Importing live animals to United States may be more challenging than you think. Lets start with the formal facts in order to better understand the importance of animal importation. First of all, it is illegal to import any item into the U.S. without describing it accurately on customs documents. Therefore, this rule applies to animal importation as well. Live animals must be listed by species name on customs declaration forms. Secondly, the appropriate documentation should be submitted to customs inspectors with shipments of live animals. If documentation is not provided, shipments may be returned to the shipper, delayed in delivery or destroyed.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Veterinary Services (VS), National Center for Import and Export (NCIE) ePermits system is a web-based system that allows users to submit permit applications, track applications, apply for renewals and amendments, and receive a copy of the permit all online. On top of that, there are many different processes involved with importing different kind of live animals into the United States. According to regulations of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), importers must declare animal shipments to FWS inspectors at the port of entry and make the animals available for visual inspection prior to taking them from the port.

In past recent years there has been some changes in the regulation of importing live animals. Under an Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) regulation that became effective January 24, 2011, live avians (and the flocks of origin for hatching eggs) that are imported into the U.S. may now be vaccinated against Newcastle disease (avian paramyxovirus). Vaccination against Newcastle disease is an elective option and is not a requirement for import.

However, if importers elect to import avians (or hatching eggs from vaccinated flocks) that have been vaccinated against Newcastle disease, the vaccination must occur at least 21 days prior to importation. Regardless of vaccination status, live avians or hatching eggs must test negative for Newcastle disease (all strains) by a virus isolation test at the time of entry. Any shipments found to be positive for Newcastle disease by virus isolation will be refused entry into the United States.

I was very surprised when I found out that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not regulate snakes or lizards, (I mean, have you ever seen the movie “Snakes on the plane?) but does limited imports of small turtles, tortoises and terrapins and their viable eggs. Turtles with a carapace (shell) length of less than 4 inches and turtle eggs may not be imported for any commercial purpose. An individual may import as many as six small turtles or six eggs or any combination totaling six or fewer turtles and turtle eggs for noncommercial purposes. This rule was implemented in 1975 after it was discovered that small turtles frequently transmitted Salmonella to humans, particularly young children.

Lets go on with the less dangerous live animals. Not surprisingly, the majority of live wild animal imports are for the pet and aquarium industries but other commercial, recreational, educational and scientific entities such as game ranches, food distributors, public and private zoos and biomedical research labs are also involved. As the leading import market
in this global trade, the United States receives hundreds of millions of animals each year.

Most of the regulated live animal come from a very close neighbors of us. As per APHIS and FWS data system, imports of live swine, poultry and cattle were about 99 percent of its regulated live animal imports, prior to fiscal year 2007. About 94 percent of these imports came from Canada, and the remainder generally comes from Mexico. These animals were primarily imported for slaughter plants or farms. By fiscal year 2008, imports of fish represented about half of the total number of APHIS live animal imports with the largest suppliers of these animals; including China, Malaysia, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, Thailand and Singapore primarily importing these fish for commercial purposes.

Did you also know Civets may not be imported into the U.S.? They are prohibited, because they may carry the SARS virus. There are several species of civets and they are native to mostly Africa, the Spanish peninsula, southern China, and Southeast Asia.

Additionally, monkeys and other nonhuman primates (NHP) may not be imported as pets under any circumstances. Importation for permitted purposes is strictly controlled through a registration process. CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine administers these regulations.
These regulations are in place to protect U.S. citizens from severe infections that can spread from monkeys to humans.

Not surprisingly, the United States is the world’s leading import market for live animals. From 2005 through 2008 more than 1 billion live animals were legally imported into United States for agriculture, clinical research, education, exhibition, the aquarium, pet industries and many other uses. So who could blame the U.S. for having some strict rules on importing animals?