UK laws that regulate the keeping of exotic pets “piecemeal” need to be radically revised, activists say after research shows that wildlife trafficking is causing devastating loss of biodiversity.
The Born Free Foundation and the RSPCA want a system where the public selects a pet from a list of allowed animals, rather than banning dangerous or endangered species on a case-by-case basis.
They said the current approach is piecemeal, leaving lawmakers to catch up forever as new species are discovered and quickly exploited by pet dealers.
The report, The Exotic Pet-demic: UK’s Ticking Timebomb Exposed, will be released by the two charities ahead of the second reading of the government’s Animal Welfare Act (Kept Animals).
It found that around 1.8 million reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates are kept in UK households.
An estimated 1.3 million indoor birds are also kept as pets and around 100 million ornamental fish – with an estimated 90% of the saltwater species being taken directly from the wild.
The two charities warn that due to a lack of knowledge or resources, owners often withhold one of their pets’ basic needs, including space, adequate food, or warmth.
Currently, almost anyone can buy and keep most exotic animals as pets, it said.
In 2020, 6,119 incidents involving 22,865 exotic animals were reported to the RSPCA, most of which were due to a lack of understanding of how to care for them, the charity said.
The pet trade has not only caused suffering and hardship for individual animals, it has also devastated wildlife populations.
Species can become especially fashionable after being seen on TV or in movies, with a surge in demand for turtles following the release of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the report said.
The report found data suggesting that reptile species traded as pets are five times more likely to be critically endangered than those that are not, and mammalian species are three times more likely to be critically endangered.
A similar picture emerges in the bird kingdom, where Ghana has lost between 90% and 99% of its African gray parrot population to trappers and wildlife traffickers.
Will Travers OBE, Co-Founder and Executive President of the Born Free Foundation, said, “Current legislation regarding the trade in and keeping of exotic pets is reactionary and cannot keep up or predict where future demand will be concentrated. “
The craze for exotic pets carries an increased risk that new zoonotic diseases will spill over to humans, and with it the risk of a pandemic to the same extent as Covid-19 – which is believed to come from bats.
Chris Sherwood, executive director of the RSPCA, said, “(Exotic pets) have the same complex needs as their wild brothers and sisters, but these requirements can be extremely difficult to meet in a home setting and that leads to suffering.”
In addition to introducing a “positive” list of exotic pets that the public can choose from, the Born Free Foundation and the RSPCA intend to use the new Animal Welfare Act to fill a gap that would allow the trade in primates between licensees.
They also call for full advice on the future approach to trading and keeping exotic pets.
A Defra spokesperson said: “Anyone wishing to keep an animal that falls under the Dangerous Wildlife Act must apply for a license from their local authority.
“Owners are carefully screened and the license, if granted, sets strict conditions under which pets must be kept. We regularly review this legislation to ensure that it is effective in protecting both humans and animals. “
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