Bringing an African Rodent into the United States

On June 11, 2003, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a joint order in response to the first reported outbreak of mpox in the United States. Specifically, CDC prohibited the importation of all African rodents into the United States and FDA banned the sale, distribution, transport, or release into the environment of prairie dogs and six specific genera of African rodents within the United States.

The order was later replaced by an interim final rule on November 3, 2003 (42 CFR § 71.56 and 42 CFR § 1240.63).

On September 8, 2008, FDA rescinded the part of the rule that restricted the capture, sale and interstate movement of prairie dogs or domestically bred African rodents (42 CFR § 1240.63). CDC’s ban on importing all African rodents is still in effect.

Importation Regulations

What may NOT be imported into the United States?

A person may not import or offer to import into the United States:

  • Any rodent of African origin, whether dead or alive, including:
    • Any rodent shipped directly to the United States from Africa.
    • Any rodent that was shipped to another country before being imported to the United States.
  • Any rodent, whether dead or alive, whose native habitat is in Africa, even if the rodent was born elsewhere.
  • Bushmeat.
  • Other products derived from African rodents that do not meet the requirements specified below.

What MAY be imported into the United States?

A person may import into the United States with written permission from CDC:

  • African rodents intended for scientific, exhibition, or educational purposes.

A person may import into the United States without written permission from CDC:

  • Fully taxidermied African rodents and completely finished trophies.
  • Products derived from African rodents, such as brushes that use animal hair and animal skins, if properly processed to render them non-infectious. For details on rendering animal products non-infectious, please see Bringing Animal Products into the United States.

Products imported under these exceptions are subject to inspection to ensure they meet the conditions set forth in the final rule.

What actions can CDC take to prevent the importation of monkeypox virus?

Under this rule, CDC has authorization to:

  • Require an imported animal to be placed in quarantine or isolation.
  • Require an imported animal to be re-exported.
  • Require an imported animal or animal product to be destroyed.
  • Take other public health action necessary to prevent the spread of monkeypox virus.
A restricted rodent: A Gambian pouched rat

Photo caption: A restricted rodent: A Gambian pouched rat, Cricetomys gambianus.

Violation Penalties

Section 368 of the PHS Act (42 U.S.C 271) provides the authority to enforce section 361 of the same PHS Act. Section 361 of the PHS Act also provides for such inspection and destruction of articles found to be infected or contaminated and determined to be sources of dangerous infection to humans.

Any person who violates a regulation prescribed under section 361 of the PHS Act may be:

  • Punished by imprisonment for up to 1 year (42 S.C. 271(a)).
  • Punished for violating such a regulation by a fine of up to $100,000 per violation if death has not resulted from the violation or up to $250,000 per violation if death has resulted (18 S.C. 3559, 3571(b)).

Organizations that violate a regulation prescribed under section 361 of the PHS Act may be:

  • Fined up to $200,000 per violation not resulting in death and $500,000 per violation resulting in death (18 S.C. 3559, 3571(c)).

Please check with your state or territory for any laws regarding the sale, distribution, or transportation of prairie dogs or African rodents.