When it comes to pets, most people are content keeping traditional cats and dogs while others desire animals with a more exotic flair. Pet stores and online vendors offer the potential exotic pet owner an abundance of wildlife, ranging from parrots and marmosets to cobras and scorpions. Sadly, many recipients of exotic wildlife are unaware that their purchases may support a trade that is often illegal, inhumane, or detrimental to wild populations.
It may come as a surprise to many that the United States is one of the largest importers of live animals in the world with over one billion live animals imported since the year 2000. Various regulatory agencies strive to control this trade. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for enforcing not only its own internal regulations but also those regulations that fall under the auspices of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
In addition, the U.S. Public Health Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture enforce various aspects of live animal importations that seek to prevent the introduction and spread of emerging diseases that affect the health of both humans and domestic livestock. Imports of pet Bell’s Hingeback Tortoise’s were banned when tortoise borne ticks were found to contain Heartwater Disease, a serious threat for wild and domestic ruminants.
In 2003 African Monkey Pox was introduced when shipments of Gambian Pouched Rats, destined for the pet trade, were imported into this country. The scale of the global wildlife trade, both legal and illegal is staggering. It has been estimated that the illegal wildlife trade ranks just behind the trade in illegal arms and narcotics in terms of scope and finances. Earlier this year, 54 critically endangered Madagascar Plowshare tortoises were confiscated by authorities in Thailand. Destined for the high-end illegal pet trade, an adult tortoise of this species might sell for $50,000 – this one shipment represented approximately 10 percent of the world’s remaining population of plowshare tortoises.
For those who still wish to maintain non-traditional pets, know that these non-traditional pets require a substantial commitment. The desire to own an exotic pet often clouds ones judgment. Rescue groups are overflowing with unwanted parrots and other exotic animals, relinquished because former owners underestimated the time, money, and commitment it requires to adequately maintain these animals within their homes. In many cases exotic pet owners, ignorant of state or local laws that prohibit the keeping of certain species, have had their animals seized by law enforcement or been forced to surrender them. Responsible and successful maintenance of an exotic pet requires careful sourcing along with substantial research, finances, time commitment, and an honest discussion as to one’s ability to meet the requirements, both physical and psychological, of the species in question.