The demand for exotic pets drives invasive species, environmental destruction, and the emergence of new pathogens. We should end it now for a safer, more sustainable, and more humane world tomorrow.
Why Do People Want Exotic Pets?
With celebrities treating exotic pets like a status symbol, it’s easy to understand why the exotic pets trade continues to grow. Furthermore, it has included not just big cats but also other mammals, plus reptiles, birds, fish, and even amphibians.
Some people think that exotic pets give them personality. For them, owning “regular” pets like dogs and cats are boring. They want to learn more about a novel species by keeping one at home.
Many believe they are domesticating a new species, or helping to save a species from extinction. Unfortunately, there’s a general lack of understanding of the danger posed to the animals, humans, and ecosystems by this trade. Otherwise, there would be no way to justify taking a wild animal out of its home and into a totally foreign environment.
Exotic Pet Trade Endangers the Traded Animals
Sure, some exotic pet owners pay top dollar to ensure their animal wasn’t obtained illegally. They educate themselves in the complex requirements of keeping a snow leopard, capuchin, or tengu happy and comfortable for its lifetime. But not everyone one of them does.
The lack of regulation around the exotic pets trade makes it difficult to know exactly how many are traded in a given period. But we do know that most primates and carnivores on the exotic pet market were from the wild.
Attacks by adult pets that were far more manageable when they were sold as infants are a regular occurrence. When pet owners become overwhelmed by demands of caring for such pets, some merely release the animals into the wild. Most often, the animal dies in the unfamiliar territory. However, there are times when the animal survives and proliferates. While that may sound good, it creates more problems in the environment that they were released in.
Many Exotic Pets Become Invasive Species
A species becomes invasive when it flourishes in a new environment by displacing a similar local species in the food web or disrupting it entirely. This happens accidentally all the time.
An excellent example is zebra mussels, which were carried by ships along a network of canals and rivers from western Russia to Europe and the USA.
Other times, though, people introduce invasive species deliberately, without realizing the consequences. For instance, starlings are an exotic bird species released into Central Park in 1890 by a Shakespeare enthusiast who wanted to bring every bird species mentioned by the bard to North America. Now they number in the millions, making life hard for many farmers.
In Florida, enough boa constrictors have been released into the wilds that biodiversity is declining and hunting the giant snakes is a year-round business.
Zoonotic Disease Transfer
As the world changes around us in response to the threat posed by the novel coronavirus, the dangers of disease transmission via contact between humans and wild animals is more salient than ever.
Viruses and bacteria exist in all species. The more humans are in contact with strange animals, the more chances for a zoonotic transfer, the transfer of a pathogen between humans and animals. Indeed, scientists estimate that wildlife is the source of at least 70% of emerging diseases.
The downsides of the exotic pet trade far outweigh their perceived benefits. If we want to make the world better for humans and animals, we need to recognize that wild animals belong in the wild. A tiger in your backyard is not a substitute for a personality. It’s time to end the demand for exotic pets.