African Ticks on Imported Snakes and Tortoises
Tickborne heartwater disease a threat to all reptiles as well as farm animals and wildlife
Compiled by Melissa Kaplan
Humane Society of the U.S. Calls On USDA to Inspect Imported Reptiles; African Tortoise Tick Carried by Snakes and Tortoises Poses Deadly Threat to Nation's Farm Animals and Wildlife
WASHINGTON, Sept. 17 /U.S. Newswire/ -- The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the nation's largest animal protection organization, today called on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to implement a nationwide program of inspections on all imported reptiles to help stem the spread of a tick that may pose a deadly threat to both the nation's farm animals and its wildlife.
The HSUS issued a warning against the African tortoise tick, a parasite that feeds on lizards, snakes and tortoises and which carries a bacterial disease known as heartwater, which can kill grazing animals, including cattle, deer, sheep, and goats within a week of infection. The tiny arthropod has been detected on snakes and tortoises imported into this country as part of the burgeoning international trade in exotic reptiles.
Although the adult heartwater bacterium (Cowdria ruminantium) is harmless to its reptilian hosts, in its immature forms it can be deadly to domestic livestock and devastating to America's white-tail deer populations, according to biologists, with mortality rates in ruminant species ranging from 40 percent to 100 percent. In 1993, the USDA estimated that a heartwater outbreak in the United States might cost the livestock industry $762 million in losses annually.
Most at risk for an invasion are Florida, Texas, California, and New York, home to some of America's busiest port cities. Particularly worrisome are Florida -- where some 1,000 African ticks have been reported to state officials since the parasite was first spotted there in 1997 -- and Texas. Both states boast large cattle-raising industries, as well as numerous wildlife and reptile farms and parks that make them ideal habitats for the non-native tick.
Adding to fears is the possibility that should infected African ticks become established in this country, several species of closely related native ticks (all of the genus Amblyomma) could also prove good hosts to the heartwater bacterium.
Since its identification as the disease vector in 1900, the tick has spread from its native Africa to Yemen and to the Cape Verdes islands. It entered the New World in the 1960s and is now established on several Caribbean islands, including Marie Galante and Antigua. Unlike African ruminants, native species have virtually no resistance to the disease organism, making it particularly deadly.
"The time to act is now," said Dr. Teresa Telecky, HSUS Director of International Wildlife Programs. "The USDA can no longer ignore the threat posed by the African tortoise tick. Unlike so many other harmful exotics introduced unknowingly into the United States over the past 200 years, we have been given ample warning on this one and we can stop its spread. The federal government must immediately implement a comprehensive and effective inspection system for all reptiles entering the United States."
The Humane Society of the United States represents the interests of more than 7.3 million members and constituents.
Copyright 2000, U.S. Newswire
The regulations in 9 CFR part 93 (referred to below as the animal import regulations) prohibit or restrict the importation of certain animals and birds into the United States to prevent the introduction of communicable diseases of livestock and poultry. The regulations in 9 CFR chapter I, subchapter C (referred to below as the interstate movement regulations), prohibit or restrict the interstate movement of certain animals and birds to prevent the spread of communicable diseases of livestock and poultry within the United States.
We are amending the animal import regulations to prohibit, until further notice, the importation of the following tortoises into the United States: All species and subspecies of leopard tortoise (Geochelone pardalis), African spurred tortoise (Geochelone sulcata), and Bell's hingeback tortoise (Kinixys belliana). Tortoises that are en route to the United States at the time of the publication of this interim rule will be allowed to be imported for humanitarian reasons. Refusing entry of tortoises already en route to the United States upon publication of the rule would be detrimental to the health of the tortoises and could be fatal.
In addition, we are amending the interstate movement regulations to prohibit, until further notice, the interstate movement of all species and subspecies of these land tortoises.
These actions are necessary because these tortoises, which are regularly imported into the United States and are common in the U.S. pet trade, have been found to harbor the tropical bont tick (Amblyomma variegatum), the African tortoise tick (Amblyomma marmoreum), and ticks of the species Amblyomma sparsum. All of these exotic ticks are known to be vectors of heartwater disease. Heartwater disease is an acute infectious disease of ruminants, including cattle, sheep, goats, white-tailed deer, and antelope. This disease has a 60 percent or greater mortality rate in livestock and a 90 percent or greater mortality rate in white-tailed deer.
In December 1999, it was reported that evidence indicating the presence of nucleic acid from the causative agent of heartwater disease or a related agent might have been present in Amblyomma sparsum collected from leopard tortoises imported into Florida. Subsequently, in February 2000, leopard tortoises from premises known to be infested with the African tortoise tick were moved interstate to noninfested premises. Though these incidents involve only leopard tortoises, we are also prohibiting the importation and interstate movement of African spurred tortoise and Bell's hingeback tortoise because interception records from 1995-1999 report that 90 percent of the tropical bont ticks, African tortoise ticks, and ticks of the species Amblyomma sparsum found on reptiles entering the United States occurred on these three species of land tortoise.
We are working to establish effective treatment and biosecurity protocols for tortoises and other reptiles. Effective treatment and biosecurity protocols will allow us to ensure that all tortoises and other reptiles entering the United States, as well as tortoises and other reptiles already in the United States, can be effectively treated for exotic ticks and that all exotic ticks can be eradicated from infested premises. When we have established such protocols, and when tortoises and other reptiles already in the United States have been effectively treated for exotic ticks and all exotic ticks eradicated from infested premises, the ban on importation of these tortoises from Africa, as well as the ban on interstate movement of these tortoises, will be lifted. Until that time, however, these actions will provide protection against an outbreak of heartwater disease in domestic and wild populations of ruminants in the United States.
USDA Halts Importation of Certain African Land Tortoises
WASHINGTON, March 21, 2000--The U.S. Department of Agriculture is prohibiting, until further notice, the importation of certain land tortoises.
This interim rule also prohibits the interstate movement of certain African tortoises.
"These emergency actions are necessary because these tortoises, which are regularly imported into the United States and are common in U.S. pet trade, have been found to harbor exotic ticks known to be vectors of heartwater disease," said Alfonso Torres, deputy administrator for veterinary services with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, a part of USDA's marketing and regulatory programs mission area.
All species and subspecies of leopard tortoise (Geochelone pardalis),African spurred tortoise (Geochelone sulcata), and Bell's hingeback tortoise (Kinixys belliana) are prohibited from being imported into the United States or moved interstate under this regulation.
APHIS is working to establish effective treatment and biosecurity protocols for tortoises that will remove the threat of heartwater disease. When such protocols and treatments are established and when tortoises and other reptiles already in the United States have been effectively treated for exotic ticks and all exotic ticks are eradicated, the ban on the importation of these tortoises, as well as the ban on their interstate movement, will be lifted.
Until that time, however, these actions will provide protection against an outbreak of heartwater disease in domestic and wild populations of ruminants in the United States. Heartwater disease is an acute, infectious disease of ruminants, including cattle, sheep, goats, white-tailed deer, and antelope. This disease has a 60 percent or greater mortality rate inlivestock and a 90 percent or greater mortality rate in white-tailed deer.
For more information, contact David Wilson, senior staff entomologist, emergency programs, VS, APHIS, 4700 River Road, Unit 41, Riverdale, Md. 20737, (301) 734-8073.
Notice of this action is scheduled to appear in the March 22 Federal Register and becomes effective upon publication. APHIS documents published in the Federal Register, and related information, including the names of organizations and individuals who have commented on APHIS rules, are available on the Internet at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/ppd/rad/webrepor.html.
Summary of Ruling, Federal Register: March 22, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 56)
We are prohibiting, until further notice, the importation into the United States of certain land tortoises. We are also prohibiting, until further notice, the interstate movement of these land tortoises. These actions are necessary to prevent the introduction and spread of exotic ticks known to be vectors of heartwater disease, an acute infectious disease of ruminants. These actions will provide protection against an outbreak of heartwater disease in domestic and wild populations of ruminants in the United States.
Emergency Action by APHIS
The Administrator of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has determined that an emergency exists that warrants publication of this interim rule without prior opportunity for public comment. Immediate action is necessary to prevent an outbreak of heartwater disease in the United States.
Because prior notice and other public procedures with respect to this action are impracticable and contrary to the public interest under these conditions, we find good cause under 5 U.S.C. 553 to make this action effective less than 30 days after publication. We will consider comments that are received within 60 days of publication of this rule in the Federal Register. After the comment period closes, we will publish another document in the Federal Register. The document will include a discussion of any comments we receive and any amendments we are making to the rule as a result of the comments.
PART 74--PROHIBITION OF INTERSTATE MOVEMENT OF LAND TORTOISES
PART 93--IMPORTATION OF CERTAIN ANIMALS, BIRDS, AND POULTRY, AND CERTAIN ANIMAL, BIRD, AND POULTRY PRODUCTS; REQUIREMENTS FOR MEANS OF CONVEYANCE AND SHIPPING CONTAINERS
2. The authority citation for part 93 continues to read as follows:
Authority: 7 U.S.C. 1622; 19 U.S.C. 1306; 21 U.S.C. 102-105, 111, 114a, 134a, 134b, 134c, 134d, 134f, 136, and 136a; 31 U.S.C. 9701; 7 CFR 2.22, 2.80, and 371.2(d).
3. In Sec. 93.701, a new paragraph (c) is added to read as follows:
Done in Washington, DC, this 16th day of March 2000.
Final: Importation and Interstate Movement of Certain Land Tortoises, Federal Register July 17, 2001, Vol 66, No 137.
From the Medical Literature
Introduction of potential heartwater vectors and other exotic ticks into Florida on imported reptiles. J Parasitol 2000 Aug;86(4):700-4
Establishment of the tortoise tick Amblyomma marmoreum (Acari: Ixodidae) on a reptile-breeding facility in Florida. J Med Entomol 1998 Sep;35(5):621-4
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