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.
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.
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.
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.
Although serval cats are not included in the provincial Controlled Alien Species Legislation, that doesn’t mean they should be kept as pets. Native to many parts of Africa, serval cats roam savannahs and wetlands hunting for prey. The best way to see one is always in the wild!
These wild cats are not much bigger than a medium-size dog, but they still retain their wild instincts and are cunning escape artists – they are definitely not appropriate house pets. They are difficult to contain in a home or enclosure setting, and pose a risk to people, children and other pets. Their own safety is also in jeopardy in captivity. Escaped servals have died by being hit by cars or of starvation, since they never had the opportunity to learn how to hunt.
Serval cats are strong, fast and have an incredible capacity for jumping. In the wild, servals will leap high into the air to catch flying birds, and can slap fish hard enough to stun them. They are not easily house-trained, and will frequently mark their territory with urine. It is extremely challenging to provide for the nutritional and veterinary needs of a wild cat like a serval in captivity. Without their needs met, they experience poor welfare. There are no accredited sanctuaries in Canada for servals. Their breeding is unregulated and animal welfare organizations are not equipped to house these wild cats.
The BC SPCA has always opposed the declawing of cats. Declawing painfully removes the nails and bones of the toes – comparable to amputating human’s fingers at the last knuckle. In the past, serval cats were declawed when kept as pets, but declawing has since been banned by the College of Veterinarians of British Columbia (CVBC). This means serval cats pose an even greater risk to people and pets in the home. They may scratch while attempting to play, or out of frustration because their wild needs aren’t met.
The BC SPCA encourages municipalities and governments to adopt exotic pet laws that prohibit the keeping of serval cats.
Subscribe to the BC SPCA’s WildSense e-newsletter for more information: