Each year, millions of wild animals are poached from their natural habitats or bred in captivity to become exotic pets. Learn how we’re tackling this global issue.
Wildlife. Not Pets
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 long distances, and taken to countries vastly different from their original homes. Many exotic pets suffer and die in transit before they even reach their final destination.
In our investigations, we found that up to 66% of African grey parrots 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 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. Inadequate captive environments can result in chronic stress and poor physical health. 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 exotic pet trade is a key threat to many species’ survival with large-scale poaching and theft from the wild devastating natural populations – adding to existing threats such habitat loss and the trade in wildlife for trophies, traditional medicine and entertainment. The methods used to snatch these animals from their natural habitats are cruel and inhumane; the numbers involved are shocking. As many as 21% of wild African grey parrots, a species already in danger of extinction, are captured for sale into the exotic pet trade each year. Over 55,000 Indian star tortoises at only one trading hub were recorded to have been collected from the wild in a single year. And an estimated 90% of traded reptile species and half of traded individuals are wild caught. Capturing animals from the wild for the exotic pet trade is happening on an industrial scale with devastating results.
Animals that manage to survive the pain and suffering caused by capturing methods 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 grey parrots will die during transportation. For other species, the true numbers of those who do not make it is often unknown, but even a 1% mortality rate can equate to millions of animals due to the size and scale of the exotic pet trade.
Many animals caught from the wild end up in captive breeding facilities or farms. Others are bred in captivity themselves and then kept to produce offspring again and again. The breeding industry causes its own set of distinct problems for the animals trapped within them. It is by no means safe or cruelty-free.
As a starter, 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. Also, 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 the animals’ physical and mental health. This is particularly common in snakes and other reptiles as buyers increasingly want genetically altered versions, known as morphs, that bear little resemblance to their wild. Snakes and other reptiles who have been selectively bred to produce the most unique colours can show signs of neurological disorders, that impacts the animals’ welfare.
For those animals that survive the inhumane breeding industry, a life as a pet can cause further trauma. Research has shown that up to 75% of pet snakes, lizards and tortoises die within the first year in the home. With natural age ranges up to 120 years, it is thought that these deaths mostly occur from illnesses related to their captivity. Also, 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 and sugar gliders 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 increased people’s accessibility and desire to own exotic pets Our research has shown that first time buyers of exotic pets are influenced by the ‘cute’ videos they see across social media; people who have watched such video when considering buying a wild animal as pet are more likely to complete the purchase.
Social media has also become a key marketplace for wild animal sales. A wide variety of exotic species are for sale at the click of a button in a largely unregulated marketplace. We have identified Facebook and Kijiji as key online channels facilitating the sale of exotic pets. While Facebook committed publicly to ban the trade of endangered species on their platform – our evidence shows this is not working in practice. Endangered species continue to be listed on, often private, groups dedicated to these animals, 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 numerous concerns that speak to the broader welfare issues related to the keeping of wild animals as pets, below some specific examples related to reptiles:
- Basic needs not met: a high number of snakes, lizards, tortoises, and turtles die within one year of becoming a pet.
- Insufficient nutrition: in our investigations, we found that captive green iguanas, turtles and other reptiles often suffer from soft bone disease due to poor diet.
- Unhealthy contact: Snakes kept as pets in Canada have been linked to a salmonella outbreak, involving hospitalizations,
- Confined in tiny spaces: Snakes are often kept in undersized tanks in which they aren’t able to stretch their body in full.
- Cruel captive breeding: artificial breeding in captivity can cause ball pythons serious genetic defects
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 are hundreds of billions US dollars in the past 20 years and in 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic have caused an estimated 5.2% contraction in the global GDP.
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 decade originated from animals and principally from wildlife (e.g., SARS, MERS, Ebola, and COVID-19).
Wild animals kept as exotic pets can be a source of infectious disease and stressed animals, with compromised immune systems are more prone to contracting and shedding pathogens, increasing the likelihood of making people ill. Exposure to these pathogens can happen at pet expos, stores, or when 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 have been linked 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, wild animals cannot have their needs met entirely in captivity. Only domesticated animals, like cats and dogs, should be kept in home environments because their needs can be met.
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.
Never release an exotic pet into the wild. Most animals cannot survive and will either die from starvation, the weather or will be killed by other predators. While most released animals will likely die, some 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. Examples of invasive species in Canada include red-eared sliders, Italian wall lizards and American bullfrogs.
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.
Consider adopting a domesticated pet instead of buying an exotic animal as a 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 have evolved over thousands of years to be our companions and whose needs, when taking care of properly, can be completely met as pets.
The animals you won’t believe exist as pets in Canada
In 2019, World Animal Protection commissioned research to understand the scale of this issue at a national level. The data reveals that Canadians own millions of wild animals, including lions, tigers and alligators, despite these animals being entirely unsuitable as pets. Altogether, an estimated 1.4 million wild animals are kept as pets in Canada.
Learn more about our report and what we found about exotic animal ownership in Canada.
The legality of owning wild animals as pets in Canada
In Canada, there is a patchwork of federal, provincial, and municipal regulations governing the trade and ownership of exotic animals. While laws do exist, they vary greatly across the country and leave many gaps and loopholes resulting in the keeping of inappropriate wild animals as pets.
At the federal level, permits are required to import or export 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 animal 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, many animal species are not covered. Beside these two regulatory schemes no other restrictions on the trade of wild animals exists at a Federal level.
Provinces are in most cases responsible for regulated the trade, keeping and use of exotic wild animals. Not all provinces and territories have meaningful laws or regulations that adequately address these issues and a few provinces have simply downloaded all responsibilities regarding the trade, use and keeping of wild exotic animals to individual municipalities.
At a municipal level, many municipalities have animal control bylaws that include provisions for regulating the trade, use and keeping of certain kinds of exotic animals, unfortunately 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 deciding which animals can be kept safely and humanely. Municipalities often lack sufficient internal expertise and resources to develop compressive regulations or to provide oversight and to meaningfully enforce their own bylaws.
At all level of government, most laws and regulations regarding the trade, use and keeping of exotic wild animals are reactive rather than preventative. Complaints, incidents or other situations have to occur in order for governments to act, which 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 to the trade, use and keeping of exotic animals, including animal welfare, human health and safety and threats to native wildlife, natural ecosystems and biodiversity.
Visit our new campaign page to see which wild animals are permitted in your province/territory and how your province or territory compares to other areas.
Pledge to never buy a wild animal as a pet
Take action against the wildlife pet trade today by signing our pledge to never buy an exotic pet. Help us protect wildlife by keeping them where they belong. In the wild.
Latest campaign news
The Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) has given these and other wild animals more international protection from the cruel wildlife trade.
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.
Our assistance with the confiscation of wild cats demonstrates the dangerous issues of the exotic 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.