PORTLAND (AP) – Even before the outbreak of monkeypox prompted a federal ban Wednesday on the sale of prairie dogs, sales of the animal were illegal in Maine, state officials said.

Prairie dogs are considered exotic wildlife and are not included on a list of allowable exotic pets, said Henry Hilton, a wildlife biologist for the state.

Residents can apply for an exemption, but the animals must be used for research or some other compelling reason, Hilton said. Officials say they can’t recall any requests to bring prairie dogs into the state.

State Veterinarian Don Hoenig said he’s never seen a prairie dog in Maine.

Monkeypox, an African disease that has spread for the first time to humans in the Western Hemisphere, has been reported in 15 states, but not in Maine. No one has died of the disease.

In addition to banning the sale of prairie dogs, the U.S. government on Wednesday prohibited the importation of African rodents and recommended smallpox shots for people exposed to monkeypox.

Individual states previously had control over regulating the sale of prairie dogs, which are sometimes kept as pets.

Prairie dogs are rodents native to the American Plains.

A shipment of the animals from an Illinois pet store is believed to have been infected with monkeypox by a Gambian giant rat imported from Africa.

AP-ES-06-11-03 1720EDT

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