Wild pets (also known as ‘exotic pets’) may be considered any animal of a species that is non-native to and not normally domesticated in the EU, and that is produced, sold or kept as a pet – that is, for display, amusement and/or companionship. The diversity and number of animals used is considerable and (conservatively) involves over 1,000 species, including invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Whilst the numbers of individual wild animals imported annually into the European Union to supply the exotic pet trade is believed to be in the tens of millions. For example, records by UNEP/WCMC and the European Commission indicate that 1.6 million CITES-listed reptiles were imported into the EU in 2011 alone.
Traded through a diversity of outlets including pet shops, garden centres, markets, via newspaper advertisements and, increasingly, the Internet, the trade in wild pets is a multi-billion dollar industry and the EU is one of the largest markets.
Wild pet trading and keeping, however, represents an established threat to biodiversity and ecology, consumer health and safety, and animal health and welfare, and can result in substantial economic cost to governments. The associated problems with the import in, and keeping of, wild animals as pets vastly outweigh the benefits, with many species traded as wild pets being highly unsuited to a captive life in a domestic setting, and in close proximity to people.
Implications of trading and keeping wild pets include:
- Biodiversity loss with the pet trade cited as a major cause of species decline;
- Significant premature mortality rates during capture, commercial storage, transit and in private ownership;
- Invasive Alien Species from the accidental or deliberate release of wild pets into a non-native environment;
- Public safety risks associated with the unpredictable nature of wild animals, as many possess significant and robust physical attributes and defences;
- Public health risks with more than 60% of all human infectious diseases and up to 75% of emerging diseases believed to be derived from wild animals;
- Animal health risks caused by the transfer of pathogens between wild animals, livestock, domestic pets and indigenous wildlife; and
- Huge economic costs to EU governments relating to environmental impacts (such as invasive alien species), outbreaks of animal disease, and human disease or injuries.
ENDCAP proposes the adoption of a positive (white) list of species.
The British Veterinary Association (2010) stated that the lack of understanding of the care needs of wild pets, the abandonment of temporarily fashionable or desirable pet animals (where demand is possibly stimulated by external factors such as a cinema film, e.g. Finding Nemo and the ensuing popularity of clown fish), and the disease risks of importing exotics into the UK, were identified as being among the most important animal welfare issues facing the British government.
In October 2012 a conference on the importation and keeping of exotic animals in Europe was organised by the Cyprus Presidency, in association with the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe, the Swiss Confederation and the European Commission. The Presidency representatives drew the following conclusions (file as a Council Report, December 2012): the need was stated for classification of animals in categories that define the ownership requirements and responsibilities according to the species; the benefits of harmonised legislation across the EU concerning import and ownership were acknowledged; stricter border controls and the recording and monitoring of live animal imports; collaboration between national competent authorities to ensure authorisation prior to cross boarder import was discussed; and greater education and training to ensure an understanding of risks, animal care needs and species identification; and current challenges concerning wild pet import and keeping would be addressed.
» Conference Conclusions
Wild Pet (also known as ‘exotic pets’): any animal of a species that is non-native to and not normally domesticated in the EU, and that is produced, sold or kept as a pet – that is, for display, amusement and/or companionship.
Animal: A multicellular organism of the Kingdom Animalia, including all mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates.
Wild Animal: An animal that is not normally or historically domesticated in the specific country.
Domesticated Animal: An animal of a species or breed that has been kept and selectively modified over a significant number of generations in captivity to enhance or eliminate genetic, morphological, physiological or behavioural characteristics, to the extent that such species or breed has become adapted to a life intimately associated with humans.
DAISIE (Delivering Alien Invasive Species Inventories for Europe): inventory of invasive species that threaten European terrestrial, fresh-water and marine environments. www.europe-aliens.org
Five Freedoms: a framework for aiding animal welfare including fundamental requirements and safeguards (FAWC).
CITES: The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) was established in 1975 in order to protect wild animals and plants from over-exploitation by international trade. Today, 175 countries (‘Parties’) have signed the CITES treaty and more than 30,000 thousand plant and animal species are protected by CITES. CITES is a legally-binding treaty. Individuals found to be in contravention of CITES are operating illegally and are at risk of prosecution.
Hazardous Animals: zoo animals are categorised on the basis of the animal’s likely ferocity and ability to cause harm to people (SMZP, Defra).
Zoonoses: Those diseases and infections which are naturally transmitted between vertebrate animals and man.
- Resolution on the Keeping of Wild Animals as Pet Animals into the Multilateral Consultation of Parties to the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals (ETS 125) in 1995 by the Council of Europe
- Directive 92/65/EEC which lays down animal health requirements governing trade in animals and their import into the Community
- Directive 91/496/EEC requiring veterinary checks of animals entering the Community from third countries:
- EC Strategy on the Protection and Welfare of Animals (2012 – 2015) and the planned development of the European Framework Animal Welfare Law
- EU Wildlife Trade legislation
- The capture of wild animals for the pet trade is regularly cited as a major cause of species decline
- Animal traffic generally flows from Africa, Asia and South America to Europe, Japan and the USA; and from Africa, India and South East Asia to Far Eastern markets
- 25% of trade in wildlife is believed to be illegal
- Increasing trade over the Internet may give traders the opportunity to avoid established controls and regulation
- The risk of zoonoses (diseases that may pass from animals to hu¬mans) and reverse zoonoses (diseases that may pass from humans to animals) being introduced through the import of wild pets is widely recognised
- The European Invasive Alien Species Gateway lists 80 alien terrestrial vertebrate species known to have become established in Europe as a direct consequence of the trade in wild pets
- The EU spends over €12 billion annually on controlling invasive alien species and repairing the damage that they cause
- In 2012, in a survey undertaken by the European Commission, more than 80% on respondents supported restrictions in the sale of exotic species of animals and plants
- Assessing Reptile Welfare using Behavioural Criteria (2013) Warwick et al. Journal of the British Veterinary Association
- Wild Pets in the EU (2012) ENDCAP
- The use of Positive Lists to identify Exotic Species suitable to be kept as Pets in the EU (2012)
- Conference on the import and keeping of exotic animals as pets. (2012) EU Presidency and Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE)
- Guidance on Exotic Pet Hygiene (2012) Journal of Environmental Health Research, 12(1)
- Pet Hate (2012) Warwick et al. Biologist, 59:3, pp12-18
- Visitor Behaviour and Public Health Implications Associated with Exotic Pet Markets (2012) Warwick, Arena & Steadman, J R Soc Med Sh Rep 2012;3:63. DOI 10.1258/shorts.2012.012012
- Exotic Pet Bug Begins to Bite (2012) Injuries, Envenomations and Stings from Exotic Pets. J Roy Soc Med 105:296-299
- Behavioural Problems in Parrots (2008) Greg Gendell
- Guidelines for the Welfare of Pet Birds (2006) Department for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Australian Government
- The Welfare and Suitability of Parrots as Companion Animals: A Review (2006) M Engebretson, Universities Federation for Animal Welfare
- It’s time to think positive Animal Protection Agency
- Focus on Fish (2003) Animal Aid Fact File, Animal Aid
- Reptiles and Amphibians as Pets and the Norwegian Positive List Proposal Warwick et al.
- Informe en Exotics FAADA (in Spanish)