Our desire for the companionship of exotic pets from around the world has fueled the spread of disease.

Ball python

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought widespread attention to the consequences of the wildlife trade. Just like in earlier pandemics, fingers have now been pointed at familiar places: wildlife sold for food in wet markets, and pangolins and other species poached for food and traditional medicine.

But there’s another common source of novel diseases: The exotic pet trade.

This lucrative $10 billion-$20 billion a year industry frequently involves taking wildlife from their native habitats and shipping them to opposite corners of the globe —sometimes legally, often illegally.

Both the legal and illegal pet trades carry risks of pandemics and smaller disease outbreaks not just to people but to other wildlife as well as livestock and pets.

Watch our video of some dangerous diseases stemming from the global pet trade:

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Dipika Kadaba

is an ecologist who uses data visualization and design to communicate environmental issues in her role as The Revelator's visual storyteller. Her interdisciplinary work originates in her background in environmental health research as a veterinarian, a graduate degree in conservation science, and a lifetime spent creating webcomics and animations for fun.