Cookies on Animal Science Database

Like most websites we use cookies. This is to ensure that we give you the best experience possible.


Continuing to use  means you agree to our use of cookies. If you would like to, you can learn more about the cookies we use.

Animal Science Database

Supporting your research in animal production, welfare and health

 Sign up to receive our Veterinary & Animal Sciences eNewsletter, book alerts and offers direct to your inbox.

News Article

Experts call for a ban on the trade of exotic pets

Article highlights the increasing welfare and health issues associated with keeping wild animals.

In an article in The Biologist, three experts have highlighted the scale of the problem of the exotic pet trade and called for complete prohibition.

Regulations and bans are currently in place to prevent the trade of dangerous or endangered animals, but Elaine Toland, Director of the Animal Protection Agency, Clifford Warwick, Emergent Disease Foundation and Phillip Arena, Murdoch University, Perth, believe this doesn’t go far enough.

Elaine Toland says, “A UK ban on the importation and domestic trading of exotic pets, whether they are wild-caught or captive bred, would result in a rapid improvement in species conservation, ecological problems, and welfare concerns linked to transport, storage and captivity.”

The renewed interest in exotic pets has increased the major problems associated with keeping wild animals, including poor captive conditions, conservation threats from harvesting from the wild, the release of alien species, and transmission of disease to humans.

The welfare of exotic pets is generally much lower than for domestic species, and morbidity and premature mortality are high. A recent investigation of a major US-based dealer (a UK supplier) found that of 26,000 animals, 80% were sick, injured or dead.

Elaine Toland adds, “Modern welfare practices should not merely consider whether containers are overcrowded, or if animals have broken bones and occupy dirty cages, but also account for their behavioural and psychological needs. We found that 75% of reptiles die within their first year in the home.”

Collecting from the wild for the pet trade has severe conservation implications. Reducing the numbers of a particular species can have major effects on the whole ecosystem. Even where over-harvesting isn’t a problem, physically ‘higher profile’ individuals may be more easily collected than secretive animals. These can be transient individuals which move between populations, and their removal may alter population dynamics and fitness.

At the moment, wildlife traders can exploit an unprotected animal until evidence emerges to demonstrate that trade threatens a species’ survival. However, the evidence required for protection can be difficult to collect. For example, the species and environmental impact studies required are often poorly-funded. Even once a species has been granted protection, enforcement is often poor.

Phillip Arena says, “Major threats such as habitat loss and climate change mean there is simply less wildlife out there, making human-wildlife impacts now greater than ever. The impacts of the exotic pet industry are additional burdens the world does not need.”

The release of unwanted pets comes with further problems. Not only can released pets compete with native species for resources, they can also introduce pathogens.

Clifford Warwick says: “Exotic pets are also a threat to human health, and many cases of infections caught from pets go undiagnosed because they resemble common illnesses. Extrapolating from current US figures, there may be around 5,600 reptile-related human salmonellosis cases in the UK annually.”

Mark Downs, Chief Executive of the Society of Biology, says, “Most people who purchase exotic pets have no idea of the potential consequences for the individual animal or the whole species, or even their own health. It is important to raise awareness of the issue: the pets we keep in our homes shouldn’t be a threat to biodiversity elsewhere in the world.”

Elaine Toland says: “While trade bans on certain species have not solved all the problems associated with exotic pet trading, they are very effective and important and more are urgently required. We are not proposing a ban on the private keeping of exotic pets as this would be both very heavy-handed and create a whole new problem of what to do with all the animals. Rather, we want an end to the commercial trade supply so that existing problems wither gradually along with a dwindling captive population.” 

Reference: Pet Hate, A special report on the resurgence of the exotic pet trade, The Biologist (August 2012), vol. 59, no.3

Article details

  • Author(s)
  • R. Wood
  • Date
  • 10 September 2012
  • Source
  • Society of Biology
  • Subject(s)
  • Veterinary medicine