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The Exotic Pet Trade

Exotic birds and reptiles are fascinating creatures and many people across the globe love to keep and collect them. These animals have become valuable commodities as a result and so in spite of the laws in place to protect them, many species are being driven to the brink of extinction by the pet trade.

Illegal Trade

Many species have been threatened by habitat loss and being hunted for their tusks but the pet trade is far more problematic, particularly when it comes to rare and newly discovered species. You might have imagined that most of the specimens that you see in pet shops are captive bred, but the truth is that the laws on capturing animals are being flouted and there is a vast amount of trade in animals which have been captured in the wild.

New Species

Fraudulent documentation is commonplace and many illegal traders are carrying on their business in plain sight as international laws are so poorly enforced. Illegal exports are increasing annually and unscrupulous traders are seeking out new species in the wild as soon as they have been identified in scientific journals. For this reason, scientists are now omitting the precise locations of their discoveries from their reports as entire species can be hunted into extinction in double quick time. Animals are essentially harvested from the wild and the documentation doctored to make it appear that they were captive-bred.

The Cost of Breeding

Breeding can be extremely costly when you factor in the equipment and staff required, not to mention the mortality rates. It is cheaper to hunt and capture the animals. Sadly, this has resulted in a number of species becoming extinct in the wild whilst still being available to buy from unscrupulous traders. With many of these species, international trade has never been permitted and so all of the available specimens have come from illegal stock.


It is estimated that as many as half of all live reptile exports were caught in the wild. To make matters worse, less than half of the reptile species in the world have had their conservation status assessed and less than 8% have their trade levels controlled. It looks as if it would be impossible to reach the point where all species are properly protected.

Wild Birds

The issues are not confined to reptiles. Any species of animal can be impacted by illegal trade and the demand from collectors. Many primates and birds are suffering the same fate. A large proportion of the bird species which are under threat of extinction are in this predicament as a direct result of the pet trade. Over 3 million birds from Southeast Asia are traded annually. The pressure on Indonesian birds is particularly worrying with over 16,000 birds having been discovered to have been traded in a single market on just one day.

Global Trade

The illegal wildlife trade is the fourth largest illegal trade globally. However, unlike with most illicit trading, enforcement is so poor that most trades take place in plain sight, so minimal is the fear of being punished. Urgent action is required to protect the vulnerable species. Many species have not been listed by CITES due to recent discovery or inadequate information. In addition, customs officers do not possess the specialist expertise to distinguish between some rare and common breeds.

What Can Be Done?

The system must be simplified if the endangered species are to enjoy the protection they need. The tables should be turned and the species which can be traded legally should be listed rather than the species which cannot. This would curb the trade in all other animals.

The responsibility for saving wildlife also falls on the shoulders of collectors. If you know or suspect that an animal is rare or endangered, don’t buy it. It is hard for amateurs to know whether or not certain species may have been caught in the wild until the legislation is improved but everyone can try to be more conscientious and to put pressure on the authorities to instigate change.


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