By Dr. Becker
The exotic pet trade, often called simply the pet trade, is the business of importing and exporting wild animals for sale as pets.
This industry causes suffering to millions of animals, disrupts ecosystems, threatens extinction of entire species, and is a menace to public health and safety.
Among the most common exotics sold in the pet trade are monkeys, birds, reptiles, hedgehogs, prairie dogs, sugar gliders and tigers.
The rise of an exotic animal’s popularity is often tied to the latest trendy TV show, movie or other form of entertainment.
It’s a phenomenon similar to the explosion of poorly bred Dalmatians while the “101 Dalmatians” Disney movie was all the rage, and also the huge increase in the Chihuahua population during the Taco Bell ad campaign featuring a talking dog.
As I discuss often here at Mercola Healthy Pets, adding a new non-human creature to the family isn’t a decision that should be made lightly or impulsively.
Even adopting a commonplace household pet like a cat or dog requires careful research, planning, preparation and commitment.
People who purchase from the exotic pet trade often have no idea what they’re getting into, or the hugely complex responsibility they’ve taken on.
The vast majority of exotic pets end up living in inappropriate housing, with inadequate care and poor nutrition.
Acquiring a wild, exotic creature on a whim more often than not spells disaster for the animal who has been ripped from his natural environment for the purpose of amusing humans.
How Animals Enter the Pet Trade
Tragically, according to the Humane Society of the U.S., the exotic pet trade is second only to the drugs and weapons trade. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry with $15 billion changing hands in the U.S. alone.
Much of the buying and selling is done through trade magazines, at auctions, and increasingly, over the Internet. A person with a credit card can visit one of dozens of websites and within a few minutes purchase a baboon, a tiger, or any other exotic animal they desire. Their new ‘pet’ will arrive within a few days.
According to the ASPCA, infant animals are what buyers want. And they bring the biggest profits to exotic pet dealers, so poachers commonly kill the mother first in order to take her babies.
A certain percentage of animals become so stressed after being torn from their natural habitats that they die before reaching their destination. So poachers and dealers account for inevitable ‘shrinkage’ issues in their exotic pet inventories by obtaining ‘back-ups’ to fill the holes left by animals who die in transit.
Exotic pets are also bred in captivity, often in situations similar to puppy mills, as well as in zoos, circuses, and roadside tourist attractions.
In addition to serving as pets, exotics are also put on display at public animal attractions, and become the targets in ‘canned hunting.’ A canned hunt is one in which the prey are exotic animals confined to a certain area. Hunters pay to bring home an exotic trophy, shot at close range, much like shooting fish in a barrel.
According to the ASPCA, there are over 1,000 canned hunting operations in the U.S.
Why Wild Animals Aren’t Supposed to Be Captive Pets
It’s a mystery to me why anyone would think a wild creature -- no matter how small and manageable he may seem as an infant -- will make a suitable pet as an adult. Or why humans feel they can provide adequately for creatures plucked from their natural environment.
Where did we get the idea wild creatures are here to entertain us?
If your tiger or rare primate gets sick, where will you take her for medical help? It’s unlikely your local vet has experience treating animals who under normal circumstances, live entirely in the wild.
Countless adult exotics wind up living full-time in cages, neglected, abused, poorly nourished and stressed. Not surprisingly, many of these confined animals – born to travel in their natural habitat several miles in a single day -- develop the propensity to bite, scratch and attack any creature within range.
Many exotic pets not only grow into unpredictable, destructive, dangerous adults in captivity, they also carry highly infections and potentially fatal bacteria and viruses, including salmonella, herpes B, rabies and monkey pox.
From an environmental perspective, taking wild animals out of their natural habitats upsets the balance of delicate ecosystems.
What’s Being Done to Neutralize the Pet Trade?
A few federal laws do exist prohibiting the sale and interstate transport of certain exotic animals, including the Endangered Species Act, the Captive Wildlife Safety Act, and the Wild Bird Conservation Act.
Most states have restrictions on keeping exotics as pets. You can view a map showing exotic pet laws for each state here.
If you’re interested in taking personal action against the exotic pet trade:
- Don’t buy an exotic animal of any kind, from any source
- Don’t visit stores or websites that sell exotic pets
- Don’t stop at roadside zoos
- Talk to your family and friends about what happens to exotic animals in the pet trade