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China Daily Website

Smuggled species carry hidden dangers

Updated: 2013-10-21 00:08
By XU WEI ( China Daily)

Smuggled species carry hidden dangers

A Cambodian girl holds a tarantula shortly after it was dug from the ground in Skuon, Kampong Cham Province, Cambodia. The trade for spiders and other insects as food and for medicinal purposes has been in effect since the 1970s in Cambodia. Tim Whitby / For China Daily

Health risks

People who purchase exotic pets smuggled from overseas may also get more than they bargained for.

"Without proper screening at the border, it's impossible to know if an animal is carrying a deadly virus, for example," Sun said.

Quarantine workers have found strains of bird flu as well as pests and parasites such as fruit flies and nematodes.

Overseas passengers arriving in Zhejiang and Guangdong provinces have even been discovered trying to bring in khat, a plant native to North Africa and the Middle East that is considered a controlled substance in many countries.

Some exotic pets are also capable of causing serious harm to their new owners.

"An animal might look cute when it's young but can be very dangerous when it grows up, such as alligators, snapping turtles and Japanese macaques," Sun said.

China has seen an increase in invasions by alien species. In July last year two swimmers in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region were attacked by at least three piranhas in Liujiang River. The city later offered 1,000 yuan ($160) to any resident who killed a piranha.

In Nanning, the regional capital, the giant African snail has also caused extensive damage to vegetable crops, according to Xinhua News Agency.

Global fight

While customs and wildlife experts want more done to tackle the spread of exotic animals in China, they have also called for greater international cooperation on the wildlife trade — "now the third-largest illegal trade in the world, second only to drugs and weapons," according to Sun.

In September, the European Commission proposed legislation to prevent and manage the rapidly growing threat from invasive species in Europe, as the continent is now home to more than 12,000 alien species.

The commission wants to ban the import and export and sale and purchase of selected animals and plants, as well as take measures to deal with traders, breeders and pet owners in the transitional period.

The general quarantine administration said it is looking into the possibility of an international-level program, a move welcomed by Sichuan exit-entry official Deng.

"Control should start at home, and countries should be clear on what animals and plants are blacklisted," he said.

Yang Yao contributed to this story.

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