Exotic Pets: Are you willing to pay the price?
A study by the University of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), in collaboration with World Animal Protection, has found that people are less willing to buy exotic pets when faced with the health and legal risks.
According to industry experts, there were more than 42 million rare and unusual ‘exotic’ pets - including animals like snakes, parrots and tropical fish - kept in UK households in 2014.
Experts warn owning an ‘exotic’ pet can be detrimental, not just to the welfare and survival of the animals but also to human health. The global nature of the exotic pet industry makes it an excellent mechanism for transmitting diseases from E. Coli to bird flu.
It is also a big global business worth $31-43 billion annually, of which up to half is illegal. False paperwork is generated to ‘launder’ exotics, ensuring prospective owners remain blissfully unaware that their pet was poached from the wild.
The exotic pet trade can also be cruel, causing severe suffering to wild animals during capture, transport, sale or resulting captivity. There are also conservation concerns leading to severe declines and extinctions for over-exploited wild populations.
As part of its research WildCRU built a website to test if raising public awareness about the issues involved in owning an exotic pet could influence attitudes towards buying an exotic pet (www.exoticpetmatch.com).
It found that information about the human health and legal consequences of a potential purchase made the pet far less appealing. In contrast, information about animal welfare had less effect and details of the conservation consequences had no impact on attitudes at all.
It appears that potential pet owners may be motivated to avoid outcomes that might directly harm them, but not their prospective pets. This may be because contracting a disease or breaking the law represents personal risk that people may balance against the enjoyment of owning an exotic pet.
Although the study shows that additional information can change attitudes it does not necessarily mean that when faced with an exotic pet in a shop that a purchase would not be made.
However, it does show the kind of information that would deter people from purchasing an exotic species, and suggests that reducing the demand for exotics – and all of the negative consequences that accompany that demand – may indeed be possible.