Exotic pet

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Capuchin monkeys are among the primates kept as exotic pets Cebus capucinus.png
Capuchin monkeys are among the primates kept as exotic pets

An exotic pet is a rare or unusual animal pet: an animal kept within human households which is relatively unusual to keep or is generally thought of as a wild species rather than as a pet.



The definition is an evolving one; some rodents, reptiles, and amphibians have become firmly enough established in the world of animal fancy to sometimes no longer be considered exotic.[ citation needed ] Sometimes any unique or wild-looking pet (including common domestic animals such as the ferret and the fancy rat) is considered an exotic pet.

"Exotic" often refers to a species which is not native or indigenous to the owner's locale, and "pet" is a companion animal living with people. [1] However, many use the term to include native species as well (e.g., snakes may sometimes be considered exotic as pets even in places where they are found in the wild).[ citation needed ] The American College of Zoological Medicine has defined the group as "zoological companion animals".[ citation needed ][ clarification needed ]

Legally, the definition is subject to local jurisdiction. In the United States, the Code of Federal Regulations (9 CFR 1.1), says that the term "pet animal" means "any animal that has commonly been kept as a pet in family households in the U.S., such as dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, and hamsters," and further says that "This term excludes exotic animals and wild animals." [2] It defines "exotic animal", in part, as "[An animal] ... that is native to a foreign country or of foreign origin or character, is not native to the United States, or was introduced from abroad" (a broad scope which would include most pets, such as housecats, domesticated dog breeds, horses, canaries, and parakeets). [3]

Some animals kept as exotic pets

An extremely wide variety of animals have been kept as pets (at least in rare instances) or as farm stock. Below is a list of some animals that are kept in captivity at home and are considered a little or extremely "exotic". Where examples are provided within a category, the examples are the animals that are relatively commonly kept as pets in captivity at home within that category (although such animals as mice and parakeets may not really be considered very "exotic").



The convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, or CITES, moderates the trade of some exotic pets around the world, to prevent any threats to their survival and ecological damage. Certain animals may be strictly regulated or restricted outright due to both their conservation status, as well as the possibility of the animal becoming an invasive species. [4]

The USDA issues permits for keeping and breeding certain exotic species, whether captured from the wild or bred. In the United States, for example, it is illegal to import non-human primates for the pet trade, but animals bred in captivity exist in the trade, using animals descended from those brought in legally before the ban was enacted. As of September 2014, most US states forbid or regulate the possession of exotic pets, but 5 states have no license or permit requirements. [5]

In 2003, the US Captive Wild Animal Safety Act (CWASA) became law, and in September 2007 the US Fish and Wildlife Service enacted rules to enforce it. The law bans the sale or transport of big cats across state lines for the pet trade, and applies to cheetahs, cougars, jaguars, leopards, clouded leopards, snow leopards, lions, tigers, and their hybrids. [6]


Illegally transporting exotic pets is also known as wildlife smuggling, and the industry generates an estimated $7 Billion to $23 Billion (USD) each year. [7]

While there are many ways that live animals are smuggled across borders, there are often heavy losses due to the methods of transportation; many species of small animals can be piled into tiny, and usually airtight, containers and often die as a result. [8] In one example of smuggling, slow lorises trafficked from Indonesia have their teeth removed prior to being sold locally, or exported to Japan or Russia. The animals are not given any pain relievers during their surgeries. [9]

International treaties (such as CITES) have been established to combat the illegal sale and transport of vulnerable animals and plants, but failure to properly enforce these regulations leave many loopholes for the illegal trade to continue. For example, the United States has both signed CITES during its creation as well as created its own national laws against the import and sale of elephant ivory, but as of 2008 it was found to be the second largest importer of it behind China. [10]

Impact on the world

Historically, trade in exotic pets has been known to drive the destruction and extinction of animals in the wild. To a much smaller extent, this holds today: one of the major factors behind the status of the slow loris is the fact it is often kept locally as a pet, or traded to Japan.[ citation needed ]

However, with captive breeding of exotic animals becoming more prevalent, fewer and fewer animals are being captured from the wild. [ citation needed ]


Veterinary costs for treatment of exotic animals may be significantly higher than for a more conventional pet, owing to the increased specialization required. [11]

Zoonotic disease is known to occur in a small number of exotic pets. The American Veterinary Medical Association, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Animal Control Association, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association and the CDC all discourage the private ownership of certain exotic animals. [12] Animals that are captive-bred in the United States have no risk of contracting any harmful disease as they are not exposed to it in any way.[ citation needed ] This disease risk is most marked with primates such as monkeys, who are biologically similar to humans.

In the UK, voluntary organizations such as the "NCRW" (National Centre for Reptile Welfare) [13] and "SEEPR" (South East Exotic Pet Rescue) take in unwanted, ill, or lost exotic animals and nurse them back to full health before rehoming them.


Providing appropriate environmental conditions, housing and diet for an exotic animal may be difficult for several reasons:

However, captive care and husbandry information for many commonly kept amphibians, reptiles, birds, and small exotic mammals are widely available through literature, animal enthusiast groups, and Internet websites and discussion forums.

Risk to humans

Exotic animals retain their unpredictable wild nature, with some being physically capable of maiming or killing their owners. Mammals are the most likely exotic pets to injure or kill humans, with non-human primates topping the list.

Even if they are bred for the pet trade and raised by humans, they may be unpredictable, relatively resistant to training; in some cases, especially as full-grown adults, they can be dangerous. Injuries to humans may be relatively common, but reported yearly deaths due to exotic pet ownership are rare. Statistics compiled by an advocacy organization [14] indicate a yearly average of less than 3.5 fatalities per year in the United States; [15] and another lists 87 exotic animal incidents resulting in human death from June 20, 1990 to April 15, 2016. [16]


Animal markets in impoverished, tropical countries often sell primates, such as these slow lorises, to both tourists and local people as pets, despite laws against the trade. Animal market - caged Nycticebus 2.jpg
Animal markets in impoverished, tropical countries often sell primates, such as these slow lorises, to both tourists and local people as pets, despite laws against the trade.

It has been estimated that as many as 15,000 primates are kept by private individuals as pets in the United States. [17] Nine states ban the keeping of non-human primates, but no federal law regulates ownership. In 1975, the Center for Disease Control prohibited their import into the US for use as pets. The breeding industry uses descendants of animals imported before 1975. [18] Non-human primates of various species, including those listed as endangered, such as cottontop tamarins, baboons, chimpanzees, Diana monkeys, lemurs and gibbons are still available for purchase in the US, although due to captive breeding, this does not affect wild populations. For example, chimpanzees are popular in some areas despite their strength, aggression, and wild nature. Even in areas where keeping primates as pets is illegal, the exotic pet trade continues to prosper and some people keep chimpanzees as pets mistakenly believing that they will bond with them for life. As they grow, so do their strength and aggression; some owners and others interacting with the animals have lost fingers and suffered severe facial damage among other injuries sustained in attacks. [19]

Many professionals, including veterinarians, zoologists, humane societies and others, strongly discourage the keeping of primates as pets, as their complex emotional and social needs and other highly specialized requirements may be difficult to meet by the average owner. However, if brought into the care of an experienced pet owner from infancy, it has been witnessed that non-human primates (such as monkeys) can become suitable and loving companions in a stable and healthy environment.

Although the breeding population has been largely isolated from wild populations outside the US, they still have the potential to transmit zoonotic disease. There is a considerable risk of monkey B virus from rhesus macaques. Research workers have died from this disease contracted from non-human primate research subjects. [20] Additionally, there is considerable risk to the non-human primate pet through transmission of human disease. One such example is herpes simplex virus, which can be deadly to certain smaller monkeys. [17]

See also

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Wildlife trade

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Wildlife smuggling

Wildlife smuggling or trafficking involves the illegal gathering, transportation, and distribution of animals and their derivatives. This can be done either internationally or domestically. Estimates of the money generated by wildlife smuggling vary, in part because of its illegal nature. "Wildlife smuggling is estimated at $7.8bn to $10bn a year, according to the U.S. State Department. The U.S. State Department also lists wildlife trafficking as the third most valuable illicit commerce in the world." The illegal nature of such activities makes determining the amount of money involved incredibly difficult. When considered with illegal timber and fisheries, wildlife trafficking is a major illegal trade along with narcotics, human trafficking, and counterfeit products.

Conservation of slow lorises Conservation management of the nocturnal primates in Asia

Slow lorises are nocturnal strepsirrhine primates in the genus Nycticebus that live in the rainforests of South and Southeast Asia. They are threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation from deforestation, selective logging, and slash-and-burn agriculture, as well as by collection and hunting for the wildlife trade, including the exotic pet trade, and for use in traditional medicine and as bushmeat. Because of these and other threats, all five species of slow loris are listed as either "Vulnerable" or "Endangered" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Their conservation status was originally listed as "Least Concern" in 2000 because of imprecise population surveys and the frequency in which these primates were found in animal markets. Because of their rapidly declining populations and local extinctions, their status was updated and in 2007 the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) elevated them to Appendix I, which prohibits international commercial trade. Local laws also protect slow lorises from hunting and trade, but enforcement is lacking in most areas.

Angonoka tortoise species of reptile

The angonoka tortoise is a critically endangered species of tortoise severely threatened by poaching for the illegal pet trade. It is endemic to Madagascar. It is also known as the angonoka, ploughshare tortoise, Madagascar tortoise, or Madagascar angulated tortoise. There may be less than 400 of these tortoises left in the wild. It is found only in the dry forests of the Baly Bay area of northwestern Madagascar, near the town of Soalala .A captive-breeding facility was established in 1986 by the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust in collaboration with the Water and Forests Department. In 1996, 75 tortoises were stolen, which later appeared for sale in the Netherlands. The project was ultimately successful, achieving 224 captive-bred juveniles out of 17 adults in 2004. Project Angonoka developed conservation plans that involved local communities making firebreaks, along with the creation of a park to protect the tortoise and the forests. Monitoring of the angonoka tortoise in the global pet trade has also continued to be advocated.

International parrot trade worldwide industry dealing in the acquisition and sale of parrots

The international trade in parrots is a lucrative enterprise, and forms an important part of the international wildlife trade. As parrots have become increasingly endangered, many countries have placed restrictions on the trade and/or prohibited the trade altogether. Despite the restriction on trade in many countries however, the market still operates both legally and illegally.

Wildlife smuggling and zoonoses Health risks associated with the trade in exotic wildlife

Wildlife trafficking practices have resulted in the emergence of zoonotic diseases. Exotic wildlife trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry that involves the removal and shipment of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, and fish all over the world. Traded wild animals are used for bushmeat consumption, unconventional exotic pets, animal skin clothing accessories, home trophy decorations, privately owned zoos, and for traditional medicine practices. Dating back centuries, people from Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and Europe have used animal bones, horns, or organs for their believed healing effects on the human body. Wild tigers, rhinos, elephants, pangolins, and certain reptile species are acquired through legal and illegal trade operations in order to continue these historic cultural healing practices. Within the last decade nearly 975 different wild animal taxa groups have been legally and illegally exported out of Africa and imported into areas like China, Japan, Indonesia, the United States, Russia, Europe, and South America.


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