The thing with Exotic Pets

5 months, 1 week ago 0
Posted in: Blog

Live wildlife trade in species like turtles, tortoises, birds and snakes often kept as pets could seriously affect some of these species.

By Aristo Mendis

Indian star tortoise © N A Naseer

General awareness of the threat posed by illegal wildlife trade involving high value species such as tigers, leopards, elephants, rhinos and pangolins is relatively better than how ‘live wildlife trade’ as a whole is perceived. This trade too has a significant impact on wild populations of several species.

As per a study carried out on online wildlife trade in 2018, turtles and tortoises alone comprised  45% of all the specimens identified, most of which were to be sold as ‘pets’. The same study also indicated that 2881 species of birds were being offered for sale online. A study carried out in Jakarta’s largest bird markets in 2015, showed that 19036 birds from 206 species were counted within just a three-day period.

One of the biggest myths revolving around ‘exotic pet animals’ is that zoos and pet shops often claim that the animal has been ‘bred in captivity’. In contrast, to give a different perspective, one study carried out in 2009 indicated that a whooping 92% of the 500,000 live animal shipments containing 1,480,000,000 live animals were being sourced for pet trade demand, only in the United States of America between 2000-2006. Around 69% of these shipments originated from Southeast Asia alone. This trend in live wildlife trade is not very different for other countries.

Based on CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) trade records, a rough estimate of species involved in live wildlife trade indicate numbers as high as ~500 bird species, ~500 reptile species and ~100 mammal species. One study carried out in 2013 indicated that 1/5th of wildlife trade reports arose from consumer demand for exotic pets or wild animals for entertainment.

A significant number of captured wildlife that are traded, also die during transit as they are smuggled with little regard to the animal’s well-being. One such example is the death of African Grey Parrots Psittacus erithacus that were involved in Illegal Pet Trade, before being placed on the CITES Appendix I; it was estimated to be 40-60% of the total grey parrots capture and traded. Such cases only make Live Wildlife Trade a critical animal welfare/cruelty concern.

Exotic Pets that are abandoned by owners also tend to not do well in newer surroundings. More often than not, they do not survive in new ecosystems due to their prior domesticated conditioning. But in certain cases, few exotic species that are released in the wild, also become invasive to the new ecosystems that they have been introduced to. One such example is that of Indian Rock Pythons and Burmese Pythons that were traded as pets and sent to Florida in the 1980s. Presently, Florida everglades face a huge problem from the thriving populations of these pythons which have been hampering native biodiversity. Another well-known native avian species that is also listed in the Global Invasive Species Database is the Rose-ringed Parakeet Psittacula krameri that currently inhabits 35 countries over its native range.

Alexandrine Parakeet © Dr. Raju Kasambe

Rose-ringed Parakeets are one of the eight parrot species in India that are frequently traded. There have also been incidents where exotic species have introduced deadly pathogens to native wildlife populations. One such case was documented in a study carried out in 2018, which indicated the risk from introduced Rose-ringed Parakeets being potential carriers of a deadly virus that affects native parrot species.

Alexandrine Parakeets, Star Tortoises, Indian Chameleon, Spotted Black Terrapin, and multiple species of munias and mynas, are some of the other commonly trafficked live wildlife species in India. (More information on commonly traded wildlife species is mentioned in the poster below) Majority of these species are protected under the Wild Life Protection Act (1972), according to which capture, trade and possession of these species is strictly prohibited. And yet, some of these species can be easily spotted in Indian homes, kept as ‘pets’.

The ‘Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1973’, along with the ‘Customs Act, 1962’, ‘Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960’, ‘Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973’, and certain provisions within the ‘Indian Penal Code, 1860’ are the main governing laws in India that help deter illegal and unethical trade of wild animals.

Worldwide, the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) agreement helps ensure the international trade of wildlife does not affect survival of threatened species. In compliance with provisions within CITES, legal import and export of wild animals and plants (with required permissions and documentations) is permitted in the country only through Custom checkpoints.

Law enforcement agencies including Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, Forest Department, Police Department, Border Security Force, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (for high value goods), Sashastra Seema Bal, Enforcement Directorate, Postal Department and other agencies have varied roles to play in control the extent of illegal wildlife trade.

Emphasizing the role that law enforcement agencies have towards safeguarding wildlife species, law enforcement agencies seized 1,125 Vulnerable Indian Star Tortoises from just three passengers in August 2018. The tortoises were intended to be smuggled to Bangladesh. Indian Star Tortoise Geochelone elegans is one of the ten most trafficked turtle/tortoise species in world, that have high exotic pet demand. They are frequently sourced and smuggled from India and Pakistan to Southeast Asian countries. Many such species are involved in illegal live wildlife trade, and lack of efforts to curb this supply chain today will inevitably result in threatening the survival of these species. For the poster check on link below.

IWT-Live Trade Identification

 

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