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Exotic Pet Trade

ChimpanzeeExotic Pets
As with other parts of the world, exotic pets remain popular in the United States. Unfortunately, many consumers remain unaware of the origins of exotic pets, how the exotic pet trade affects wild populations, and how to care for exotic pets. Read the following FAQs to learn more about the exotic pet trade.

What is an exotic pet?
“Exotic pet” describes any wild species kept for human pleasure or companionship. Often, exotic pets are kept as pets outside of their native continent.

What are some examples of exotic pets kept in the United States?
Dozens of exotic species are kept as pets in the United States. Sugar gliders, hedgehogs, pythons – even lions and chimpanzees are kept as pets.

Where do exotic pets come from?
Though genetically the same as their wild brethren, some exotic pets are bred in captivity for retail sale. Others are captured directly from the wild. According the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) the illegal trade of wildlife is a multi-million dollar industry. The majority die in transit from the wild to the auction block or from auction to their new homes in zoos, with private collectors, exhibitors, pet owners, and pet stores. Those who are bred in captivity do not fare much better.

What are the risks to humans who own exotic pets?
Depending on the species, exotic pet ownership can entail a great many risks. As non-domesticated animals, exotic pets retain many of their wild instincts, even when born into captivity. Large, colorful parrots known as Macaws have caused serious injuries to owners. Owners of these birds have suffered severed fingers, gauged eyes, and torn lips and ears. Even small reptiles, such as turtles can transmit dangerous salmonella bacteria just by touch. Among the most dangerous exotic pets include apes, including chimpanzees. Not only are chimpanzees many times stronger than a grown man, they, like other non-human primates, are capable of transmitting serious diseases such as tuberculosis and measles to humans.

What are the risks to exotic pets in captivity?
Even when animals survive transit from the wild, or conditions within a breeding operation, many exotic pets die prematurely once they arrive in their new homes. The reasons for this are many. For one, many owners do not have the knowledge or financial ability to adequately replicate a wild animal’s habitat within their own homes. Second, many exotic pets, such as hedgehogs and sugar gliders, are extremely small and can be easily crushed by furniture, closing doors, rowdy children, etc. Birds, specifically have the unique ability to fly away, only to die in temperate climates once the outdoor temperature drops in the winter. Third, not all veterinarians treat exotic animal patients. Even when the owner can afford care, that care may be hard to find.

How does the exotic pet trade harm the environment?
When exotic species are taken from the wild, these species are effectively removed from the native, breeding population. Exotic animals can also wreak havoc on the ecosystem when released by their owners into a continent that is not their own. For example, breeding birds in the Florida Everglades have been in decline since non-native pythons were released into the wild by irresponsible owners. Rather than dying off, the non-native or “invasive” pythons thrived in Florida’s tropical climate, successfully reproduced, and went on to prey on birds like egrets, gallinules, and other species that had no defenses against pythons.

Is it wrong to own an exotic pet?
Owning an exotic pet entails certain risks and expenses and also requires ample time and knowledge and in many cases, applicable permits. However, many exotic pets are incapable of returning to their natural habitats as a consequence of spending their formative years in captivity. Some of these animals find themselves in exotic animal rescues, waiting for responsible adoptive homes. If you are considering exotic pet ownership, consider contacting a rescue, and make sure you have the knowledge, skill, time, and financial assets to care for the animal. That stated, some species of exotic animals, such as lions, primates, tigers, etc., should never be kept as privately-owned pets.

How Can I Help Exotic Animals in the Wild And in Captivity?

• If you choose an exotic pet, ensure take all precautions to ensure the animal cannot harm humans, himself/herself, or other animals.
• Follow all laws regarding the ownership of exotic pets.
• If you choose an exotic pet, always adopt from a reputable rescue.
• Never release exotic species into the wild.
• Inform your friends and family members about the problems associated with the exotic pet trade.

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