested 'negative' for the virus.

There was a seemingly deliberate misrepresentation by government officials as well as the media, as photographs of prairie dogs were displayed on the CDC website with information about MPV - and the media continued to exploit the MPV episode - with every new emerging disease, as though the two go together.  Several other species were affected by the outbreak, but clearly this health issue turned into an unfair persecution toward one native animal. 

For more information on the embargo, and to find out its impact on prairie dogs as pets and in the wild, view the following:

  CDC FAQ on Embargo and Prohibition of Certain Rodents and Prairie Dogs.

 


The Monkeypox Virus episode personally affected humans who regard the prairie dog as members of their family.  Many families across the United States were outraged at the imposed ban, because it prevented them from legally sharing their life with another prairie dog when their pet dies.  Prairie dogs as pets date back to when French Explorers Lewis and Clark brought one of these amazing little animals to our very own US President, Thomas Jefferson.  Jefferson was both delighted and entertained with the little prairie dog, who lived out the remainder of its life on display (as a pet) for all residents to enjoy in what is now known as Independence Hall in Pennsylvania. 

 


Although this outbreak was unfortunate for the humans and animals that contracted the virus, due to the mass hysteria generated by the media in this outbreak, the reputation of prairie dogs has been permanently undermined and tarnished.  This "epidemic" was blown out of proportion by the media, even reaching into the scripts of late night comedians, who further twisted the "prairie dogs and Monkeypox" saga, as it was permanently etched in the minds of Americans that the two go together.  They do not.

        

The virus no longer exists in the United States according to the CDC's last update on the virus.  There have been no further cases reported since July of 2003, yet the FDA and CDC refuse to remove prairie dogs from the embargo with the following reason: "The CDC presented summary information to FDA indicating that there are new data concerning MPV that suggest that animals may be infected without appearing ill and that animals may remain infected, and possibly infectious, for longer than previously anticipated".  The FDA officials told me "further studies by the CDC should be substantially finished by summer of 2004, and that many of these studies will take approximately 12 to 18 months to complete, which will result in clarification of which pet animals are likely to pose a Monkeypox risk, and the duration of infection and viral shedding."  Fortunately, those studies revealed that the strain of the MPV of 2003, was a weaker strain than originally thought.

Prairie dogs do not belong in pet stores, however, thousands of families around the world regard them as very special members of human families.  Families, our native wildlife, and our pets, deserve protection from emerging diseases.  The implementation of laws and restrictions in the pet trade and stricter foreign importation practices at our country's borders need to be addressed, rather than implementing pet bans within our own country.  Prairie dog pet owners wish to maintain the freedom to share their lives with prairie dogs, and many do so responsibly and have become advocates for prairie dogs in their natural habitat.


 

Sadly, since the embargo was extended to include prairie dogs in the wild, the condemnation toward the little burrowing ground squirrels that existed before intensified.  Those who previously considered them "pests", seemed more determined to punish and torture prairie dogs - all for a crime they didn't commit.  Due to a decision made by some government officials to extend the timetable of this ban, an even deeper hatred for prairie dogs ensued. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. Government rescinded the poison ban, and began paying for the poisoning of prairie dogs on FEDERAL land in South Dakota in October 2004 with taxpayer money, to appease ranchers who, ironically, were subsidized by the same government to use the land for grazing cattle.  Prairie dogs were used as political pawns in election year 2004 despite protests from environmentalists, prairie dog pet owners, wildlife advocates and others.

Due to the injustice against prairie dogs, hundreds that were being held in pet stores since the ban took effect in 2003, were euthanized or reached adulthood, with no hope of ever being released back into the wild, and with no hope of ever being adopted to loving homes.  Pet stores are not an appropriate environment for prairie dogs.  Initially, the FDA permitted adoptions of some of the prairie dogs that were stuck in limbo, to pet owners who lost a prairie dog pet to illness or to old age, but have since ceased permitting pet exemptions.  The short lived kindness and humane treatment of these innocent victims apparently became too much of an effort for them, because they began recommending that these tame prairie dogs be fed to raptor facilities, zoos or black-footed ferret programs.

Many responsible pet owners never want to see prairie dogs in pet stores again, but do want to continue to share their lives with these amazing little animals.  It is virtually impossible to regulate the pet trade in the U.S., so it is easier for authorities to ban animals as pets.  It is easier to place pet bans rather than implement laws and restrictions in the pet trade, regulate foreign importation practices at our country's borders, and enforce laws regarding responsible pet ownership, but is an infringement of constitutional rights.  We all know that animals always have a way of ending up in the wrong hands, but a pet ban is not the answer; education is.   Many pet owners took this particular issue to their elected officials asking for their support to do away with a ban that violates a constitutional freedom to share life with their favorite animal.