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Position Statement on Exotic Companion Animals

The BC SPCA is opposed to the breeding and keeping of exotic or wild animals, including their hybrids, as companion animals, and to the importation and commercial trade in exotic or wild animals destined for the pet market.

Approved by the Board of Directors – April 2007

Background

The BC SPCA maintains that wild or exotic animals are inappropriate companion animals for a variety of reasons.

Animal welfare risks

  • Exotics are often acquired as “status” pets, without due consideration being given to their specialized needs.
  • Exotics have food/housing/maintenance needs that cannot be provided by the average guardian. Few exotic guardians recognize the specialized needs of exotics or can provide the full Five Freedoms for their exotic pets.
  • Many new exotic “fad” pets are introduced into the pet trade each year that are not domesticated animals but wild caught or captive bred and suffer from confinement or improper care.
  • Relatively few veterinarians possess the training/experience to deal with the veterinary needs of exotics.
  • Exotic pet guardians often attempt to change the nature of their companion animal by surgically removing teeth/claws, leaving the animals potentially stressed and defenceless.
  • Exotics have specialized behaviours some of which their new guardians try to forcibly alter, with devastating effects on the animals’ well being. Many nocturnal exotics, for example, are forced to adapt to the diurnal lives of their human keepers.
  • Many exotics become unwanted a few months after the novelty of the pet wears off. Few resources exist to take in these unwanted pets as most zoos, animal shelters, and wildlife sanctuaries do not have the capacity to take in unwanted exotic pets. The result is poor animal welfare, a high rate of euthanasia, and widespread abandonment of these animals. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) estimates that in the United States alone, 90 percent of exotic pets die “within the first two years of captivity.”
  • Many exotics are wild-caught, with high rates of stress, injury, disease and death during the capture/transport process. For example, the World Wildlife Fund estimated in 2003 that up to 80 percent of wild-caught birds die in the capture/transport process.

Public safety risks

  • Exotic animals can present special risks to humans and other animals if not handled properly due to exotic pathogens. For example, Centers for Disease Control statistics show over 93,000 cases of salmonella poisoning from reptiles in the United States each year, many of which are from pet reptiles.
  • Exotics still retain their natural predatory and defensive instincts, making them dangerous or unsuitable to living in an environment with other animals and humans. Even in play, many exotics can unwillingly harm another animal or human.

Environmental risks

  • Escaped or released exotics may breed with local species, diluting the gene pool and introducing exotic diseases. For example, in 2003, a shipment of Gambian rats from Africa escaped and introduced the potentially fatal disease Monkeypox into North America.
  • Escaped or released exotics can disturb natural indigenous ecologies. The devastating effects of releasing exotic catfish, toads, red-eared slider turtles, bullfrogs, and other species into local environments, for example, have been well documented.
  • Many wild-caught exotics are captured through partial or whole destruction of their environment. The northern coast of Borneo, for example, has been significantly damaged by collectors bleaching reefs in order to fulfill the demands of the exotic pet fish trade.

Background updated – April 2007

Definitions

Domesticated animals:  Species that have been selectively bred by humans over hundreds and or thousands of generations in order to alter their genetics to create animals who are dependent, docile, predictable and controllable, and who no longer occupy an ecological niche in the wild.

Companion animals: Domesticated animals who have been selectively bred to live and thrive in mutually beneficial relationships with humans and who are kept primarily for the purpose of companionship.

Wild animals: Species that have genetically evolved in complex ecological systems resulting in mutual interdependencies with other animals and the surrounding environment.

Exotic animals: Species that are non-domesticated, non-indigenous wild animals, whether captured from the wild or captive-bred.

Hybrid wild/exotic animals: Individual animals who are the offspring of wild/exotic animals who have bred with either domesticated animals or other species of wild/exotic animals (e.g. wolf-dog hybrids).

Tame/captive-bred exotic or wild animals: Individual exotic/wild animals who have been habituated to living amongst humans but have not been domesticated, and therefore still retain the genetic biological and behavioural characteristics of their non-captive counterparts.