How do exotic animals end up in pet stores? | BC SPCA
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How do exotic animals end up in pet stores?

At any given moment, hundreds of thousands of exotic animals are being transported around the world to be sold as pets. Some are born and raised in captivity. Others are taken from the wild. Often, they change hands several times before finally ending up for sale in a pet store.

Sadly, no matter where they come from, exotic animals suffer along the way.

Wild capture

For exotic animals living free in the wild, being captured is extremely stressful. Some are caught in snares, nets or buckets. Others are chased and pulled from hiding spots, or lured onto sticky traps. Apart from the sheer terror it causes, many animals are injured in the process too.

In many cases, it’s illegal to take exotic animals from the wild. People accept the risk because of the money involved. It’s cheaper to capture wild animals than breed them in captivity.

Captive breeding

Although captive-bred exotic animals don’t face the stress of capture, they can still suffer.

Most breeders house their animals as simply as possible in order to feed, clean and monitor them more easily. Doing so, however, comes at the expense of the animals’ welfare. The housing is so simple that it only meets their basic needs, leaving them with few, if any, opportunities to carry out important natural behaviours.

It’s important to note that, even when they’re bred in captivity, exotic animals aren’t considered domesticated. They still have the same needs as wild animals.

Reptile ranches

Large breeding operations raising huge numbers of reptiles such as turtles and lizards are often referred to as ‘farms’ or ‘ranches.’ These operations sometimes take individuals from the wild to replenish their breeding stock, or collect eggs from wild reptiles for hatching in captivity.

Captive breeding on this scale serves as an effective cover for the illegal trade in exotic animals. It’s easy to assimilate wild reptiles into existing ranch populations and label them ‘captive-bred.’ There’s no way to tell the difference between the two.


Exotic animals are shipped in a variety of containers, including boxes, bags, buckets, wooden crates and plastic tubs, many of which are completely unsuitable. Often, animals are crammed together so tightly that some are crushed. Sometimes, they’re packaged up individually with hardly any room to move.

The animals are then transported in cars or trucks or on planes, usually without food or water, from locations as far away as Australia, Africa and South America. Many do not survive the long and stressful journey.


Some pet stores buy their exotic animals directly from breeders. Others get theirs from wholesalers which house many different species of reptiles, birds, amphibians and mammals in large warehouses.

Wholesalers act as holding facilities, and usually keep animals in poor conditions. The enclosures are often dirty and overcrowded with nowhere for the animals to hide. In many cases, the correct heating and lighting aren’t used, and the animals aren’t fed properly. Animals who become sick or injured don’t get the medical care they need.

Although mortality rates of 70 per cent are not uncommon, wholesalers remain profitable because of the sheer volume of animals they sell.

What can you do?

It can be overwhelming to think of how many exotic animals need our help on a global scale. But you can make a difference locally:

  • Contact your local pet store. Let them know how concerned you are about the exotic pet trade. Ask them not to sell exotic animals because of how much they suffer.
  • Talk to friends and family about the harms of the exotic pet trade.
  • Think carefully before you get any pet, but especially an exotic animal. Thoroughly research their care needs. Exotic animals are wild animals, and even zoos have difficulty meeting their needs properly.
  • If you have an exotic animal already, strive to provide your pet with the Five Freedoms. House them in the largest possible habitat. Find an experienced exotics veterinarian. Seek out expert advice on enrichment. Give your pet the best quality of life you can.
  • While the provincial government has banned large exotics such as tigers, alligators and venomous snakes, ownership of many of the smaller exotic pets is still permitted. Ask your local government for updated municipal bylaws to protect these animals.

Read more about the BC SPCA’s concerns with keeping exotic pets.