One day, I was curious and was watching a YouTube video about this guy owning a pet monkey. Although, the monkey seemed well-cared for and loved while being glowingly healthy, I wondered if it was truly happy and wondered what it was thinking. I then started Googling about pet monkeys and somehow got into the path of reading about the illegal exotic pet trade. It was truly appalling what I was reading and I could not believe my eyes. It is the third biggest black market trade right up there with drugs and human trafficking – yet almost no one even talks about it or is even aware of it, which is probably why I found out on my own. Due to the undesirable circumstances the animals go through during the trade process, the implications the pet trade has on the ecosystem, and the many threats exotic pets pose to humans, exotic pets should be banned across America – if not banned, then regulated.
What exactly is the exotic pet trade doing that is so bad? What are the negatives of having exotic pets? Are there also negatives to humans or the environment? What are the statistics of these “negatives”? Is there any way I can help, donate to, or volunteer? What are the laws regarding the exotic animal trade, and are they really effective? Is our government doing enough to lessen or remedy the problems?
The exotic pet trade is an inexcusable way to illegally hunt down, “tame”, and sell exotic animals. Exotic pets are animals that are domesticated by species by being kept in captivity over a long era of time generation after generation. Some examples of exotic pets would be lions, tigers, primates, special kinds of sea creatures including fish, and slow lori. Exotic pets usually require a substantially bigger amount of physical, mental, emotional, and financial dedication in order for it to thrive to its already drained potential, which the average pet-keeper/lover will not be able to provide. Large birds can create bites that are quite painful and are actually very hard to take care of, and many of the species grow very large in size making them extremely hard to take care of (“Three Types of Exotic Pets….”). Many owners start out with high hopes of owning exotic pets not knowing what’s in store for them and how much energy it takes to properly care for them. This happens only for most exotic pet owners to become former exotic pet owners by either abandoning them or trying to give them off to a sanctuary/zoo. Unfortunately, many animal sanctuaries are full of unwanted exotic pets and some have had to stop accepting them (Laufer). This leads to a hidden and massive problem among the natural world of the Earth, and our future as we know it.
Over time, exotic pets have grown in popularity. It’s seemed to have become an ego-boosting, under-the-radar and very subtle pop trend that is circulating throughout the world – not just America. This is mainly happening for two reasons. One of them is that it is usually seen as a status symbol to have one as a person has to be very mentally and/or physically strong. Mike Tyson, a famous sports player has a tiger that requires $4,000 feeding a month during the divorce with his wife. He explains how it makes him feel, which is cool and unique (Laufer). Another reason is that humans seemed to have adopted the idea of “If it is cute and easily mutilated, then it will be a good pet,” which is absolutely wrong on so many levels. People should stop thinking about their own selfish motives and realize what it would be like to be captured from a their usual every-day life and environment and put into captivity. According to this article, “Zug, Vitt & Caldwell (2001) state that captive breeding of pet-trade or hobbyist species became a large-scale commercial enterprise during the 1990s” (Stoakes). The fact that this has also become a hobby is quite sickening. It may be understandable if the owner has a deep connection and love for their animals. Although it is wrong to keep exotic pets, they would still have some affection for them. Keeping them as a hobby sounds ridiculous, and should be immediately banned at all costs. These are animals, not “collectibles” to be traded and gawked upon.
There is barely debate about the exotic pet trade, unless someone actively brings it up in conversation. It is usually rarely spoken about outside of the animal-lovers and black trader community, and when it is spoken about – it is a very hot and triggering subject. Some people believe exotic pets should be banned period, others believe regulations should just be put in place to make sure the animals should be taken care of, and others believe that there should be no regulations at all. It is widely believed that it is not ethical to keep exotic pets. If exotic pets are a must to keep America’s “freedom”, then there needs to be regulations in place to make sure the owners are well equipped financially, mentally, and physically to well-care for an exotic animal ensuring its happiness and healthiness. The media should be paying more attention to the illegal exotic pet trade, as many people do not even know about what is going on in them. If more people would know, then more people would attempt to remedy the situation. One of the main debates is about whether or not the exotic pets are “happy” and healthy while living in captivity with loving owners. Many rangers, animal enthusiasts, biologists, and any other animal related specialists strongly believe that it is not possible for exotic pets to be happy in captivity, despite how much their owners and the ones around them may love them. There have been numerous reports on humans being attacked by exotic pets.
The poor animals are subjected to being horribly ill-handled, starving, void of any medical care of affection, and it is just inhumane what they have to go through. “Despite some exotic animals being able to survive up to 120 years in the wild, at least three quarters die within a year when kept as pets in the UK, according to claims made in The Biologist magazine” ( “75% UK Exotic Pets Die” 480). According to PETA, pets encounter grueling and terrible conditions during capture and transport. Parrots get their beaks taped shut and squeezed hostage into drink bottles so they can be smuggled through the airport; Baby turtles are taped so they are trapped inside their shells (“Inside the Exotic Animal Trade”).
More often than not, many owners do not know the risks and sacrifices must be made to make sure their pet has at least adequate care. Zoos are being asked by various owners if they can take their pets just because the people didn’t do research on time. John Linehan, the president of the Franklin park zoo in Boston, stated: “In most cases, we can’t find appropriate places for animals dumped on us. If people would stop buying animals illegally and animals they simply cannot take care of, it would save a lot of misery for a lot of animals” (“Inside the Exotic Animal Trade”). What he said holds very much true to what is happening, and there needs to be action taken. Most people do not think about thoroughly researching the animal they plan on purchasing in order to make sure it is adequately cared for.
It is not just the poor animals that have to go through the horrible pet trade that are affected, it is our environment as well. Too often does the population of the popular species as pets become endangered and too often do the pets that are released into the wild become invasive species, which is truly screwing up our eco-system. “The Burmese python, a native to Southeast Asia, is “poised to overrun Everglades National Park.” Since the mid-1990s, park rangers have captured or killed sixty-eight pythons” (Brown). Another problem regarding the environment is loss of population. For example, tiger populations in Buki Balai Renjang have been tremendously decreasing over the years because of poaching. Furthermore, the media has paid a ton of attention to the rhino species of the world which are being increasingly poached since their horns are being more demanded in Asia (“Illegal Wildlife Trade”). We need to care because if the eco-system is being negatively affected, then we are going to be negatively affected in the long-run. Humans need the functioning of the eco-system in order to survive naturally.
Also, the exotic pets are still wild at heart and can pose a dangerous threat to the humans around them – both medical wise and physical violence wise. They simply are not meant to be kept in captivity. Born Free USA, states that there were 3-5 attacks per month in 2014. Those are just the reported attacks as many incidents don’t get reported out of fear of repercussions (Morgan). Some people argue that dogs make up even more of the attacks on humans, but what they are not recognizing is that there are a ton more privately owned domestic canines than exotic pets. Of course the percentage of attacks is going to be higher. The danger can be even fatal to the humans around them as a lot of exotic pets are much stronger than their human species owners. According to an article, “news reports have focused on the problem of chimpanzees as pets after a recent mauling in Connecticut resulted in significant physical harm to a friend of the owner and subsequent death of the animal” (Hessler). They can also hurt a person even if they like that person. A lion can be playing with one roughly and accidentally tear some of his or her skin off without intent on seriously injuring a person. “Hedgehogs, who roll themselves into tight balls, can easily become injured if children try to “uncurl” them or if cats attack them” (“Inside the Exotic Animal Trade”). Exotic pets also pose a medical health risk by spreading diseases such as salmonella, rabies, aviary diseases if they are birds, and many other diseases that wild animals carry that can be transmitted to humans. In fact, three fourths of infectious diseases come from wildlife (Morgan)
Not all people setting out to purchase and exotic pet is seeking a companion to form a bond with. Some of them are hobbyists, and this growing trend of hobbyists has been around during and since the 1990s. Many events have led to have certain rules put in place to control or restrict the ownership and/or breeding of certain species. The Humane Society, an animal activist group, is trying to get more restrictions made on owning pythons and reptiles. Moreover, there are many “acts” put into place by the government, but they are both severely limited with many loopholes. Congress is considering reforming the Lacey Act (Brown). The Pet Animals Act 1951 states how pets exotic or domesticated should be kept, including suitable nutrition, protection from being sold at a young age, disease prevention, and suitable living accommodations. All of these features are very important to the ownership of these animals. The only problem is that they don’t apply to breeders, which is usually where the animal suffers the most. Even if one is not selling or advertising the trade of exotic pets, one would still be making an offence by buying/owning them. As a result, many of the animals are now under endangerment/extinction threat (Stoakes). Although there are many laws in place, many of these laws are “poorly enforced” and are only there to make sure diseases don’t attack humans, rather than making sure humans don’t attack the animals (“Inside the Illegal Exotic Animal Trade”). There are also many loopholes found in these laws, and smugglers have exploited that more often than not for their personal gain.
CITES is basically the official organization that is meant to regulate and create laws regarding the exotic animal trade. CITES stands for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. It has brought 179 countries/nations together to offset and minimize the trouble that is being caused by the wildlife trade. This happens by them meeting together and having a “universal” regime and set of rules regarding wild-life (“Illegal Wildlife Trade”). Recently CITES formed an organization to increase punishment for criminals that smuggled and poached protected animals. They have also tried to increase consumer awareness (“Illegal Wildlife Trade”).
While most of the illegal exotic animal trade is happening via commercially, people can still “participate” unknowingly thinking they are doing no harm. There are many ways that one can help without too much effort. One can volunteer, learn more about these animals, read labels to make sure no harm is going on, and most of all – do NOT buy, support, or cheer on the ownership of exotic animals. When travelling abroad, the person should make sure that they travel “green” and are an “eco-tourist” (“Illegal Wildlife Trade”). This means do not waste stuff and just be mindful of how a person is treating the earth. How one treats it can have a big effect on the wildlife around the local area or even global area. One must also think long and hard about what they are buyig when setting out to buy souvenirs. They must ask themselves the following questions: Was this made legally? Does it have wildlife products? (If so, is it from a species that is endangered or almost endangered?) Was the collection of the animal sustainable? If one does not know the answer to these questions, then do not buy it! It is better to be safe than sorry. There are many local areas in Georgia that one can volunteer at or donate to in order to support the wildlife that has been mishandled or just needs some gentle care. One is named The Wildlife Sanctuary, and it is located in Ellijay, Georgia (“The Wildlife Sanctuary”). Another is named “Noah’s Ark”, and it is located in Locust Grove, Georgia (“Noah’s Ark”). There are many others that are credible and that one can find from a s search on Google. Also, if one wants to learn more, they should check out Animal Planet’s, PETA’s, or the National Humane Education Society’s website to learn the pathways and processes of the exotic pet trade. All it takes is some effort and passion for the well-being of animals. Just one person may not be able to change everything completely, but they can certainly help lessen the chances and frequency of another animal being put in harm’s way mentally, emotionally, and physically.
“75% Of UK Exotic Pets Die in Less than a Year’.” Veterinary Ireland Journal, vol. 2, no. 10, Oct. 2012, pp. 480–480. Academic Search Complete, proxygsu- gwin.galileo.usg.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a 9h&AN=86433531&site=eds-live&scope=site.
Brown, Robert. “Exotic Pets Invade United States Ecosystems: Legislative Failure and a Proposed Solution.” Indiana Law Journal, vol. 81, no. 2, 2006, pp. 712–731.Business Source Complete, proxygsu- gwin.galileo.usg.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=b th&AN=20847844&site=eds-live&scope=site.
Hessler, Katherine, and Tanith Balaban. “Exotic Animals as Pets.” GPSolo, 2009, p. 42.Edsjsr, proxygsu-gwin.galileo.usg.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsjsr&AN=edsjsr.23673614&site=eds-live&scope=site.
“Illegal Wildlife Trade.” Official Web Page of the U S Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, www.fws.gov/international/travel-and-trade/illegal-wildlife-trade.html. Accessed 2 Mar. 2017
“Inside the Exotic Animal Trade.” PETA: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, http://www.peta.org/issues/companion-animal-issues/companion-animals-factsheets/inside-exotic-animal-trade/. Accessed 19 Apr. 2017.
Laufer, Peter. “The Wild World of Exotic Pets.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 22 Sept. 2010, www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/8008811/The-wild-world-of-exotic- pets.html. Accessed 2 Mar. 2017.
Morgan, Melissa A. “Duke Law Journal.” Exotic Addiction | Duke Law Journal, Aug. 2015, dlj.law.duke.edu/2015/08/exotic-addiction/. Accessed 2 Mar. 2017.
“Noah’s Ark.” Noah’s Ark. http://www.noahs-ark.org/. Accessed 23 Apr. 2017.
Stoakes, Lynne. “Making Sense of the Legislation Relating to Buying and Selling Exotic Animals.” Veterinary Nursing Journal, vol. 29, Oct. 2014, pp. 335–338. Academic Search Complete, doi:10.1111/vnj.12184.
“Three Types of Exotic Pets and How to Care for Them.” Sanford Brown, 13 Mar. 2015, http://www.sanfordbrown.edu/Student-Life/blog/March-2015/Three-Types-of-Exotic- Pets-and- How-to-Care-for-Them. Accessed 17 Mar. 2017.
“The Wildlife Sanctuary.” Wildlife Sanctuary, http://www.thewildlifesanctuary.com/. Accessed 25 Apr. 2017.