The problems we're tackling:
Animals suffer during capture and transport
The journey for a wild animal in the exotic pet trade is cruel – and often deadly. Either poached from the wild or bred in captivity on a farm, these animals suffer long before they reach our homes. Often, they’re shipped huge distances, and taken to countries vastly different from their original homes. Many exotic pets suffocate and die in transit before they even reach their final destination.
In our investigations, we found that up to 66% of African grey parrots, like the one pictured above, who have been poached from the wild for the exotic pet trade will die in transit.
No wild animal can have its needs entirely met when kept as an exotic pet
We know people often purchase exotic pets because they’re animal lovers. Animals bring joy to our lives, so it’s understandable that we’d want them to be part of our home. But many exotic pet owners are unaware of the suffering their animals endure.
Suffering is inherent in a life of captivity for a wild animal. Captivity limits their natural behaviour and places both their mental and physical well-being at risk. Whilst kept as pets, these animals often suffer from chronic stress and poor physical health from being kept in environments that can’t give them what they need to be happy and healthy. Wild animals are not pets; they belong in their natural habitat.
Many exotic pets start their lives free in the wild where they are captured to be sold into the pet trade. Research has shown that the trade is now a key threat to many species’ survival with large-scale poaching and theft from the wild devastating natural populations – adding to existing threats such as habitat loss. The methods used to snatch these animals from their natural habitats are cruel, barbaric and inhumane; the numbers involved are shocking. As many as 21% of wild African grey parrots, already a species in danger of extinction, are captured for sale into the exotic pet trade each year. Over 55,000 Indian Star Tortoises were recorded to have been collected from the wild in a single year from just one of many trade hubs across the country. Wild-poaching for the exotic pet trade is happening on an industrial scale with devasting results.
Those animals that manage to survive the pain and suffering caused by the barbaric methods used by the poachers then face a perilous journey. Sold on to traders, they will be packed into small containers or crates, unable to breathe or move. Crammed into these small spaces, many will suffocate, starve or succumb to diseases. Suitcases are stuffed full of tortoises. Dark, half metre crates are filled with so many parrots that they crush each other. Up to two thirds of African Greys will die during transportation. For other species, the true numbers of those who do not make it is unknown, but mortality is shockingly high.
Worse still is that the illegal and illicit elements of the trade in animals is often aided by government corruption in many countries, with poor enforcement of trade legislation.
Many animals caught from the wild end up in captive breeding facilities or farms. Still more are bred in captivity themselves and then kept to produce offspring again and again. Being born in captivity does not make an animal domesticated - although they may become tame to the touch of humans they are still wild animals. The breeding industry causes its own set of distinct problems for the animals trapped within them. It is by no means a safe and cruelty-free option for purchasing a domesticated pet. The selective breeding that takes place to produce certain fur markings and scale patterns as well as altering the natural size can have a negative impact on physical and mental health. This is particularly common in snakes and other reptiles as buyers increasingly want genetically altered versions that bear little resemblance to their wild counterparts – designer breeds known as ‘morphs’. It has been proven that snakes and reptiles who have been selectively bred to produce the most unique colours show signs of neurological disorders, that could impact the animals’ welfare.
For those animals that do survive the inhumane trade system, a life in captivity as a pet causes further trauma. Research has shown that an incredibly high number of pet snakes, lizards and tortoises die within the first year in the home. With natural age ranges from 8-120 years, it is thought that these deaths mostly occur from stress-related illness related to their captivity. Exotic pets have been observed to display behaviours that researchers have likened to emotional trauma in humans. Parrots rip out their own feathers due to isolation and chronic stress – not dissimilar to self-harm in humans. Asian otters have been observed to display repetitive destructive behaviours when kept in captivity, similar to people suffering from obsessive compulsive behaviours.
The rise of social media has only increased people’s accessibility and desire to own ‘cute’ exotic pets, which they see online and want for themselves. Asian otters are the latest victim of this online sharing of videos making them just one of the new up and coming pet to own without thought to their needs or from where they have been taken. Our research has evidenced that first time buyers of exotic pets are influenced by the ‘cute’ videos they see shared across social media, with those having watched when considering buying a wild animal as a pet more likely to complete the purchase. Social media has also become a key marketplace for wild animal sales with a wide variety of exotic species for sale at the click of a button in this largely unregulated marketplace. We have identified Facebook as a key online channel facilitating the sale of exotic pets, and although they have committed publicly to ban the trade of endangered species on our site – our evidence shows this is not working in practice. Thousands continue to be listed on groups dedicated to these animals ever single month, making the buying and selling of wild animals all too easy.
In a home, there is no way to replicate the space and freedom that wild animals need.
In our investigations, we found several specific welfare concerns that speak to the broader welfare issues related to the keeping of wild animals as exotic pets:
- Basic needs not met: a high number of pet snakes, lizards, tortoises and turtles die within one year of becoming a pet.
- Cruel captive breeding: artificial breeding in captivity can cause ball pythons serious genetic defects
- Insufficient nutrition: in our investigations, we found that captive green iguanas can suffer from soft bones due to poor diet.
- Unhealthy human contact: handling Indian star tortoises can cause them disease and death.
- Confined in tiny spaces: African grey parrots fly several miles a day in the wild.
Risks to human health
Zoonotic diseases (diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans) pose a significant risk to human health. They cause approximately a billion cases of human illness and millions of deaths every year. At a global level, according to one estimate, the economic damage caused by emerging zoonoses is hundreds of billions US dollars in the past 20 years.
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. Wild animals kept as exotic pets are no exception as a source of the risk of infectious disease. From being exposed to wild animals in unsanitary conditions at pet expos, to bringing a wild animal into a home, the risk of you or your family contracting an infectious zoonotic disease is significant.
35% of zoonotic diseases in humans are known to have a link to an exotic pet.
What to do if you already own an exotic pet
While keeping some exotic pets may involve less suffering than others, no wild animal can have its needs met entirely in captivity. Only domesticated animals, like cats and dogs, should be kept in home environments where their needs can be more easily met.
If you already own an exotic animal, you should seek expert advice from a veterinarian that specializes n their care to ensure you’re meeting as many of its welfare needs as possible, if you haven’t already. We encourage you to continue to give your pet the best life possible, for as long as you can.
What you should never do, is release an exotic pet into a new eco-system. Most animals will not be equipped to survive alone in a new environment, either dying from starvation, a foreign climate they are not biologically built to withstand or killed by other predators. While most will die, some animals may survive and establish themselves in a non-native environment and become an invasive species. When this occurs, it can have serious negative implications for the local, native species of animals and their ecosystems.
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 or breeding the one you own.
Consider adopting a domesticated pet instead of buying an exotic pet
Don’t buy exotic pets. We encourage everyone to appreciate and respect wild animals where they belong – in the wild.
We should only share our homes with domesticated animals who’ve evolved over thousands of years to be our companions and whose needs can be completely met as pets.
The legality of owning exotic pets in Canada
In Canada, there is a patchwork of federal, provincial, and municipal laws and regulations governing the trade and ownership of exotic animals. While laws and regulations do exist, they vary greatly across the country and leave many gaps and loopholes.
At the federal level, permits are required for animal species that are threatened by trade and are listed in the appendices of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), but many exotic species are not covered. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) regulates the trade of some animal species, such as turtles, which are required to have a permit when imported into Canada but, again, most animals are not covered. There are few federal laws or regulations that restrict the trade or keeping of exotic animals for animal welfare or human health and safety reasons.
Not all provinces have meaningful laws or regulations that adequately address exotic animal trade, ownership and other issues and a few provinces have simply downloaded the responsibility for dealing with those issues to individual municipalities to address.
While many municipalities have animal control bylaws that include provisions for regulating the sale, trade and keeping of certain kinds of exotic animals, there is little consistency amongst them. Definitions of common terms (such as “exotic animal”) may differ from area to area; some kinds of animals may be prohibited in one jurisdiction but allowed in another; and few municipalities have robust criteria or processes for adding or removing species from their lists. Most municipalities also lack sufficient internal expertise and resources to provide oversight or to meaningfully enforce their own regulations. In addition, the fact that many bylaws are not proactive and preventative but, instead are reactive, responding to complaints, incidents or situations only after they have occurred, compounds an already problematic situation.
There is a desperate need for comprehensive, coordinated laws and regulations addressing the wide range of issues and problems inherent in the trade and keeping of exotic animals, including animal welfare, human health and safety and threats to native wildlife and natural ecosystems.
Our research found that 45% of exotic pet owners are unaware their pet is considered wildlife.
Latest campaign news
Turkish Cargo (a Turkish Airlines subsidiary) has agreed to work with us to find solutions to stop African grey parrots being smuggled on its planes. This is a great step towards ending this cruel trade.
African grey parrots, one of the world’s most trafficked animals, are suffering terribly in the name of the legal and illegal wildlife pet trade.
Historically, getting a wild species to keep as a pet, more commonly known as an exotic pet, was a small-scale operation. Today, these animals are part of a much larger operation – a multibillion dollar global industry.
Our assistance with the confiscation of wild cats demonstrates the dangerous issues of the exotic pet trade.