Owning Exotic Animals

Exotic pet trade, explained

Millions of animals are taken from their habitats to live in homes as pets, feeding a thriving illegal trade in wildlife.




Each year millions of exotic animals are sold around the world, destined for people’s basements and backyards. The term “exotic” doesn’t have a set definition, but it usually refers to a wild animal or one that’s more unusual than your standard dog or cat. The booming business in exotic pets is known as the exotic pet trade.

Some of this trade is legal, but many times animals are captured from the wild illegally to supply demand for exotic pets. The illicit sales of live animals comprises a major part of the overall illegal wildlife trade, a multibillion-dollar global black market.

Booming demand

People have kept exotic pets throughout history, but demand for unique creatures has exploded in recent years. Much of this can be attributed to the popularity of e-commerce and social media websites, which have provided a way for people to easily advertise the sale of live animals. They’ve also popularized exotic animals by providing a place where people can show them off. A flurry of videos posted to YouTube in 2015 of slow lorises eating rice balls in captivity, for example, went viral and led to poaching of the wide-eyed primates for the pet trade.

Where exotic pets come from

Some exotic pets are bred in captivity. Conservationists often see captive breeding as a way to save wild animals from poaching for the pet trade, and many countries allow for the export of captive-bred animals as long as the proper legal documents are obtained.

But countless animals are taken from the wild before they’re sold as pets. After an animal is plucked from the wild—often in violation of the law—it might be used in a breeding operation, sold locally, smuggled out of the country, or intentionally mislabeled as captive-bred and exported legally. Researchers have discovered that people are “laundering” Indian star tortoises from Jordan, red-eyed tree frogs from Nicaragua, and many other species.

The effects of the exotic pet trade

Rampant poaching for the exotic pet trade is devastating animal populations worldwide. It has decimated numbers of Madagascar’s prized radiated tortoises, for example, and led to the endangered status of African gray parrots, birds known for their impressive vocal abilities. What’s more, many animals suffer during capture and transport—and even if they do end up at their final destination alive, they are often distressed—unable to eat, move, and behave as they would in the wild.

The exotic pet business also affects humans and animals not involved in the trade. Wild animals have the potential to attack their owners or spread disease, such as ebola and SARS. An outbreak of exotic Newcastle disease (END), which resulted in the deaths of 12 million birds in the U.S. in the 1970s, was traced to parrots smuggled from South America.

Efforts to combat the trade

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international agreement signed by 183 governments, has voted to ban or limit trade in many animal species sought after as pets. Many countries also prohibit domestic sales or possession of certain animals. In the U.S., laws regulating the ownership of exotic pets vary from state to state.

In addition, nonprofits around the world have been trying to shut down the exotic pet trade by educating people about the harms of owning these animals. Research conducted by the World Animal Protection, a U.K.-based nonprofit, found that the best way to deter people from owning an exotic animal is to emphasize the risks they pose to humans, not the animals themselves. 


The Zoo


Human encroachment is a serious issue for every wild animal species on the planet. Humans continue to stretch the boundaries of our civilizations and push animals out. At first it would seem that keeping animals in zoos and other parks is good because it keeps them from being hunted down as their habitats are destroyed, but this isn’t the case. For the most part, keeping animals in enclosures doesn’t allow them to properly express themselves or to do what they are born to do. A whale in Sea World can’t sing to other whales miles away as it can in the ocean, and a bird can’t fly the way it should.

One of the ostensible purposes of many zoos and parks is to keep endangered species alive as their habitats are ruined in the outside world. However, as noble as this appears on the surface, zoos and other parks are notoriously selective when it comes to which endangered species they protect. Preferring cuter, better known and more charismatic animals harms the nobility of this protection.

In 2003, Tampa Florida’s Lowry Park Zoo and the San Diego Zoo imported 11 elephants from Swaziland, which is both illegal and highly dangerous to the animals. Is entertaining people in a zoo worth capturing animals and taking them from their homes, which endangers their lives and causes them grievous psychological harm? Animals that are too old to be popular are often traded between zoos or even sold to side shows or animal auctions.

It is said that human beings need at least 400 square feet apiece in order to remain sane and peaceful. Other animals have both greater physical needs for space and more delicate psyches, which requires even more space. While zoos try to provide larger spaces for their animals, often conditions become cramped or those in charge of the animals neglect their proper care. One example is the T.I.G.E.R.S. exhibit in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, which has repeatedly been found in violation of the Animal Welfare Act.

Imagine if you’d been raised in a box with no education on how to survive. Do you think you could find work, secure housing and perform other necessary tasks if you were released? You might be able to, but animals have no help available in the wild. A released animal is generally as good as dead, so keeping them captive and birthing them in captivity is a life sentence without possibility of parole.

Attending theme parks contributes to the plight of many animal species. While they are fun to watch, keeping animals captive can hurt them too and the environment as a whole.


The Circus

Brownbear Stock Photos, Royalty Free Brownbear Images | Depositphotos®

Circus - out of date and uneconomic

Animal Welfare

  • Traveling circuses cannot meet the physical, psychological or behavioral needs of wild animals, due to severe confinement, physical and social deprivation, long periods of time in transporters, with brutal control methods and physical violence.
  • Animals are forced to perform tricks through physical violence, fear, intimidation, emotional deprivation and withholding of food and/or water. 

Public Health and Safety

  • Keeping stressed, large and dangerous wild animals close to the public in lightweight, temporary enclosures has proven disastrous. Workers and members of the public have been killed and maimed; lions, tigers and elephants have all escaped.
  • It is estimated that around 12% of Asian and 2% of African elephants in North America have tuberculosis (TB), a disease transmissible from elephants to humans. 


  • Enforcement of animal welfare legislation and local ordinances is fraught with difficulties due to the transient nature of traveling circuses. By the time evidence is gathered and prepared, the circus has often moved on. The practical difficulties of compliance, inspections and associated time and costs, justifies a restriction. 


  • Circuses must change with the times. Human only circuses are thriving. Cirque du Soleil now has 19 shows in 271 cities, generating an estimated $810 million a year. Whereas the wild animal traveling show, Piccadilly Circus, recently canceled performances across Southern California due to poor ticket sales.
  • In 2012, Cirque du Soleil appeared eight times in the top ranking international shows alongside Madonna and Lady Gaga world tours (Top 50 Highest Earning World Tours in 2012). Not a single animal circus made the list.
  • Circus workers perform multiple roles; staff can be retrained, so jobs are not lost. ADI observations of the 2012 Ringling show in Los Angeles revealed wild animals formed just 13 minutes of the two hour performance. Circus Vargas removed their animal acts and the business continues. Surveys have shown that a decline in animal circuses can be matched by a rise in circuses with human performers.
  • 45 countries around the world have adopted national legislation prohibiting or restricting the use of wild and exotic animals in circuses, with hundreds of local bans in place worldwide – over 200 in the UK, and hundreds in Europe and South America, as well as Asia.
  • Please work within Congress to prevent wild animals from suffering in traveling circuses here in the United States.


Exotic Animal Laws by State - USA

Don’t be fooled by social media—wild animals make terrible pets

WOULD YOU LIKE to have a red panda as a pet? Or a sloth? What about a slow loris, a type of cute primate?

Demand for wild pets is rising, spurred in part by internet videos that show how adorable they are. In some cases, owners post videos of wild animals in their care, coddling them as if they were domesticated.

There are, of course, animal welfare reasons not to keep wild creatures. None of them are domesticated; they evolved to live in their natural environments and not human habitations; and the exotic pet trade is known for cruel treatment and is often fed by poaching.

But there are more immediate and perhaps selfish reasons: These animals, despite being fluffy and adorable, do not make good pets.  For more ..


You Can Help End the Illegal Pet Trade

By Susan Lieberman and Elizabeth Bennett March 3 is World Wildlife Day and the theme this year is: “The future of wildlife is in our hands.” One often-overlooked aspect of this is the current crisis of the global illegal trade in wildlife for use as pets. From Peruvian titi monkeys to Central Africa’s African grey...

March 3, 2016

By Susan Lieberman and Elizabeth Bennett

March 3 is World Wildlife Day and the theme this year is: “The future of wildlife is in our hands.” One often-overlooked aspect of this is the current crisis of the global illegal trade in wildlife for use as pets. From Peruvian titi monkeys to Central Africa’s African grey parrots to Madagascar’s plowshare tortoises, the illegal global pet trade threatens countless species, sending many hurtling toward extinction.

The illegal and unsustainable emptying out of our forests, skies, and rivers to provide a steady stream of exotic pets is a fact often not widely understood by global consumers. That must change. Just last week, enforcement officers in Jakarta, Indonesia seized some 4,500 turtles destined for the pet trade in China, including 900 critically endangered snake-necked turtles.

Read more ...

What can you do? First, if you’re in the U.S. you can encourage your elected representatives to support legislation seeking to stymie the illegal wildlife trade, such as the End Wildlife Trafficking Act. You can also express support for the work of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Obama Administration’s Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking.

You can also ask pet stores where they source their animals, especially if you are interested in purchasing exotic birds, snakes, lizards, or turtles. Let them know that you care if they came from the wild rather than being born in captivity. If they don’t know, do your own research.

The more questions you ask, the more empowered you are likely to feel in helping to curb the illegal trade in wildlife. This effort is bigger than one individual. If we all do our part, we can help to stabilize shrinking animal populations and even reverse their decline. This World Wildlife Day, remember that for so many wildlife species, the future really is in a very true sense in our hands.

Dr. Susan Lieberman and Dr. Elizabeth Bennett are Vice President for International Policy and Vice President for Species Conservation respectively at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).



Dangers of keeping Exotic Animals

Article by Born Free USA

Exotic animals — lions, tigers, wolves, bears, reptiles, non-human primates — belong in their natural habitats and not in the hands of private individuals as “pets.” By their very nature, these animals are wild and potentially dangerous and, as such, do not adjust well to a captive environment.

Because the majority of states do not keep accurate records of exotic animals entering their state, it is impossible to determine exactly how many exotic animals are privately held as pets, but the number is estimated to be quite high. An estimated 5,000 tigers alone are held by private individuals.

The American Veterinary Medical Association, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have all expressed opposition to the possession of certain exotic animals by individuals.

Exotic animals do not make good companions. They require special care, housing, diet, and maintenance that the average person cannot provide. When in the hands of private individuals, the animals suffer due to poor care. They also pose safety and health risks to their owners and any person coming into contact with them.

Individuals possessing exotic animals often attempt to change the nature of the animal rather than the nature of the care provided. Such tactics include confinement in small, barren enclosures, chaining, beating “into submission,” or even painful mutilations, such as declawing and tooth removal.

If and when the individual realizes he/she can no longer care for an exotic pet, he/she usually turns to zoos and other institutions such as sanctuaries to relieve him/her of the responsibility. However, all the zoos and accredited institutions could not possibly accommodate the number of unwanted exotic animals. Consequently, the majority of these animals are euthanized, abandoned, or doomed to live in deplorable conditions.

Human Health Risk

Exotic animals pose serious health risks to humans. Many exotic animals are carriers of zoonotic diseases, such as Herpes B, Monkey Pox, and Salmonellosis, all of which are communicable to humans.


Exotic babies for sale in plain sight



Ban all sales of exotic animals world wide.  No purchasers  =  no market. 

Poachers have no-one to sell to except underground black markets. Governments must create special teams to track down and expose these people.

Canned Hunting

'Canned hunting': the lions bred for slaughter

Canned hunting is a fast-growing business in South Africa, where thousands of lions are being bred on farms to be shot by wealthy foreign trophy-hunters


Mon 3 Jun 2013 07.00 BSTFirst published on Mon 3 Jun 2013 07.00 BST

They are adorably cute, with grubby brown fur so soft it seems to slip through my fingers like flour. It is only when one of the nine-week-old cubs playfully grabs my arm with its teeth and squeezes with an agonising grip that I remember – this is a lion, a wild animal.

These four cubs are not wild, however. They are kept in a small pen behind the Lion's Den, a pub on a ranch in desolate countryside 75 miles south of Johannesburg. Tourists stop to pet them but most visitors do not venture over the hill, where the ranch has pens holding nearly 50 juvenile and fully-grown lions, and two tigers.

Moreson ranch is one of more than 160 such farms legally breeding big cats in South Africa. There are now more lions held in captivity (upwards of 5,000) in the country than live wild (about 2,000). While the owners of this ranch insist they do not hunt and kill their lions, animal welfare groups say most breeders sell their stock to be shot dead by wealthy trophy-hunters from Europe and North America, or for traditional medicine in Asia. The easy slaughter of animals in fenced areas is called "canned hunting", perhaps because it's rather like shooting fish in a barrel.


A fully-grown, captive-bred lion is taken from its pen to an enclosed area where it wanders listlessly for some hours before being shot dead by a man with a shotgun, hand-gun or even a crossbow, standing safely on the back of a truck. forHe pays anything from £5,000 to £25,000, and it is all completely legal.


Like other tourists and daytrippers from Jo'burg, I pay a more modest £3.50 to hug the lions at Moreson, a game ranch which on its website invites tourists to come and enjoy the canned hunting of everything from pretty blesbok and springbok – South Africa's national symbol – to lions and crocodiles. After a cuddle with the cubs, I go on a "game drive" through the 2,000 hectare estate. Herds of blue wildebeest, red hartebeest and eland run from the truck, then stop and watch us, warily: according to the guides, the animals seem to know when visitors are not carrying guns. At the far end of the property is an abandoned farm, surrounded by pens of lethargic-looking big cats. One pair mate in front of us. Two healthy looking tigers tear at chicken carcasses rapidly rotting in the African sun.

The animals look well cared for. But Cathleen Benade, a ranch assistant who is studying wildlife photography and is devoted to the cubs, reveals that they were taken away from their mothers just an hour after birth and bottle-fed by humans for the first eight weeks of their life. After dark, as the lions roar in the cages below the pub veranda, Maryke Van Der Merwe, the manager of Lion's Den and daughter of the ranch owner, explains that if the cubs weren't separated from their mother – by blowing a horn to scare the adult lion away – the young lions would starve to death, because their mother had no milk. She says the mother is not distressed: "She's looking for the cubs for a few hours but it's not like she's sad. After a day or two I don't think she remembered that she had cubs."

Animal welfare experts disagree, however. They say breeders remove the cubs from their mother so that the lioness will quickly become fertile again, as they squeeze as many cubs from their adults as possible – five litters every two years. For an animal that is usually weaned at six months, missing out on the crucial colostrum, or first milk, can cause ill-health. "These breeders tell you they removed the cubs because the mother had no milk; I've never seen that in the wild," says Pieter Kat, an evolutionary biologist who has worked with wild lions in Kenya and Botswana. "Lions and tigers in captivity may kill their young because they are under a lot of stress. But the main reason breeders separate the young from their mother is because they don't want them to be dependant on their mother. Separation brings the female back into a reproductive position much faster than if the cubs were around. It's a conveyor-belt production of animals."

lion bred in captivity in south africa

 A lion bred on a farm in South Africa for commercial use. Photograph: Stephane De Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images

South Africa has a strong hunting tradition but few people express much enthusiasm for its debased canned form. It is still legal to bring a lion carcass back to Britain (or anywhere in Europe or North America) as a trophy, and much of the demand comes from overseas. Trophy-hunters are attracted by the guarantee of success, and the price: a wild lion shot on a safari in Tanzania may cost £50,000, compared with a £5,000 captive-bred specimen in South Africa. Five years ago, the South African government effectively banned canned hunting by requiring an animal to roam free for two years before it could be hunted, severely restricting breeders and hunters' profitability. But lion breeders challenged the policy in South Africa's courts and a high court judge eventually ruled that such restrictions were "not rational". The number of trophy hunted animals has since soared. In the five years to 2006, 1,830 lion trophies were exported from South Africa; in the five years to 2011, 4,062 were exported, a 122% increase, and the vast majority captive-bred animals.

Demand from the Far East is also driving profits for lions breeders. In 2001, two lions were exported as "trophies" to China, Laos and Vietnam; in 2011, 70 lion trophies were exported to those nations. While the trade in tiger parts is now illegal, demand for lion parts for traditional Asian medicine is soaring. In 2009, five lion skeletons were exported from South Africa to Laos; in 2011, it was 496. The legal export of lion bones and whole carcasses has also soared. "It's definitely a rapidly growing source of revenue for these canned breeding facilities," says Will Travers of the charity Born Free. "The increase and volume are terrifying."

Breeders argue it is better that hunters shoot a captive-bred lion than further endanger the wild populations, but conservationists and animal welfare groups dispute this. Wild populations of lions have declined by 80% in 20 years, so the rise of lion farms and canned hunting has not protected wild lions. In fact, according to Fiona Miles, director of Lionsrock, a big cat sanctuary in South Africa run by the charity Four Paws, it is fuelling it. The lion farms' creation of a market for canned lion hunts puts a clear price-tag on the head of every wild lion, she says; they create a financial incentive for local people, who collude with poachers or turn a blind eye to illegal lion kills. Trophy-hunters who begin with a captive-bred lion may then graduate to the real, wild thing.

"It's factory-farming of lions, and it's shocking," says Miles. She began working to protect lions after watching a seminal documentary about canned hunting. "The lion all around the world is known as the iconic king of the jungle – that's how it's portrayed in advertising and written into story books – and yet people have reduced it to a commodity, something that can be traded and used."

An alternative use for the captive-bred lions might be tourism. We go for a "lion walk" with Martin Quinn, a conservation educator and lion whisperer. This involves strolling through the veld with three adolescent white lions, which have been bred on Moreson ranch and trained by Quinn and his assistant, Thompson. These striking white lions (which tend to be very inbred, say animal welfare groups) bound around us, rush on, and then lie in the grass, ready for an ambush. Armed only with sticks, Quinn and Thompson control them, while warning us that they are still wild animals. It is an unnerving experience, but Quinn hopes this venture will persuade Moreson ranch that a live lion is worth more than a dead one.

He claims that since he began working with lions at the ranch in January, the owners have not sold on any lions to be hunted. He hopes the ranch will eventually allow the offspring of its captive animals to grow up in the wild. (Breeders sometimes claim their lions are for conservation programmes but examples of captive-bred lions becoming wild animals again are vanishingly rare; even the most respectable zoo has never established a successful programme for releasing captive-bred lions into the wild.)

Pieter Kat, who founded the charity Lion Aid, says the lion walks are simply another income stream for breeders before their lucrative charges are sold on. Van Der Merwe is doubtful that Quinn's lion walks could replace the income the farm receives from selling its lions: "We keep them up until six months for attractions for the people so they can play with them and then we sell them to other lion parks," she says. She insists her ranch's website is wrong, and it does not hunt lions: "We sell them to other people who have the permit for lions. What they do with the lions is up to them. So we don't know what they do with the lions, but we don't do the canned hunting."

Three hours' drive from the ranch is Lionsrock, a former lion breeding farm transformed into a sanctuary for more than 80 abused big cats since it was bought by Four Paws. Some come from local breeding farms, but Four Paws also rescues animals kept in appalling conditions in zoos in Romania, Jordan and the Congo. Unlike in the lion farms, the animals here are not allowed to breed, and instead live within large enclosures in their natural prides, family groups of up to 10 lions.

Lionsrock can rehouse another 100 lions but does not have space for every captive-bred lion in South Africa. Four Paws and other charities working in South Africa want a moratorium on lion breeding because they fear that if lion farms were abruptly outlawed thousands of lions would be dumped or killed. After its high court defeat, there is little sign that the South African government will take on the powerful lion breeders again any time soon. "If we can stop people supporting those industries in the first place and make them aware of what's actually going on and what the life of a [captive-bred] lion is actually like, I believe there will be an outcry," says Miles. "There's far more value for a live lion long-term."

Lion breeders such as Van Der Merwe are not so sure. She says her caged lions have little to do with canned hunting, but admits that if the authorities banned canned hunting, "it would probably not be good for us … There's a lot of people from overseas coming to shoot lions. All the people know you come to Africa to shoot the lion or have a mount against your wall to say 'I've shot a lion'. They surely bring some money into South Africa."

She sees nothing wrong with hunting lions or keeping them in captivity. In fact, she says, she is part of a family of animal lovers: "We grew up with them, so it's nice. It's like babies in your house – when they are really small they walk around in your house and they follow you."

We've got an announcement …

on our progress as an organisation. In service of the escalating climate emergency, we have made an important decision – to renounce fossil fuel advertising, becoming the first major global news organisation to institute an outright ban on taking money from companies that extract fossil fuels.https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/jun/03/canned-hunting-lions-bred-slaughter

The End of ‘Canned’ Lion Hunting May Be in Sight

How a film-based campaign is trying to stop a cruel industry.




The documentary Blood Lions exposes South Africa’s controversial “canned” lion hunting industry. In canned hunts, captive-bred, often hand-reared lions are confined in enclosed spaces on private hunting reserves, guaranteeing marksmen easy trophy heads in exchange for fees of up to $50,000. With approximately 8,000 “ranch” lions to draw on, South Africa’s hunt operators can make a fortune.

Ian Michler, who was a lead character in the film, talked to National Geographic about Blood Lions last July when it debuted in Durban, South Africa. The film has since been viewed in 185 countries and territories. More than 50 curated screenings have been held at film festivals and in parliaments and meetings of special interest groups, and this year, Blood Lions will be shown at every major tourism conference in Europe and Africa.

Building off the film, Michler and the team are conducting a global campaign aimed at ending captive breeding, canned hunts, and other exploitative activities involving lions and other large predators.

Australia became the first country, in February 2015, to ban imports of lion trophies, followed by France in November. That month, Blood Lions was shown in the European Parliament, spurring the governments of Finland, Italy, and Spain to pledge to hold their own parliamentary screenings, with a number of other countries likely to follow suit.



A discussion of the legal responses to exotic pet ownership should begin with the motivations that spur such regulations. Over the last decade the regulation of exotic pets has increased dramatically. These regulations have come as a response to three primary concerns: public health, public safety, and animal welfare. Three Reasons for Banning Private Possession of Exotic Animals , Animal Protection Institute, at http://www.api4animals.org/1001.htm (revised May 21, 2001). Public health refers to the epidemiological risks of exotic pet ownership. Public safety refers to the risks of attacks and trauma associated with such ownership. Animal welfare refers to the mistreatment suffered by wild animals kept as pets, be it physical abuse, malnutrition, or neglect.



Not surprisingly, exotic animals frequently carry exotic diseases. In the spring of 2003, an outbreak of monkeypox occurred throughout the Midwest among individuals exposed to prairie dogs. Centers for Disease Control, Update: Multistate Outbreak of Monkeypox --- Illinois , Indiana, Kansas , Missouri , Ohio , and Wisconsin , 2003 , Mortality & Morbidity Wkly. Rep. 52(27), 642-646 (July 11, 2003), available at 

 http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5227a5.htm .

This outbreak caused the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to severely restrict the rodents as pets. 21 C.F.R. § 1240.63 (2004) . The monkeypox problem also spurred several states to establish further regulations of exotic pets.

For example, in Indiana, where at least seven residents contracted the disease, the state Board of Animal Health considered permanently banning the animals as pets, though as of the time of this writing no such regulations were in place yet. Diana Penner, Indiana Weighing Exotic Pets Rules; Monkeypox Cases Prompt Animal Health Board to Look at Limits on Sales, Distribution , Indianapolis Star , Sept. 8, 2003, at 1B.

The West Virginia legislature’s recent creation of an animal health control board to oversee exotic pets is directly attributable to the monkeypox scare from pet prairie dogs. Kris Wise, All Not Welcome in Wild, Wonderful West Virginia; Lawmakers Want Board to Monitor Exotic Pets in State Legislature , Charleston Daily Mail (West Virginia), Mar. 12, 2004, at P6A.

An outbreak of tularemia has also been attributed to commercially traded prairie dogs. Abdu F. Azad, Prairie Dog: Cuddly Pet or Trojan Horse ? , Emerg. Infect. Dis. 10(3), ¶1 (Mar. 2004), available at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol10no3/04-0045.htm .

Rodents are not the only dangerous exotic animals kept as pets. Ninety percent of reptiles carry salmonella, which can be transferred to humans through feces.

The CDC estimates that every year 70,000 people contract salmonella from pet reptiles. Healthy Pets, Health People , Centers for Disease Control, at http://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/animals/reptiles.htm , (last reviewed December 22, 2003).

Macaque monkeys, who are increasingly kept as pets, frequently carry Cercopithecine herpesvirus 1, also known as B virus. The virus is mostly harmless in monkeys but can be fatal in humans. Eighty percent of untreated humans who contract B virus die from the infection. B Virus , National Center for Infectious Diseases, at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/diseases/bvirus.htm .

Scientists warn that the increase in the trade in non-human primates, including macaques, could create “an emerging infectious disease threat in the United States.” Stephanie R. Ostrowski et al., B-virus from Pet Macaque Monkeys: An Emerging Threat in the United States ? , Emerg. Infect. Dis. 4(1), ¶ 16 (Jan.-Mar. 1998), available at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/eid/vol4no1/ostrowsk.htm .  

The risk of zoonotic diseases (those that can be transmitted from animals to humans) from exotic animals is of special importance because of the fact that they are non-native.

While the diseases may be somewhat harmless in their natural context, their introduction into populations that have not evolved to be resistant poses special dangers. As mentioned above, B virus is harmless in monkeys, yet fatal in humans.

The outbreak of monkeypox in prairie dogs (and subsequently in humans) was traced back to giant Gambian rats imported from Africa. While the disease was balanced in its original environment, its introduction into a new context caused it to spread among unprepared species.

Additionally, since many exotic pets live in dirty and stressful conditions, they are more likely to contract and transmit diseases like salmonella. Baby turtles, considered cuter and more pet-worthy, are more likely to have salmonella bacteria than adult turtles.

The ways humans interact with their companion animals also poses special disease problems in the context of exotics. Specifically, kissing or hugging bacteria-covered animals can easily transmit pathogens through the mouth, or through scratches by sharp-clawed animals.

The hygiene practices required for exotic pets are much stricter than those associated with domestic animals like cats and dogs, and many owners fail to understand the extra precautions necessary to avoid diseases. For a further discussion of these issues, see Bridget M. Kuehn, Wildlife Pets Create Ethical, Practical Challenges for Veterinarians , Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, available at http://www.avma.org/onlnews/javma/jul04/040715d.asp (July 15, 2004).

Despite the epidemiological risks associated with exotic pets, they are not the main impetus for regulations. Rather, public safety concerns about animal attacks can be more of a motivation for lawmakers to restrict ownership of exotic pets.


Whereas the public health concern revolves around diseases, the public safety concern revolves around actual physical attacks by exotic pets. The animals of concern for public safety are somewhat different from those of concern for public health. The latter concerns rodents, reptiles, and other “diseased” animals, while the former concerns primarily big cats and other “dangerous” animals.

Of course, the question of what constitutes a dangerous animal is an open one. In Rhoades v. City of Battle Ground , exotic pet owners challenged on equal protection grounds an ordinance that banned exotic pets, yet allowed dangerous dogs under certain conditions. Rhoades v. City of Battle Ground , 63 P.3d 142 (Wash. Ct. App. 2002).

The court, in upholding the ordinance, found a rational relationship between the regulation and the public interest in preventing exotic pet attacks. Id . at 147-48. For a further discussion of this issue, see the equal protection section below. This case demonstrates the existence of a legitimate state interest in preventing attacks by captive wild animals, and it is precisely this interest that most often spurs regulation of exotic pets.

Regulations of wild animal possession frequently come in the wake of attacks by pets. For example, in North Carolina, where there are no statewide laws governing exotic pet ownership, the Surry County board of commissioners recently banned big cats, non-native venomous reptiles, nonhuman primates, and wolves after a 10 year old boy and a 14 year old girl were mauled by captive tigers in separate incidents.

Sherry Wilson Youngquist, Surry County OKs Ban On Exotic Pets , Winston-Salem Journal , Mar. 16, 2004, at B2. Similarly, Harris County, Texas instituted regulations for possession of a variety of wild animals after “a spate of maulings and attacks by exotic pets.” Steve Brewer, New Rules Are Put to Test in Seizure of Pet Cougar , Houston Chronicle , Dec. 2, 2000, at A35.

These public safety concerns generally have to do with the unpredictability of wild animals. The United States Department of Agriculture warns that such animals can become agitated in unfamiliar circumstances: “Some owners take their animals into inappropriate public places and situations, such as schools, parks, and shopping malls.

Because of these animals' potential to kill or severely injure both people and other animals, an untrained person should not keep them as pets. Doing so poses serious risks to family, friends, neighbors, and the general public.” Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, U.S. Dep’t of Agric., Position Statement, Large Wild and Exotic Cats Make Dangerous Pets , Misc. Pub. No. 1560,  (2000), available at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/ac/position.html . A corollary danger exists even when wild animals do not “turn” on their owners; often the sheer size and strength of an animal can cause injury or death, even when she is “only playing.” Id .  

But human owners are not the only ones at risk. Captive wild animals themselves are frequently victims of neglect and abuse.


Human-centered worries about disease and attacks are far more likely than animal welfare to be the impetus for laws banning or restricting possession of exotic animals.

Though nearly all exotic pet laws mention animal welfare as a rationale, it is not clear how much this concern actually influences their implementation. Nevertheless, animal welfare groups are occasionally able to sufficiently publicize the atrocities suffered by captive wild animals to puncture the speciesism of state legislatures, local councils, and enforcement agencies.

In one recent horrific incident in California, wildlife officials raided the home of a private breeder to discover 90 tiger carcasses, “including big cats that had been tied to car bumpers and starved cubs in a freezer.”

In May 2004, officials seized dozens of big cats, including lions, tigers, and leopards, who were malnourished, underweight, and generally in poor condition. When The Fund for Animals took over care for these animals, the daily expense was $500, clearly well beyond the capabilities of most exotic pet owners. Seema Mehta, After Ordeal, New Sanctuary Sure to Get the Aye of the Tigers , Los Angeles Times , June 11, 2004, at B6.

Because they are by definition less domesticated, wild animals have needs that far exceed their owners’ capabilities. Minnesota’s recent law prohibiting possession of exotic animals seems to have been motivated, at least in part, by animal welfare concerns. Just a few months before the law’s passage, four tigers were found dead at a Minnesota breeding facility. Minnesota Passes Law Against Keeping Dangerous Animals as Pets , Int’l Fund for Animal Welfare, at http://www.ifaw.org/ifaw/general/default.aspx?oid=96023 (June 2, 2004).

Many exotic animals are imported, often illegally, resulting in severe trauma, injury, and death. In one incident, a man attempted to smuggle 44 exotic birds into Miami strapped to his legs. Monica Engebretson et al., 

The Dirty Side of the Exotic Animal Pet Trade , Animal Issues 34(2),  1 (Summer 2003), available at http://www.api4animals.org/1563.htm . The Humane Society estimates that 80 percent of wild caught birds die during capture and transport, and puts the total animal death toll in the millions. Humane Society, Pets Aren’t Wild , All Animals 4(3),  8 (Fall 2002), available at http://www.hsus.org/ace/15548 .

In 1998, 2 million reptiles were imported into the U.S., the majority of which died within their first year of captivity. Engebretson, supra , at  28, 31.

Given these health, safety, and welfare interests, governments have sought to regulate and limit the private possession of exotic pets. But who has the authority to regulate this issue? What can be done at the federal, state, and local levels? What are the options for the substantive content of such regulations?

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