Exotic Animals as 'Pets'
 



The exotic "pet" trade is big business. Selling protected wildlife
in stores, auctions, or on the Internet is one of the largest
sources of criminal earnings, behind only arms smuggling and
drug trafficking. But the animals pay the price. Many don't
survive the journey from their homes, and those who do survive
often suffer in captivity and die prematurely from malnutrition, an
unnatural and uncomfortable environment, loneliness, and the
overwhelming stress of confinement.

 
Animals Suffer During Capture and Transport

Animals destined for the pet trade are yanked from their homes in places such as Australia, Africa, and Brazil and
are subjected to grueling transport. Parrots may have their beaks and feet taped and be stuffed into plastic tubes
that can easily be hidden in luggage, and stolen bird and reptile eggs are concealed in special vests so that
couriers can bypass X-ray machines at airports. Baby turtles have been trapped inside their shells with tape and
shoved by the dozen into tube socks, and infant pythons have been shipped in CD cases. Many die before
reaching their destinations.
 
Ignorance Breeds Misery

In the hands of unprepared or incompetent caretakers, many exotic animals die or are abandoned. The head of the
Environmental Crime Investigation unit in Western Cape, South Africa, estimates that 90 percent of exported
reptiles die within a year.
 
Animal control authorities confiscated a crippled cougar cub
from a Buffalo, New York, basement. The animal, kept by a
teenager, had been fed a diet deficient in calcium and, as
a result, suffered from deformed legs. Hedgehogs, who roll
themselves into tight balls, can easily become injured if
children try to "uncurl" them or if cats attack them. Sugar
gliders are very social animals, and if they are not given
enough attention, they may self-mutilate or die from the
stress of loneliness.

Other people try to return unwanted animals to their natural
homes or abandon them outdoors. Without appropriate
habitats or rehabilitation, these animals will starve or fall
victim to the elements or predators. If they do survive,
they may overpopulate and wreak havoc with the ecosystem,
killing native species.
 
Exotic Animals Lash Out

The exotic animal trade is dangerous for humans as well. There have been dozens of attacks by captive big cats on
humans in the past decade. In one incident, a tiger mauled his guardian's 3-year-old grandson. A lion killed several
dogs and trapped a child in his room, and a Bengal tiger tore off the arm of a 4-year-old boy.
Since 2000, at least four people have been mauled to death by wolf hybrids—the offspring of wolves and
domesticated dogs. One veterinarian and animal behaviorist says that "people who breed these animals and sell
them as pets are playing Russian roulette. It's a gross misrepresentation to sell these animals as pets."
 
Disease Threat

Seventy-five percent of all new infectious diseases originate
from nonhuman animals. According to one Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC) officer, "[T]here are all kinds of
exotic species that may be unknown vectors of human disease."

The monkeypox outbreak that affected dozens of people in the
Midwest in 2003 was traced to a Gambian rat from Africa. The
animal had been housed with prairie dogs in an Illinois animal
dealer's shed. Prairie dogs also have been known to carry the
plague and tularemia. The herpes B virus, which is nearly 70
percent fatal to humans, can be transferred from macaques to
humans. Human contact with reptiles and other exotic animals
accounts for 70,000 cases of salmonellosis each year. Parrots
can transfer psittacosis, which can be deadly to humans.
 
Few Government Regulations

Federal, state, and local governments are passing laws that prohibit the private ownership of certain dangerous
species, but most of these regulations are poorly enforced and are designed to protect humans from injury and
disease rather than ensure that animals are handled humanely.
 
What You Can Do

Never buy exotic animals from dealers or pet shops, and support legislation that would make owning exotic animals
illegal and prohibit the interstate sale of exotic animals.