Target: USDA, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services Administrator Kevin Shea
Goal: Demand stricter nationwide regulation of exotic pets
Exotic animals will always capture the imagination because of their unique nature, their rarity, and their danger. Tigers, lions, panthers, alligators, and chimpanzees are all part of the exotic pet trade, but this commerce in wildlife has had a devastating impact on animals: destruction of native populations, cruel practices involved in capture, and inadequate enclosures and diets. Forced into unnatural habitats without enough stimulation, many of these animals develop stereotypical behaviors and undergo extreme mental stress. Demand that the United States government address the issues of the exotic pet trade and take action.
Exotic animals are often difficult to care for, requiring habitats and diets that are highly specialized or expensive to procure, especially in the face of scant information on proper care. Providing the right social environment may be impossible, and social animals may suffer depression, anxiety, or stress from lack of companionship. Even body language may be misunderstand, as in the grim case of slow lorises thought to be docile and sweet: passivity is in fact a defensive reaction to danger and stress. Exotic parrots can often be unruly, loud, aggressive, and messy, leading to abandonment.
The exotic pet trade is dangerous to human beings as well. Big cats, primates, and reptiles are capable of maiming and killing their owners, and there have been repeated cases of such attacks that inevitably end in death for an animal that never should have been kept as a pet in the first place.
Nor are individual animals the only ones at risk. Exotic bird populations are frequently targeted for the pet trade, as are reptiles such as monitor lizards, and big cats, primates, and monkeys are often bred specifically for the pet trade when efforts should focus on captive breeding programs to bolster natural populations of endangered species. Efforts to capture young animals to export for the pet trade frequently result in the death of protective family members—such as female orangutans shot and killed to obtain babies for local trade—or disruption of the native population through human incursion. Transportation of exotic animals is highly stressful, and sometimes leads to death from dehydration, exposure, or starvation. Animals such as the slow loris are subjected to cruel and painful removal of their canines to prevent biting, a process that often results in infection and death.
The exotic pet trade absolutely must undergo severe and limiting restrictions. Freedom to obtain a unique animal should never trump the welfare of animals. Though some exotic animals—such as sugar gliders, certain species of parrot, and large reptiles—can and do thrive in domestic situations, others simply cannot and should not be subjected to the pet trade. Refuges and sanctuaries are overfilled with cast-off exotics that proved too difficult or unmanageable to take care of, and others face a bleak future with inadequate stimulation, housing, and owners that may grow bored or frustrated with them, or death after acting as a wild animal would. Endangered species subject to the pet trade face increasing destruction as they are captured and sold as pets.
Though some states have stricter regulations against the exotic pet trade, others are far too lax and allow the continued suffering of animals. The United States government cannot allow the damaging effects of the exotic pet trade to continue. There must be stricter sanctions and welfare regulations introduced and enforced, including requirements for adequate housing that would disallow subpar enclosures and habitats. Nor should pet trade of endangered species be allowed in any capacity. The exotic pet trade must undergo reform.
Dear Administrator Kevin Shea,
The exotic pet trade has allowed the continued abuse and neglect of countless animals and represents a danger both to human beings and animal life. Exotic pets frequently suffer inadequate care, neglect, or even abuse in all stages of trade, from capture to ownership. Many end up in overfilled sanctuaries when they lose their novelty and become difficult to care for or even dead after turning on their handlers. The exotic pet trade also impacts more than just individual animals: it threatens entire species already struggling to survive
Only twenty states so far ban people from owning exotic animals—and this ban is restricted to bears, wolves, some big cats, and reptiles—but others have little to no regulation at all.
I urge you to consider and enact nationwide regulations that will protect exotic animals from substandard care, including instituting requirements that would disallow ownership of an animal that cannot be properly cared for. I understand the scope of these reforms would be enormous, but the government must take action to protect exotic animals across every state. Statewide laws and regulation is just the first step, but it is vitally important to the cause. Without these protections, the exotic animal trade will continue to threaten endangered species and subject animals to suffering.
[Your Name Here]
Photo Credit: Robrrb at en.wikipedia via Wikipedia Commons