U.S. Imported Over 30,000 Bat Body Parts From China in Five Years, Report Finds

The United States imported more than 30,000 whole bats and bat body parts from China over a recent five-year period, the non-profit conservation organization Center of Biological Diversity (CBD) told Newsweek.

The non-profit has published a report—which analyzed U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service data—documenting a "massive" wildlife trade that they say is fueling the risk of global pandemics.

The report found that the U.S. imported nearly 23 million whole animals, animal body parts, animal samples and products made from bats, primates and rodents between the years 2010 and 2014—the most recent five-year-period for which data is available.

In this time, the country imported more than 96,000 bats and bat parts from around the world, including live and dead animals, skeletons, skulls, parts sold as jewelry, meat, skins and hunting trophies.

The report shows that more than half of these bat imports were for the purposes of scientific research, although commercial products came a close second, followed by biomedical research. Most of the commercial imports arrived as whole dead bodies, skeletons and skulls, with the vast majority encased un acrylic to be sold as paperweights and other "decorative" items.

"These are marketed as educational products, steampunk/goth décor and general curios, and are sold to consumers at a range of places—from Amazon and eBay to obscure online sources, as well as trade shows and other domestic vendors," the authors of the report wrote.

The U.S. also imported more than two million primates and primate parts in this time, as well as over 20.7 million rodents and rodent parts.

Together, rodents, bats and primates host 75 percent of the world's known zoonotic viruses—pathogens that can spread from animals to people. Many recent diseases, including COVID-19, likely originated in bats.

The CBD said that the wildlife trade in these animals is creating the perfect conditions for new zoonotic diseases to emerge.

"The voracious U.S. appetite for these imports wipes out wildlife and breeds disease," Tanya Sanerib, the Center's international legal director, and author of the report, said in a statement. "Bats, primates and rodents are amazing animals, that naturally harbor diseases. When we exploit them through trade and habitat infringement, those diseases can infect us. The insatiable demand for wildlife products in the United States is a dangerous problem that can't be ignored."

Stock image showing a flying fox bat. The United States imported more than 30,000 bats and bat body parts between 2010 and 2014. John Moore/Getty Images

The number one source of bats and primates imported into the U.S. is China, where the novel coronavirus is thought to have originated. In total, U.S. imports make up roughly 20 percent of the global wildlife market.

"I'm particularly troubled by how frivolous many of these imported wildlife products are," Sanerib told Newsweek. "We're ripping animals out of the wild and increasing the risk of another pandemic for paperweights made of bats and other trinkets."

"These import numbers show that the U.S. can't just blame other countries for this pandemic. We have to do our part to curb zoonotic disease dangers and extinction risks, and that begins with ending these destructive wildlife imports. We can't keep exploiting nature and think there'll be no consequences," she said.

The authors said U.S. commercial demand for wildlife products is one of the largest drivers of wildlife exploitation and trade across the globe.

"By putting species that aren't normally near each other in contact while stressed, the wildlife trade creates the perfect conditions for new diseases to emerge and infect people," they wrote in the report.

Ben Williamson from World Animal Protection, U.S.—a non-profit animal welfare organization—who was not involved in the CBD report, told Newsweek that the paper was "important" and "timely."

"[It] shows there have been 23 million additional opportunities for another pandemic," he said. "There will be millions more unless we act now to restrict global trade in wild animals and wild animal products. The impact of the current pandemic in terms of loss of human life, physical and mental health, the global economy, livelihoods, and the quality of public life has been utterly devastating and cannot be underestimated.

"The costs of fighting a global pandemic are vastly higher than the costs of preventing it in the first place, including through legal changes. Global and national action to curb the wildlife trade is one of the most effective strategies to prevent future pandemics and is necessary to reduce animal suffering and protect biodiversity."

This article was updated to include additional comments from Ben Williamson.

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