Trading Exotic Squirrels: Legality and Disease Risks

Greg Howard
20th April, 2024

Trading Exotic Squirrels: Legality and Disease Risks

Image Source: Kiril Gruev (photographer)

Key Findings

  • In Indonesia, Prevost's squirrels are illegally traded, mostly wild-caught, for pets
  • Younger squirrels (1-3 months old) are sold at higher prices than older ones
  • The trade risks introducing these squirrels as invasive species and spreading diseases
The trade of wildlife, specifically squirrels, has recently been scrutinized by researchers from Oxford Brookes University[1]. Their focus was on Prevost's squirrels, a species native to parts of Indonesia, which are being sold both in physical markets and online, often illegally. This study sheds light on the potential risks associated with such wildlife trade, including the spread of zoonotic diseases and the establishment of invasive species. Prevost's squirrels are sought after in the pet trade for their striking appearance, but the study found that the majority of these squirrels are being captured from the wild, with a significant portion of the trade occurring outside the legal framework. This is concerning because illegal wildlife trade can contribute to the transmission of diseases from animals to humans. Earlier studies have indicated that over 70% of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, with wildlife reservoirs playing a critical role in their spread[2]. The study by Oxford Brookes University recorded 284 Prevost’s squirrels being sold between 2016 and 2024, with a notable presence on the Indonesian islands of Java and Bali, which are outside their natural habitat. This raises the risk of these squirrels becoming an invasive species, potentially disrupting local ecosystems. The asking price for these animals did not significantly vary with distance from their natural range or the purchasing power of the city, which suggests a widespread demand that does not factor in the ecological or legal implications. The researchers' findings are pivotal because they highlight the scale of illegal wildlife trade within Indonesia. With a domestic quota allowing only five individuals to be traded legally per year, it's clear that the vast majority of these transactions are unauthorized. Despite this, the trade is happening quite openly, and there seems to be little enforcement from authorities to prevent it. This lack of enforcement is particularly troubling given the potential health risks. The study's findings complement earlier research that has recognized the need for better awareness and management of zoonotic diseases in Africa[3]. Similar concerns are applicable to Asia, where the trade of Prevost's squirrels is prevalent. The variegated squirrel bornavirus 1 (VSBV-1) outbreak in Europe, which was traced back to exotic squirrels in private holdings, is a stark reminder of the dangers associated with the wildlife trade and the need for rigorous surveillance and control measures[4]. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the urgent need for a transformation in our interaction with wildlife, given the disease's likely origin from illegal wildlife trading[5]. The study reinforces this lesson by demonstrating the risks inherent in the unregulated trade of wildlife like Prevost's squirrels. To mitigate these risks, the study suggests that improved coordination between Indonesian authorities, online sales platforms, pet traders, and consumers is necessary. This would help to enforce existing laws and reduce the trade of illegally obtained wildlife, thereby limiting the risks associated with invasive species and the spread of zoonotic diseases. In conclusion, the research from Oxford Brookes University provides a significant insight into the illegal trade of Prevost's squirrels in Indonesia. It underscores the importance of legal enforcement and international cooperation to address the wildlife trade's contribution to zoonotic disease transmission and biodiversity loss. As the world continues to grapple with the consequences of emerging infectious diseases, studies like these are crucial in informing policy and public health interventions aimed at preventing future pandemics.

EnvironmentWildlifeAnimal Science


Main Study

1) Trade in Prevost’s squirrels: legality, risk for introduction and disease transmission

Published 17th April, 2024

Related Studies

2) Risk assessment and preventive health behaviours toward COVID-19 amongst bushmeat handlers in Nigerian wildlife markets: Drivers and One Health challenge.

3) Ecological interactions, local people awareness and practices on rodent-borne diseases in Africa: A review.

4) Introduction and spread of variegated squirrel bornavirus 1 (VSBV-1) between exotic squirrels and spill-over infections to humans in Germany.

5) Tackling zoonoses in a crowded world: Lessons to be learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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