The exotic animal trade is a big business. Its black market is worth $10 billion worldwide. Importing, exporting, buying and selling of these animals is, in fact, one of the largest sources of criminal earning. Just after arms smuggling and drug trafficking. In this entire journey, it’s these animals which suffer the most.
Here’s how the exotic animal trade works:
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In 2015, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) warned against the rise of fad pets. Increasingly, people are purchasing exotic animals following their popularity in films, ads and marketing cam
paigns. There was a 60% rise in the sale of clownfish after the release of the film ‘Finding Nemo’. In the wake of “Jurassic Park,” iguanas became the trendy pet. Likewise, Harry Potter sparked a demand for pet owls. This trend has swiftly made its appearance in India as well.
This industry plays an important role in glamorising exotic animals and making them a part of a passing fad. Another factor fuelling the demand for exotic animals is their uniqueness. Pet seekers want something ‘different’ which is other than the usual cat or dog. And of course for many the owing an exotic animal is for their own ego and as a sign of luxury and not for the benefit of the animal. Exotic pets don’t come for cheap – each ranging from 30,000 to 25 lakh. The craze for exotic animals has taken over the city of Hyderabad, where people are willing to shell out lakhs to exotic animals like Siberian Husky, Chow Chow, blue-eyed cockatoo, Macaw, Persian cats, green iguana etc. People are also purchasing these animals as a lucky charm. On the advice of their astrologer, a resident from Mumbai bought 2 turtles as they would apparently bring luck and wealth.
This demand from the rich and the flamboyant as pets kick starts the exotic animal trade worth millions.
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Where there’s demand, there’s supply. Every time you demand an exotic animal -because ‘Aww, it’s so cute’, ‘Mummy, I want it’ or ‘I want something different’ – you are kick-starting a global racket in which they are poached from their natural environment and transported across the globe in deplorable conditions. The journey of these animals often begins in countries like Australia, Africa and the jungles in Brazil. Once trapped from their natural environment, these animals change hands through several intermediaries and exporters. As per a report published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 72% of exotic animals in the pet trade die before they reach the stores or their owner. The report points out that early death is common owing to the deplorable conditions they are transported in. Apart from being deprived of food and water, they are often cramped in the filthy cages leading to inadequate air. Bottles, shipping boxes, crates, socks and pillowcases become their home for weeks or even months. It’s the worst for birds. Their beaks and feet are often tapped and at times concealed in special vests so that they can bypass the X-ray machine at the airport. And those who survive these hellish conditions too do not live long. 75% of the animals die prematurely after being purchased
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In India, these animals are mainly smuggled from South Asian countries like Singapore and Thailand, through the porous borders of Bangladesh or by sea through South India. Once illegally transported, they are cruelly bred and sold at steep rates in hubs like Crawford market in Mumbai and Galiff Street in West Bengal – where this illegal trade thrives. These are the places from where you’d probably receive your pets.
The Crawford market in Mumbai is an old hub for sale and purchase of exotic animals where you’d find everything from a small reptile to a full grown tiger. The market is involved in trading and sale of approximately 1,200 species of exotic animals through illegal pet shops. Even Hyderabad is emerging as another hub for the trade of exotic species with a staggering 200% growth. A number of smugglers, primarily women, are flying in birds and animals from Africa, Indonesia, Borneo and Malaysia.
As per research conducted by the online publication, Planet Experts, today a sheer volume of animals are sold online, and it’s shockingly easy. Social media has become a new thriving market for #exoticanimalsforsale. Ads for selling these are posted on OLX, Amazon, Facebook and Instagram via individual posts or closed groups, despite this violates their terms of services. So it’s as simple as logging in, entering your credit card number for the purchase and there, the animal is yours. The report also states that in over a period of just 3 months, 3,700 exotic animals were advertised online. And only 9 out of 2,000 ads warned the dangers of petting certain species. The cute selfies sent out through social media has only perpetuated the desired of people to own a cute animal other than a dog or cat.
After months of exchanging hands and anxiety, your pet reaches home. Experts feel for them it’s like being transferred from one jail to the other.
The video clearly outlines why it’s unethical to pet exotic animals in a country like India where nor the temperature suits them neither we possess the infrastructure and resources to breed them. However, the pride of owning these charismatic creatures outweighs the fact that it’s best when animals are left in the wild – and not caged behind concrete walls for our desires. Each exotic animals has special needs and dietary requirement – which the caretakers and owners do not have the facilities for or lack knowledge about it. Majority of the potential buyers (60-75%) do not have knowledge about the animal’s history, current health status or where they come from. Ideally, pets are purchased when they are tiny and infants. Due to lack of homework done, they do not realise that a cute 8-month cub will eventually become 300 kg tiger – for whom they are clueless and unprepared to deal with.
Exotic animals like black bear, camel, lions, wolves etc are dangerous and no matter how much you’ve loved them they can attack, transmit disease and even kill. A report in National Geographic aptly sums this up stating that “A 600-pound tiger will do what it wants when it wants to.” In Haryana, the dog breed – Rottweiler – choked his owner to death and fed on this caretaker’s body. Animal activists point out that the dog was never sterilised and developed aggression due to no mating. Lack of research before purchasing the pet is not only harmful for the pet, but the caretakers as well.
Further, these animals carry infectious bacteria and diseases which be transmitted from animals to humans. Monkeypox, rabies, parrots fever, gastric ulcers and salmonella to name a few. Pet monkeys can carry the herpes B virus which can be deadly for human beings. Parrots and other exotic birds can transfer potentially deadly pathogens such as psittacosis, salmonella, and even avian tuberculosis to humans.
Unhappy? Return It!
When these pets become too much to handle, their maintenance empties your pockets or when they grow into adults and are no more ‘cute’ – the owners turn to zoos and animal organisations. But, as zoos have only a tiny percentage to accommodate unwanted animals, the owners abandon their pets into the wild. Now, this has a number of concerns attached to it. Being raised by humans, most of these animals do not have the skills to survive in the wild and might not be able to succumb to the harsh elements foreign to them. Jesse Rothacker of Forgotten Friends (a reptile sanctuary) says that this is like a death sentence for them. They either die of starvation and hunger, get hit by a vehicle or get killed by a predator.
This can work the other way round as well. Exotic pets can be a danger for the natural biodiversity and the native animals there. They might begin to dominate and colonise the area and start competing with the native species for resources. In West Bengal, due to lack of awareness among the hobbyists, exotic fishes like Piranhas, African catfish and plecos released into the local rivers and ponds once they are too big to be held in captivity. According to the West Bengal Biodiversity Board, these species have destroyed the local ecosystem by eat up the local fishes. A study by S Sandilyan, a scientist with the National Biodiversity Authority revealed that at least 27 exotic aquarium species have been found in the water bodies of India. Around 15 of them have already populated to the extent of emerging as a threat to native species.