Social media has made exotic animals more accessible than ever. Just search for “weird pets” on YouTube, and you will be inundated with videos of baby capuchins getting baths in the sink, serval kittens chasing wand toys across the floor and capybaras lounging on the bed eating watermelon.
Most people would never seriously consider keeping a capuchin, serval or capybara as a pet. Yet few people have the same reservations about liking, sharing or following an exotic pet online.
The truth is that having a social media presence can be harmful for exotic animals. Being in the public eye is no guarantee of good welfare — whether in front of or behind the camera. Even when exotic pets are well cared for, social media can still be damaging. Here are just a few of the risks:
Social media can make exotic animals seem like suitable pets
Simply seeing an image of an exotic animal and a person together changes how the animal is viewed. Research conducted with chimpanzees found that people were 30 per cent more likely to think of chimpanzees as appealing pets when shown a photo of a person with a chimpanzee compared to a photo of a chimpanzee alone.
Social media can increase the demand for exotic pets
Seeing exotic animals online convinces some people to make the leap to ownership. A scientific study analyzed responses to a viral video of slow lorises, small nocturnal primates facing extinction in their native habitat in Asia, and found that one in 10 people who viewed the video expressed a desire to have a loris as a pet.
While not all people who say they want an exotic pet will go on to purchase one, research carried out by World Animal Protection showed that 15 per cent of exotic pet owners were inspired to get their pets after watching videos online.
Social media can mask the threats faced by exotic animals in the wild
Having an increased presence on social media does not necessarily lead to an increased awareness of the plight of the animal in the wild. The same chimpanzee study found that people were 36 per cent more likely to think of wild chimpanzee populations as stable and healthy when shown a photo of a chimpanzee in a typically human setting compared to a photo of a chimpanzee in a natural environment.
Research has also found that people interested in buying an exotic pet are not likely to be dissuaded by learning about the negative impact of the exotic pet trade on species in the wild.
What you can do for exotic animals
Fortunately, help for exotic animals is right at your fingertips! Your behaviour online can go a long way in protecting them from exploitation.
1. Think twice before you like a post
Ask yourself whether the animal is likely experiencing stress or being portrayed in an unnatural way — such as being dressed up in costumes or made to carry out typically human behaviour.
2. Be careful who you follow on social media
Sadly, exotic animals are sometimes just props for people looking to increase their social media following. Instead, search for legitimate conservation organizations making a real difference for these animals in the wild.
3. Do a little digging before you share a video
Viral videos cross our paths all the time, but it only takes a moment to do some valuable research first. Sharing a video you think is cute only to find out later caused animal suffering is not a good feeling!
4. Support organizations like the BC SPCA who are working to protect exotic animals
The BC SPCA takes a strong stance on exotic pet ownership, and your support ensures that we can continue raising this issue at all levels of government.
5. Share this article on social media
Not everyone stops to think critically about the role that social media plays in perpetuating animal suffering. The more people who know about the welfare issues surrounding exotic pets, the better.
Read more about what you can do for exotic animals in your community.
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