Canada’s role in the wildlife trade
When you think about the wildlife trade, you might picture the wildlife markets in Asia or the trophy hunters in Africa, but did you know that Canada plays an active role in the global trade? Keep reading to find out more.
The global wildlife ban in Canadian context
There is no universal definition of wildlife. In some cases, it means wild animals, sometimes it excludes fish, and elsewhere it refers to wild animals and plants. In our campaign to end the wildlife trade, we refer to wildlife as wild animals that are involved in non-essential global commercial trade (e.g. for use as luxury goods, exotic pets, traditional medicine and entertainment) that have been bred in captivity or captured from the wild.
Canada is part of the legal and illegal wildlife trade. For example:
- Wild animals are imported, exported and bred for the exotic pet industry
- Canadian bears are poached from the wild to supply gallbladders for the traditional medicine trade and bear bile products have been found for sale in Canada.
- Wild animals are hunted for sport and their trophies are imported and exported.
- Wildlife are trapped or farmed for fur products that are traded globally.
- Wild animals are bred in captivity and traded for zoos and public entertainment.
Exotic pet trade
What is happening: An estimated 1.4 million wild animals are kept as pets in Canada. Wild animals are not suitable as pets since their complex behavioural and environmental needs cannot be replicated in a captive setting. Shelters see an increasing number of disposed animals because owners realize that they cannot properly take care of the animal.
The issue: Exotic wildlife is readily available for sale on online platforms, stores and at expos and research has shown that many are purchased on a whim. There is a patchwork of legislation throughout Canada, none of it is suitable to protect animal welfare, public health and the environment. Government oversight for breeders and sellers of exotic pets is minimal, leaving these businesses to operate according to their own standards. At the border, only a fraction of the wild animals destined for the pet industry are required to have a permit or heath certificate.
How Canadians feel about this: 80% of Canadians do not support the capture, breeding and trade of wild animals for the exotic pet industry.
What is happening: A decline in wild populations of black bears in Asia has led to the poaching and trade of Canadian black bear bile and gall bladders for the traditional medicine market in Asia. Research has also shown that traditional medicine, containing bear bile, is being sold within Canada.
The issue: The bear bile trade in Canada is mostly illegal. Eight provinces and one territory outright prohibit the trade in bear gallbladders, but others allow it. These inconsistencies together with the lack of enforcement power (Canada only has an estimated 75 field-officers nationwide and less than 1,500 people attending to wildlife laws) are problematic when attempting to curb the illegal trade.
How Canadians feel about this: 85% of Canadians are not or are only a little aware that bear bile is being used for traditional medicine purposes and 70% of Canadians do not support the capture, breeding and trade of wild animals for the use in traditional medicine.
What is happening: Canada is one of the largest exporters of wildlife trophies.
The issue: Thousands of wild animals are killed each year by sport hunters for trophies. The U.S. is the largest importer of trophies in the world and these are primarily imported from South Africa and Canada. Top trophies imported into the US from Canada include Snow geese, mallards, Black bears, Canadian geese and Sandhill cranes. Vulnerable keystone species like polar bears and gray wolves are also hunted tor trophy.
How Canadians feel about this: 90% of Canadians do not support the capture, breeding and trade of wild animals for trophy hunting.
What is happening: There are approximately 125 mink/fox farms in Canada, housing over 300,000 animals.
The issue: In addition to the animal welfare concerns; mink can carry and transmit COVID-19. In the past months, outbreaks have occurred on farms in the Netherlands, Spain and Denmark. While mink/fox farms in Canada are not located in populated areas, the possibility of an escape resulting in mink coming into contact with wild populations and creating a new pathogen reservoir is a concern.
How Canadians feel about this: 80% of Canadians do not support the capture, breeding and trade of wild animals for their fur.
Wildlife for the use of entertainment
What is happening: Canada is still home to roadside zoos and mobile zoos.
The issue: The majority of zoos in Canada are not accredited by the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums and since provincial regulations are lacking, many zoos operate according to their own standard. An emerging new issue is the rise of mobile live animal programs. These operations bring a variety of wild animals like wild cats, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates to any location (e.g., schools, day-care centers, elderly homes and community centers) for entertainment purposes, usually allowing visitors to touch the animals. There are few laws or regulations governing who may own or operate a mobile zoo. In most jurisdictions there are no restrictions. Besides animal welfare concerns there are also public health issues inherent to these practices and since there is no regulatory oversight, little is done to safeguard public health at these types of events.
How Canadians feel about this: 58% of Canadians do not support the capture, breeding and trade of wild animals for the use in entertainment settings (e.g. zoos and movies).
At the Canadian border
What is happening: There are three agencies responsible for the importation of wildlife species, Canadian Border Services (CBSA), Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Canadian Wildlife Services (CWS). According to publicly available data, at least half a million CITES-listed species were allowed into Canada between 2014 and 2019. This number is just the tip of the iceberg, since a vast number of non-endangered species are not subject to any permits or paperwork.
The issue: The lack of publicly available data on the number of wildlife species that enter our country is concerning since there is a lack of accountability. Not only is the wildlife trade harmful to the health and wellbeing of animals and causes terrible suffering, it is also a public health risk, since it is often unknown what types of pathogens travel alongside animals. In addition, some animals that come into our country are able to establish themselves into our natural environment (sometimes known as invasive species) which is detrimental for local wildlife populations.
Join our campaign to end the wildlife trade
The wildlife trade, including the one in Canada, makes it possible for animals to be poached, farmed and shipped around the world – for pets, food, traditional medicine, luxury goods and entertainment. The horrific conditions they face cause much suffering for every single animal involved.
You can take action to protect animals by signing our petition calling on the Canadian government to curb the wildlife trade in Canada and to commit to ending the global wildlife trade. Sign now: