Assessing the potential impacts of non-native small mammals in the South African pet trade.
The pet trade is one of the most important pathways by which small mammals are introduced to non-native areas. To prevent the introduction and invasion of non-native pets, an impact assessment protocol is useful in understanding which pets might have potential negative impacts should they escape or be released from captivity. In this study, we used the Generic Impact Scoring System (GISS) to assess the potential effects associated with 24 non-native small mammal species sold in the South African pet trade. European rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus, house mice Mus musculus, Norwegian rats Rattus norvegicus and eastern grey squirrels Sciurus carolinensis had the highest potential impacts for both socio-economic and environmental categories. We found no statistically significant difference between the overall environmental and socio-economic impact scores. Impacts on agricultural and animal production (livestock) were the main mechanisms in the socio-economic category, while the impacts on animals (predation), competition and hybridisation prevailed for environmental impacts. The non-native mammal pet species with high impacts should be strictly regulated to prevent the potential impacts and establishment of feral populations in South Africa.