APA: On the wild side
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August 2012

Perishing Pets – exotic pet study finds three out of four reptiles dead within a year

A new scientific study of the exotic pet trade has found that at least 75% of pet snakes, lizards, tortoises and turtles die within one year in the home. It is thought that most of these newly purchased animals, whose natural longevities range from 8-120 years according to species, die from captivity stress-related causes.

In an article in the latest issue of The Biologist, published by the Society of Biology, scientists compared the number of reptiles that enter the UK market each year to the numbers of reptile pets that reside, year on year, in private homes. Based on these figures, the authors found that at least three quarters of reptiles perish within their first year in the home.

The study also looks into the impacts of the exotic pet trade on species populations and whole ecosystems, and the disruption caused by the release of non-native species into the environment. The trade also takes its toll on human health with an estimated 5,600 cases of reptile-related salmonellosis (just one of many animal-to-human disease threats posed by exotic pets) occurring in the UK each year.

Says Elaine Toland, Director of the Animal Protection Agency: “The fact that most reptiles die within a year is truly tragic, and is probably unresolvable because reptiles and captivity simply don’t mix. The trade in wild-caught and captive-bred lizards, snakes, tortoises and turtles is wasteful, destructive and inhumane, and even the most conscientious and well-intentioned keepers cannot realistically provide for all these animals’ biological needs. The public would never tolerate three out of four dogs dying annually in the home, and nor should we tolerate such premature mortality in reptiles. A ban on this high turnover trade in ‘disposable’ animals is long overdue.

Says Clifford Warwick, Biologist and Medical Scientist: “The trading and keeping of exotic pets is responsible for decades of ecological, animal welfare and public health harm on a massive scale. Both formal regulation and enforcement, along with years of efforts at educating people about the major problems inherent to wildlife trading have fundamentally and grossly failed to control what has been a persistent and exacerbating environmental, animal welfare and human health mess. The more one looks into the exotic pet trade, the worse it gets. The only way forward is a ban on trade.”

Says Phillip Arena, Reptile Biologist, Murdoch University: “Major threats such as habitat loss and climate change mean there is simply less wildlife out there, making human-wildlife impacts now greater than ever. The impacts of the exotic pet industry are additional burdens the world does not need.”

The Society of Biology press release.