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Contraband Puppies

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232 – August 2019


U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has made the news quite a bit these days. Contrary to recent reports, they don’t spend all their time on the headline stuff. In fact, one of the biggest developments these days is…well, if you’re reading about it here, obviously it’s dog-related JFK, North America’s busiest international travel hub, also ranks as the number one international air freight gateway. Over one-fifth of international cargo shipped into the U.S comes through New York.

Although it’s a major port of entry for animals, it’s virtually impossible to obtain an accurate count of the number of live animals shipping through JFK daily. Various sources guesstimate anywhere from 10,000 to 70,000 or more. That includes everything from million dollar Thoroughbreds and endangered species down to thoucsands of domestic pets. A 2012 report by Market Watch calculated 500 pets per day for each major airline– and considering that they all come through here you can do the math. But that doesn’t include animals flying in cabin which are technically considered carry-on baggage.

In addition to that, different species are tabulated differently; cargo shipments are counted separately from animals on passenger flights and, of course, intercepted contraband is a perennial wildcard in this census. In June, days after a cargo crew discovered a box of king cobras from Hong Kong, some guy was snagged with 70 rare finches in his suitcase. That’s just one week.

Anyway, legal or otherwise, animals pour through JFK continually. Since 9/11, of course, shipping logistics have become way more complicated. But even prior to that–and I speak from extensive experience–there was abundant scrutiny from the normal contingent of customs agents, CDC officers and USDA inspectors ready and waiting to greet every animal arrival.

Typically, it focused on intercepting contraband concealed in animal shipments, netting illegal transports of endangered species, or undocumented shipments like the above mentioned suitcase full of birds. Regardless of circumstance, biosecurity screening is a paramount aspect of all live animal clearance processing. Because, thanks to gazillions of international arrivals from every corner of the globe, JFK is also an endless source of exotic pathogens. For example, the second type of dog flu that’s currently established over here traces back to a mutated strain of South Asian bird flu. (Although it’s unproven, it’s suspected that there is some correlation between rescue/shelter dog imports and outbreaks of dog flu. Foreign animals are also the suspected source of other outbreaks like screwworm and brucellosis around the country, things we don’t see much or any of under normal circumstances.)

A cornucopia of internal and external parasites can arrive with live animal shipments but zoonotic contagion is always the biggest fear. And there have been close calls. A mutated strain of that same bird flu did jump the species barrier from cats to humans back in 2016. Luckily, it was detected and contained before it could spread beyond NYC. But that’s not how it went when the West Nile virus came to town in 1999. By the time it was definitively identified, aggressive efforts to prevent its spread beyond Queens and Long Island were futile. So pathogens can and do spread easily through wider populations from a point of origin at JFK.

Click here to read the complete article
232 – August 2019

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Posted by on Aug 15 2019. Filed under Current Articles, Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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