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Press Release June 2009

Norway exotic animal threat to people and wildlife

Diseases to both humans and wild animals could flood into Norway on a tide of imported exotic animals, claim Norwegian and British animal protection experts.

Groups lobbying for better animal protection on both sides of the North Sea today gave an urgent plea to the Norwegian government not to change laws to allow sales of exotic reptiles and amphibians in the country and suffer deadly outcomes - as already seen in Britain

UK-based organisations have teamed up with a Norwegian animal protection group to commission a 65-page scientific report, just released. Opposition to a proposal to lift a long-term ban on the trade and private ownership of reptiles and amphibians in Norway is based on three main findings:

Threat to wild animals

The new threat could bring pandemic wildlife diseases that have only recently been identified in Britain. These diseases kill established species and are costly to contain. 'Norden', the body representing the wider Scandinavia group of countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) has circulated an alert for a 'serious new threat to Nordic [wild] amphibians', drawing attention to the two diseases that have spread into Britain and elsewhere in Europe as a result of animal trade. In opening the trade, the Norwegian government may even be acting unlawfully in contravention to Article 6 of the Berne Convention under which it is obliged to protect its native wild fauna.

Human health hazard

Every twenty days a person dies in developed Europe/North America from pathogens transmitted as a result of exotic reptiles in captivity. Over the same period around 800 people are hospitalized for up to a week or more at a cost of over £1 million. This includes two babies who have died in Britain over the last ten years. Does Norway really want to bring this home too?

Not good pets

Research shows that although not obviously alert, like cats and dogs, many captive reptiles suffer from stress and illness. Shutting them off in small tanks and boxes represents deprivation that is cruel but unnoticed. Most reptiles die within one year in captivity. In fact, the reptile industry has been compared to the 'cut flower' trade, as both industries are based on perishable commodities that are expected to die soon after purchase.

World expert in amphibians and reptiles (herpetofauna) consultant Tom Langton, who has represented the IUCN at the Standing Party of the Berne Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats in Strasbourg (France) says:

Beyond disease and welfare issues, the proposal to open up an exotic pet trade in Norway would send the wrong education message through Europe, where children are encouraged to watch wildlife in their gardens and countryside. The Norwegian government may not be aware that several European countries envy Norway's current position and are aiming towards lower consumption of wild and captive-bred animals

Further information:

In 1976, Norway set an example to the rest of Europe by banning, on animal welfare grounds, the keeping of reptiles and amphibians as pets. However, the Norwegian government is now considering a proposal to permit the trade and private ownership of certain reptile and amphibian species. The proposal, prompted by wildlife dealers and exotic animal keepers, has strong opposition from animal welfare and conservation groups internationally and will be a test of will for a country much admired by others inside the European Union. EU countries have let the trade run out of control with disastrous consequences to people and native species.

In a newly commissioned report, scientists who specialise in animal welfare and zoonotic disease have strongly recommended that the Norwegian government reject the proposal to re-open trade. This recommendation was made on the grounds that poor animal welfare is endemic to reptile- and amphibian-keeping and that reptiles and amphibians in the domestic environment continue to generate a significant and major public health problem.

In the UK, following two infant deaths from reptile-related salmonellosis (RRS), repeated pubic health warnings have been issued regarding the keeping of reptiles as pets. Just five weeks ago, a two-month old baby boy in Cheshire was hospitalised with RRS caught from pet reptiles in the home.

Hundreds of thousands of reptiles and amphibians are taken from the wild each year to supply the European pet trade. The capture process is invariably crude and brutal and many animals die before being exported, during transit or once in captivity.

The potential threat of introducing non-native, 'alien' species to Norway, by re-introducing a new trade in wild animals, is also raised as an important issue in the report. Of particular concern is a current pandemic disease of amphibians that is beginning to circulate in northern Europe. The pet trade offers a perfect way for Norway's amphibian fauna to become infected in exactly the same way as has already happened in Britain.

'Chytrid', a parasitic fungus, has been killing frogs around the world in recent years. There have been outbreaks in the UK and Denmark but not yet in Sweden, Finland or Norway. Ranavirus probably introduced from North America on traded frogs has killed millions of British frogs and is now present on mainland Europe.

UK-based organisations; Advocates for Animals, the Animal Protection Agency, the Born Free Foundation, International Animal Rescue and the World Society for the Protection of Animals, teamed up with the Norwegian Animal Protection Alliance to commission the 65-page scientific report. The report examines the proposed list in detail and its resonant conclusion is that:

the list is incapable of itemizing reptile or amphibian species that are 'suitable' as pets because, under scientific evidence-based criteria and scrutiny, such reptiles and amphibians do not exist.

The Norwegian government may be acting unlawfully in contravention to Article 6 of the Berne Convention, which states that each Contracting Party (government) must "take appropriate and necessary legislative and administrative measures to ensure the special protection of the wild fauna species." This includes all of Norway's native amphibians and reptiles and specifically requires the Norwegian government under Appendix III "to prohibit the use of all indiscriminate means of capture and killing and the use of all means capable of causing local disappearance."

For more information, please contact Elaine Toland on 01273 674253 or out of hours on 07986 535024.

Images are available on request.

The Animal Protection Agency, Born Free Foundation, International Animal Rescue and the Norwegian Animal Protection Alliance are members of ENDCAP - a pan-European coalition of animal welfare organisations working to end the keeping of wild animals in captivity (see www.endcaptivity.org).