The Exotic Pet Trade

The trade in exotic species to be kept as pets threatens the survival of wild species, the welfare of the animals, and the health of humans and other animals.

At every stage of the trade in exotic pets, the animals suffer, whether they have come from the wild or from a breeding facility.

The capture of animals in the wild can deplete native populations by up to 70%, according to EcoHealth Alliance, and threaten biodiversity. Crude and non-species-specific methods may be used to catch wild animals, which can damage the ecosystem and result in injuries or death for both target and non-target animals. A study in 2013 under the United Nations Environment Programme in West and Central Africa estimated that for every chimpanzee kept as a pet or in a zoo, another ten die in capture or trade conditions.

Even if they survive the journey to Europe, the animals’ suffering is far from over.

They are often kept by people who don’t know how to care for them, or in conditions that don’t correspond to their physiological and ethological needs. A study published in 2019 demonstrated that snakes need space to stretch their bodies to their full natural length, but in fact they are commonly kept  in small vivaria and racking systems that don’t allow them to do this.

Problems also arise when social animals are kept in isolation, or solitary animals are kept with others. Species such as African grey parrots can pluck out their own feathers due to boredom and a lack of opportunity to socialize with other parrots. Sugar gliders are also very social animals, and can self mutilate when kept alone. On the other hand, solitary animals such as big cats, when kept together, can pose a serious threat to each other.

Some animals die as a result of their owners’ inability to take care of them. An owner might lose commitment to an animal due to traits such as its long life expectancy, large size, complex housing needs, aggressive nature or high cost. Eurogroup for Animals’ member organisation AAP Animal Advocacy and Protection reported that in 2015, three-quarters of the animals they rescued had been abandoned.

Rescue centres and sanctuaries simply cannot keep up with the amount of animals being abandoned.

Discarded animals that do not end up dead or in shelters may add to the problem of invasive alien species (IAS) and can impact biodiversity and disrupt ecosystems in their new environments. Some examples of abandoned animals in Europe that have become IAS include the red-eared slider turtle and the American grey squirrel.

There is currently no available, up-to-date information on the trade in wild pets in the EU.

This makes it difficult to evaluate the exact source of all animals and thus the impact of their removal from the wild. The lack of proper regulations on the keeping and trade of exotic pets in many Member States, coupled with insufficient knowledge of some private keepers, undermines the welfare of the animals and pose a threat to human and animal health and biodiversity.

IN 2018 THE RSPCA'S CRUELTY HOTLINE RECEIVED

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CALLS ABOUT EXOTIC PETS ALONE

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OF SURVEY RESPONDENTS AGREE THAT EXOTIC ANIMALS ARE NOT PETS

IN 2017 AAP ANIMAL ADVOCACY AND PROTECTION RECEIVED

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RESCUE REQUESTS FOR EXOTIC PETS

WHAT DOES THE PUBLIC THINK?

Why do people want to keep exotic animals as pets? The reasons are varied. Some people take pride in the sense of uniqueness that comes from keeping non-typical pets; others can see it as a sign of status; others do enjoy taking care of these animals. Whatever the reasons, those who keep exotic animals - even those with the best of intentions - almost always underestimate the complicated needs of exotic species.

An opinion poll conducted by Savanta ComRes for Eurogroup for Animals and AAP Animal Advocacy and Protection in 2020 indicated strong support for better regulation of the trade and keeping of exotic animals as pets within the EU. 87% of respondents across the six surveyed countries - Italy, France, Germany, Finland, Spain and Poland - agreed that exotic animals should not be kept as pets, that the trade should be better regulated (92%) and that the EU should have a greater role in this as part of Common Market rules (88%).

POLICY - CURRENT STATE OF PLAY

Regulation 338/97 sets the foundations on the trade of endangered species and protection of wild fauna. In 2016, the EU released its Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking to 2020, which includes a specific action to discuss the role played by the exotic pet trade on wildlife trafficking. Furthermore, Regulation 1143/2014 sets out provisions on invasive or exotic species. However, criminal gangs often specialise in species which are only protected in their country of origin, and enforcement is challenging, given the diverse legislation regulating the exotic pet trade in Member States. 

Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg have adopted legislation including ‘Positive Lists’ of species that are allowed to be kept and traded as pets. Other countries have ‘negative lists of banned species, but these lack the clarity of Positive Lists as to what is permitted. New species emerge that have not been foreseen by the law, making it impossible for policymakers to keep up with importers that exploit these loopholes.

Eurogroup for Animals believes that Positive Lists are the most effective, concise, transparent, enforceable and economically feasible way to regulate the exotic pet trade

We would like to see more EU Member States adopt Positive Lists, and we will continue to work on the Think Positive Campaign which promotes their use, as well as raising awareness amongst pet owners.

In addition, given the growing number of Member States adopting restrictions on the exotic pet trade, legislative opportunities to introduce an EU-wide Positive List are now offered by Article 114 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), to avoid distortions of the EU internal market. Eurogroup for Animals then calls on the European Commission to take the first steps towards harmonising legislation and creating an EU-wide Positive List of species that are allowed to be kept and traded as pets.