7 reasons why you shouldn’t keep wildlife as exotic pets


Wild animals belong in the wild, not in your home as exotic pets, and here’s why

Today is World Pet Day – the perfect day to think about the animals we share our homes with. While most people care for cats or dogs, there is a disturbing rising trend of keeping exotic wild animals as pets such as snakes, parrots, and even otters!

While it may seem exciting and cool to own a unique and exotic animal, these wild animals suffer throughout the entire process – from before you even bring them home, to their life spent in captivity.

Here are seven reasons why you should never buy an exotic wild animal as a pet:

1. Wild animals belong in the wild

While cats and dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years, adapting them to live alongside humans, wild animals are born to be wild.

Many species lead intricate lives with extensive social dynamics. The natural behaviours they exhibit in the wild simply cannot be replicated in a captive environment. Even those that are bred in captivity possess the same genetic traits as their wild counterpart, making them unsuitable for a life as a pet.

Most captive environments are simply inadequate for these animals. Snakes are often kept in tanks so small that they are unable to stretch out their body. Parrots, who are rarely alone in the wild, are often kept solitary in small cages. This is no life for an exotic wild animal. 

2. Many exotic animals are still taken from the wild

Many animals start their lives in the wild before being abruptly and cruelly ripped from their home and their family to become a pet.

The tactics used to capture these wild animals are utterly inhumane. One example, revealed through World Animal Protection investigations, is the use of live bait to attract and trap wild macaws. The method revealed by these investigations involved tying a live bird to the ground or a tree, where they would serve as bait. Under extreme duress, the trapped bird’s distress call attracts other concerned macaws who were themselves trapped and stolen from their homes to be sold into the exotic pet trade.

This is just one example of the cruelty. The number of animals stolen from their wild homes for the exotic pet trade is shocking. An estimated 90% of traded reptile species, and 50% of individually traded reptiles, are caught from the wild.

Macaws caught in a cage for the illegal exotic pet trade.

Pictured: Captive macaws caught in the illegal trade.

3. Wild animals bred in captivity equally suffer

While captive breeding is often suggested as a humane alternative to wild capture, it still leads to immense suffering.

Over and above the fact that wild animals belong in the wild, methods of breeding for selective traits that are attractive to consumers can have a further negative impact on the animal’s physical and mental health.

This impact is most seen in snakes and other reptiles, where the demand for unique genetically altered versions, or “morphs”, is increasing. These selectively bred reptiles often show signs of neurological disorders that impacts the animals’ welfare.

4. Their needs are not met in captivity

Wild animals suffer in captivity. There is no way to replicate the space and freedom that wild animals need in a home.

A life in captivity limits the natural behaviour of an animal and places both their mental and physical wellbeing at risk. They often lack adequate shelter, food, room to roam, or control over their environment.

In the wild, an African grey parrot can fly up to ten kilometres a day to forage and interact with their large social network. Yet in captivity, they are most often confined to a solitary life in a cage. This is extremely detrimental to their mental health. Many captive wild birds resort to a form of self-mutilation called feather plucking where they rip out all of their feathers.

A pet African grey parrot with their feathers missing due to self-plucking.

Pictured: A pet African grey parrot with their feathers missing due to self-plucking. World Animal Protection / Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert.

5. The exotic pet trade endangers wild populations

The rise in popularity of exotic wild pets has threatened wild populations. As more animals are ripped from their homes, fewer individuals remain in the wild.

Every year, as many as 21% of the total wild population of African grey parrots are poached. This is a species already in danger of extinction. Although they are now protected from international commercial trade, they remain threatened by the active illegal wildlife trade.

There has also been a growing trend of people wanting otters as pets. This demand is causing them to be callously ripped from their homes. Poachers tend to capture the young and amenable otters, and often kill their protective parents in the process. As a result of this disturbing practice, wild populations of smooth-coated otter and Asian small-clawed otters have declined over 30% in the last 30 years.

An otter in a cage on a captive breeding farm that supplies the exotic pet trade.

Pictured: Otters in a captive breeding farm in Indonesia. The farm is suspected to be laundering wild caught otters to supply the exotic pet market as well as a chain of interactive otter cafes in Japan.

6. The exotic pet trade is deadly

Whether they are poached from their home in the wild or captive-bred, these animals suffer long journeys to reach our homes. They are often shipped from long distances in cramped enclosures, unable to move. Many will die of suffocation, starvation, or disease before they reach their destination.

For example, between 30-60% and as high as 70% - 90% of African grey parrots die during transportation, and those that survive must spend days or weeks among their deceased relatives.

Mortality rates throughout the supply chain are thought to be high, from 5% to 100% for wild caught reptiles and 5% to 25% during captive breeding processes. According to an industry representative, a 72% mortality rate during an average 6-week stock turnover is considered to be industry standard.

Captured African grey parrots crammed into a crate for transport in the exotic pet trade.

Pictured: African grey parrots crammed into a crate in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Credit: Lwiro Sanctuary

7. They can carry zoonotic diseases

Wild animals can also pose a significant risk to human health. Zoonotic diseases (diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans) cause approximately a billion cases of human illness, and millions of deaths every year.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and most infectious disease experts agree that the origins of future human pandemics are likely to be zoonotic, with wildlife emerging as the primary source. 75% of new or emerging infectious diseases over the past decades originated from animals and principally from wildlife. Diseases such as SARS, MERS, Ebola, and COVID-19, all have an origin in wildlife.

Having a wild animal in your home can be a risk to your health. More than 50 diseases have been linked to the keeping of exotic pets. Exotic pets can be a source of a wide range of zoonotic diseases: from salmonellosis from hedgehogs and iguanas, and ringworm infections from chinchillas, to more severe diseases such as rabies from marmosets.

Already own an exotic pet?

We know that people love their pets, and that many of these exotic animals are already in people’s homes. If you already own an exotic animal and haven’t done already, please seek expert advice from a specialized veterinarian to ensure you’re meeting as many of their welfare needs as possible. We encourage you to continue to give your exotic animal the best life possible, for as long as you can.

To help keep wild animals in the wild where they belong, we ask you to commit to not purchasing another exotic pet in the future and to refrain from breeding the one you own.

What can you do to stop this suffering? Urge PetSmart to stop supporting this cruel industry!

As the largest pet store chain in Canada, and the only big box store still selling reptiles and amphibians, PetSmart is contributing to the cruel multi-billion-dollar trade that exploits wild animals on an industrial scale.

Tell PetSmart to stop the unnecessary suffering of animals.

Take action now

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