New research showing that 75% of reptiles die within one year in the home, confirms an adjudication earlier this year by the Advertising Standards Authority was fatally flawed.
The hugely successful ‘I’m a chameleon ….get me out of here!’ campaign of awareness through Lush shops in the summer of 2010 was publicised in over forty UK towns and cities. It brought home to many people the scale and severity of suffering involved in the reptile pet trade and did a great deal to raise the profile of this important issue. The campaign that we devised in association with Lush also ran in the Republic of Ireland and subsequently in Norway and Germany.
Lush customers and the wider public were made aware of the frequently brutal and destructive nature of the exotic pet trade, the fact that most reptiles die within one year in captivity and that many species are being driven towards extinction. The campaign also pointed out that many commercial reptile breeding operations in the UK routinely operate outside the law, are unlicensed and un-inspected, and conditions for animals are invariably inhumane.
The reptile trade ‘retaliated’ with slurs and fabrications, and during the campaign Animal Protection Agency staff were subject to attempts at intimidation – including a menacing threat to post venomous snakes through the letterbox of one APA staff member. Regardless of this, APA stepped up its campaign, and has had a major impact on commercial exotic pet trading in the UK.
An orchestrated campaign by animal dealers and keepers resulted in over a dozen complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about the awareness programme through Lush shops. The Advertising Standards Agency for Ireland threw out the case – which the ASA UK may in hindsight have realised was the right thing to do! The ASA UK took 20 months to conclude its investigation, which we believe demonstrated its inability to grasp the technical issues involved. APA warned the ASA at the time, that they faced humiliation if they tried to reach conclusions based on their poor understanding of the science and incorrect interpretation of technical data. During its flawed assessment, the ASA apologised to APA and Lush for having even targeted the wrong ad, but also the ASA failed to accurately calculate basic percentages, which led them to wrongly uphold a complaint.
APA and Lush provided scientific evidence (accepted by one of the world’s leading science publications) to show that most reptiles die in their first year of captivity. The data (all independent) showed that over 70% of reptiles die within 12 months in the home, and many more if one accounts for the entire trade process. Whilst the ASA acknowledged this disturbing figure, they bizarrely claimed that this did not constitute ‘most’!!
Among the ASA’s further mistakes, the ASA also said: ‘they don't accept evidence based on surveys’ (even though we cited survey data by the government and by TNS - a large professional population survey provider with 95% accuracy); they don't accept scientific opinion; they don’t accept the use of the word ‘fact’ as defined in the Oxford English Dictionary; and they don't accept court rulings as constituting a ‘finding’!
Having spent 20 months trying to get to grips with the technical material provided to them, the ASA decided they had to clear their desk of the complaints and prematurely proceeded to their Council for an adjudication – even refusing APA a chance to respond to their final report. This was one of many other procedural improprieties that the ASA’s was responsible for during its assessment.
The new research casts aside the flawed adjudication and emphasises that for reasons of animal welfare, species and ecological conservation, and public health, the exotic pet trade is one pressure our precious world and wildlife does not need.
APA’s campaign messages will continue to be founded on factual information to educate the public and policy makers about the damaging impact of the pet reptile trade.