Exotic Pets and the Threat of the Pet Trade

Having your own exotic pet might at first sight look appealing to a wildlife lover, but under closer scrutiny having wild animal pets is cruel to the animals dangerous to you and can endanger entire wildlife populations – and this isn’t even the only negative sides of it!

What is the Pet Trade?

The pet trade is a multi billion dollars business, and a dirty one.

Many animals that end up as wild pets are taken from their natural habitat and illegally sold – sometimes with fakes papers. If you buy a wild exotic animal pet, you are part of this illegal trade. You are directly sponsoring the mafia, actually!

The pet trade is only beaten by drugs and weapons in the lucrative series of illegal trades.

The wild animal trade is booming, here are some of the most common wild animals for sale:

  • exotic birds
  • hedgehogs
  • non-human primates
  • prairie dogs
  • reptiles
  • sugar gliders
  • tigers and other wild big cats...


Captive white serval rescued from an abusive exotic pet breeder by the Big Cat Rescue, a sanctuary dedicated to abused, abandoned and orphaned big wild cats.

Credits: Wikicommons

The Threat of the Pet Trade

Many wild species that are attractive as pets are wild animals that face threats in the wild. Taking them away from their habitat for the pet trade is yet another threat these species have to survive.

Where is the largest population of tigers on Earth?


Yes, there are currently more tigers living in captivity in America than there are tigers in the wild!

Many animals taken from their habitat will die before they are even sold to a potential owner. First, often dealers rather have babies to sell – they are cuter and more tamed – thus they kill the mum and any other family member that is in the way. Second, the transport is highly stressful and many more animals die on the road.

These animals have to come from Brazil, Australia or Africa to Europe and North America. They have to be smuggled in, at any coast, and regardless of their welfare.

“Parrots may have their beaks and feet taped and be stuffed into plastic tubes that can easily be hidden in luggage,

stolen bird and reptile eggs are concealed in special vests so that couriers can bypass X-ray machines at airports.

Baby turtles have been trapped inside their shells with tape and shoved by the dozen into tube socks,

and infant pythons have been shipped in CD cases.”

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

In these conditions, you can easily understand why many die before reaching their destinations.

The tomato Frog is endangered as a result of over-collecting for the pet trade as well as deforestation, credits: Frank Vassen, Wikicommons


You might think the exotic wild animal you are buying is born in captivity?

Think again!

Many exotic wild animals taken in the wild end up with false papers saying they were born in captivity. You can never know.

The Dangers for You of Having Wild or Exotic Animals

Wild animals are... wild

Strangely enough, having a wild animal inside your home is dangerous because wild animals are wild.

Wild animals kept as pets have been involved in many gruesome accidents, including very serious injuries and deaths of the owner or one of the owner’s family members. Think of the risk you put on your family, especially small children. Accidents with big cats or wolves are just too distressing to describe here, but if you need convincing you’ll find plenty horror stories on the net.

Some statistics

Between 1990-2011, in the USA alone:

75 human beings have lost their life because of an attack by a wild exotic pet, including:

21 by big cats

18 by dangerous reptiles

1610 incidents due to exotic pets have been reported

Humans have had dogs and cats for millennia, and the most tamed and loving of their breed have been selected at each generation, so that the cats and dogs living with us today are well adapted to sharing their life with humans. Certain wild animals can just never be tamed enough, and although very nice and cute as a baby, they can become a real danger later.

Even wild animals born in captivity are not tamed, it would take many thousands of year to breed the wild out of an exotic species.

Wild animals carry diseases

When exotic pets are imported, they don’t come alone: they carry diseases and parasites too, for example:

  • reptiles (90% of them!) and amphibians carry salmonella; in the United States, each year, more than 74,000 cases of salmonella poisoning are linked to these exotic pets.
  • monkeys can carry viruses like herpes B, monkey pox, rabies, and even ebola, all can have serious or deadly effect on humans,
  • parrots can transfer psittacosis, another deadly disease for humans,
  • prairie dogs have been known to carry the plague and tularaemia,

and this is for the viruses, bacteria and parasites we do know.


90% of pet reptiles, such as the house geckos, have salmonella.

Credits: ZooFari, Wikicommons

The Cruelty of Having Exotic Animals

Exotic and wild animals' needs are many

Most wild animals kept as pets have a short, unhappy life.

People that adopt wild animals as pets often don’t have enough training or experience in the particular needs for the exotic species they are bringing home nor do they have the facilities.

Often diets for exotic animals are very complexes and often wild animals kept as pet end up malnourished and crippled. Sometimes diets and social needs for the exotic species are not even known!

Even veterinary care is often denied, as the owners know they have an illegal or dangerous pet. Exotic pets that do see a veterinarian are rarely diagnosed because not enough is known about their diseases for instance.

Some wild animals kept as pets have a life span as long as their owners, and will need a lifelong commitment.

Finally for many exotic wild animals, providing the appropriate care is very expensive.

“The head of the Environmental Crime Investigation unit in Western Cape, South Africa, estimates that 90 percent of exported reptiles die within a year.”

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

Certain wild animals need large area to roam, and would travel many kilometres every day. If their needs are not met, they can become aggressive, unhappy, overwhelmed by the stress of confinement. Think of large animals such as a tiger or even a small glider: jumping from tree to tree, gliding in the air, foraging all night...

Other wild animals have very strong family bonds and strong cohesion between family members, which cannot be fulfill when they are kept as pets. Again let’s take the example of a glider (I just love gliders, I have even have the chance of being a volunteer with gliders), they sleep together with their family for their entire life. How sad would it be for them to be kept alone in their cage? Gliders are known to self-mutilate or die from the stress of loneliness.

People with wild animals that becomes too big too dangerous and too difficult often end up either locking them in a cage and not providing any of the basic care, or releasing them. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reports many exotic pets end up being abused and or neglected, while the Humane Society of the United States describes wild animals used as pets to be frequently malnourished, and stressed to the point that they develop behavioural disorder.

In the wild, sugar gliders live in family groups and glide freely from tree to tree across huge areas...

Credits: Wikicommons

Releasing exotic animals is cruel and can harm the environment

It is cruel because the exotic pet has been maintain in artificial condition, if released without rehabilitation, the pet might not be able to find the appropriate food, the temperature and other conditions might not be suitable, other wild animals might find in it an easy prey or the exotic pet might starve to death.

If a dangerous animal is released in the wild, the authority might have to hunt and kill it. In an single incident in Ohio, USA, 50 wild animals were killed by the authorities after they were released by their owner.

Sometimes releasing wild exotic animal pets can also do a great harm to the environment. Some species adapt very well in their new habitat: for instance, rabbits have taken over Australia, and Florida turtles are widespread in Europe.

Exotic species that become too successful are called invasive species. They almost always multiply instead of local species, push the native animals to extinction, or dramatically change the habitat so that no one but them can persist.

Invasive species are a very serious threat to many wild species and cause extinctions all around the world...

Pet hedgehogs can carry foot and mouth disease, and are not tamed cuddly pets,

Credits: Collin Reisdorf, Wikicommons

Don’t be part of this illegal, dangerous, cruel business that is the exotic pet trade. Don’t buy wild animals for sale in stores, auctions, in trade magazines or on the Internet.

If you love wildlife, enjoy it in its own terms: go and see wildlife where it’s happy and free.

Wild animals are born to be wild,

and not to be captured, separated from their family, sold for profit, sponsor the mafia, be kept in often cruel or maladapted conditions, self-harm, and sometimes die of stress or loneliness, sometimes be released to die of starvation or be shot at...

Please do the compassionate thing: leave exotic wild animals in their home, and rescue a beautiful cat or dog from a shelter. Cats and dogs have been bred to love humans and depend on your affection to survive and be happy. Wild animals don’t need you, and they don’t want a life in captivity.


If it’s too late and you have an exotic pet you cannot take care of, take it to a special sanctuary where it will receive appropriate care.


Together we can stop the illegal pet trade and save wildlife from extinction in the wild and from a life of misery in captivity.