Department of Agriculture officials are investigating the illegal importation of 107 tenrecs, members of a family of small mammalian insectivores that resemble hedgehogs, from Madagascar. The animals, which are often sold as exotic pets, are considered a possible carrier of foreign animal diseases, such as foot-and-mouth-disease, because they were imported from a country that is not designated as disease-free by the USDA.
USDA officials stress that the risk posed by these animals is minimal, but, as with any potential source of foreign animal disease, precautions must be taken.
"We perceive it to be a risk, but a very low risk," said Jim Rodgers, a spokesman for the USDA.
The Office International des Epizooties has found Madagascar to be free of foot-and-mouth disease. But the country has not requested disease-free status from the United States, and until such a request is made, the importation of animals and animal products from Madagascar will be prohibited, according to the USDA.
As a precautionary measure, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service investigators have been tracking and confiscating the imported tenrecs from animal dealers and having them tested at the APHIS Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory on Plum Island, NY. At press time, none of the animals had tested positive or had clinical signs of a foreign animal disease. Private owners have been allowed to keep their tenrecs under temporary quarantine at home, because the animals are considered low risk.
Investigators located 64 of the tenrecs at the Miami port where the animals first arrived in May and tracked down the remaining animals in other locations in Florida, Illinois, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Texas, Rodgers said.
To prevent future problems with illegal importation of tenrecs, APHIS officials have notified federal port inspectors that the animals are prohibited, Rodgers said. Officials have also contacted the government of Madagascar to reiterate that exporting tenrecs to the United States is illegal.
Veterinarians who have questions or concerns about an exotic animal being kept as a pet can call their local USDA office.