Key features of the global exotic pet trade

Bush, E. R., Baker, S. E., & Macdonald, D. W. (2014). Global trade in exotic pets 2006–2012. Conservation Biology, 28(3), 663-676.

This paper systematically reviews the current state of the global exotic pet trade, and contains information on factors which affect the trade, international pet trade legislation, pet sources, conservation and animal welfare.  The results show that exotic birds, mammals, and reptiles are traded, in great abundance and diversity, in many countries worldwide.  

Previous research has shown that certain wildlife trade is driven by the demand for animal use in entertainment or as exotic pets (non-domesticated species). It is also known that all stages of live animal trade can cause various stressors and animal welfare issues. To establish the state of the global exotic pet trade, this paper reviewed various literature sources to compile information on factors which affect the trade, including legislation, trade routes, wildlife conservation and individual animal welfare. Articles from scientific literature, grey literature and Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) reports published between 2006 and 2012 were assessed, with a particular focus on those which mentioned trade of exotic bird, mammal or reptile species. The species name, taxonomic groups, trade routes, conservation and legislative status were noted. The aim of the review was to provide current information on the animals involved and major trade routes used, to determine knowledge gaps in relevant research and coverage, and to inform future actions to protect the most exploited animals used in exotic pet trade.

Birds are more abundant and species-rich in trade than reptiles or mammals

With regards to the species exploited in the trade, it was found that more bird species were reported, followed by reptiles and then mammals, with 585, 485 and 113 species recorded respectively. Parrots, falcons and song birds were the most commonly reported birds, and turtles, lizards and snakes were the most commonly reported reptiles. There were also significantly more individual birds (n= 56791) reported in transit than the other taxa (reptiles n= 6310, mammals n=1226). The data from CITES reports highlighted the Middle East as a major driver in exotic pet trade. It was found that most of the avian trade went to the Middle East, with parrots being sourced from Africa and falcons from Europe. The main mammalian trade was from Africa to the Middle East, although other reciprocal trade routes were noted. Reptiles were commonly traded from North America to Europe, although again other routes were also noted. Most of animals permitted to travel were declared as captive-bred, however there was evidence found of wild-caught animal trade also.

Of the 203 and articles assessed, only 23% of papers (n=154) and 41% reports (n=49) specifically mentioned the animal health or welfare. Interestingly, although reptiles are often reported in wildlife trade, there is very little research conducted on this topic in terms of conservation. This highlights a need for more research to be more focused on vulnerable species. Additionally, the results highlighted inconsistences between scientific literature and CITES reports, and as such the authors suggests the need for more effective monitoring and detailed reports.

World Animal Protection’s view

This review was funded by World Animal Protection. We believe that it highlights the various issues and risks associated with the exotic pet trade. It demonstrates the need to protect these wild animals from exploitation through the global trade and to keep them in the wild where they belong.