Andrew Revkin, a journalist for The New York Times, recently wrote an article (“Pressure Builds for Swift U.S. Action Against Spreading Salamander Threat”) about the threat posed by the international exotic pet trade to North American salamanders. He explains that a skin-eating fungus (originated in southeast Asia), Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, could be transported to the U.S., which would have a significant impact upon the woodland ecosystems of North America. According to Revkin, biologists determined B. salamandrivorans to be the cause of a massive decline in salamander populations throughout Europe, which spurred herpetologists to urge American policy makers to impose restrictions upon exotic pet trade regulations. After a lack of response by federal wildlife agencies, experts again urged lawmakers and have formally petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to act. Such concern is due to the lack of guidelines for the amphibian global trade within the Lacey Act (a conservation law in the U.S. that prohibits trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that have been illegally taken, possessed, transported, or sold).
It appears that wildlife agency members are taking this threat seriously according to the responses Revkin has received, including a statement from Laury Marshall Parramore, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which states, “The threat to global salamander populations from a new fungal strain is very real and of great concern to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. …We’re committed to expediting an injurious determination.” Revkin was also informed by Jenny Loda, the Center for Biological Diversity staff attorney for reptiles and amphibians, that the petition had been filed in order to “ensure pressure on lawmakers.” Nevertheless, the threat of B. salamandrivorans remains real to North American salamanders. Salamanders can easily be found for sale online via a simple Google search, and diseased salamanders could be among those for sale. Asian salamanders and newts that may contain the fungus are globally traded in immense numbers. In a period of less than a decade, approximately 2.3 million Chinese fire belly newts (only one species of newt) were imported into the U.S. alone (“European Newts and Salamanders at Risk from Deadly Skin-Eating Fungus”). Vast numbers such as this, are exactly why the global pet trade poses such a risk to native species.
With no proper guidelines currently in place for screening infectious diseases of amphibians and inadequate numbers of manpower to properly screen imported salamanders if guidelines were instituted, it appears to be simply a matter of time before B. salamandrivorans wreaks havoc in the U.S.