The Wildlife Position Paper deals with the many
concerns of protecting wildlife native to the U.S. as well as
prohibiting the private ownership of native wild animals and birds.
While the U.S. has enacted laws to protect native wildlife populations
in their natural habitats and to prevent the commercial exploitation of
the majority of native wildlife species, this protection fails to extend
to the wildlife of other countries.
The focus on human health and safety concerns
has resulted in some federal and state regulations to govern the trade
and transport of specific large exotic animal species considered to pose
a threat to the public. But little attention has been paid to smaller
species, though their numbers are far greater, because most are not
generally classified as dangerous animals.
However, these animals tend to have more in
common with large exotics than companion animals in terms of the
challenges they face in captive environments and in the wild as a result
of wild capture and trade.
Whether dealing with a captive-raised tiger or
sugar glider, the fact is they are both wild animals living in
conditions unnatural to their physical, social or environmental needs.
Moreover, the trade in exotic animals in the U.S. increases the risk of
disease transmission to native species and can have other, more
far-reaching effects on the environment.
Large profits from the trade in wildlife, as
well as the pet industry are largely responsible for popularizing exotic
‘pets’ and bringing exotic animals to market via pet stores,
unregulated trafficking and animal markets, and over the Internet. As
such, the problems of displacement, overpopulation, abuse, cruelty and
abandonment do crossover with companion animal issues.
We also need to take protection aspects into
account for “naturalized” species—those non-native wild animals that
have been released or escaped and are successfully breeding and
free-living in the wild here in the U.S.
Many exotic species common in the pet trade are
endangered in the wild due to the pressures of habitat loss and trapping
for the pet trade. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service,
the profitability of the trade in wildlife is second only to the
blackmarket trade in illegal drugs, both of which operate via the same
individuals and infrastructure involving a large criminal network,
corruption of government officials, a lack of enforcement of existing
animal protections and supply and demand.
If we are truly going to change public
perception about the keeping of wild animals as ‘pets’ in captivity, and
instead, garner support for conservation programs to preserve them in
their natural habitats, it’s important that we begin by acknowledging
them for what they are: wild animals in captive situations. One
of the primary reasons that these animals fall through the cracks of
animal protection laws is that this distinction has not been clearly
made in the minds of the public or legislators, particularly in regard
to birds and other small exotic species. Since they are often classified
as ‘exotic’ they do not get covered under pet shop or companion animal
laws; and because they are not considered ‘large or dangerous’ they are
not regarded in legislation covering wild or dangerous animals.
Therefore, to effectively represent protection
interests for the wide variety of animals that need to be covered, it is
crucial that the humane community first work to standardize and utilize
accurate terminology to identify their status.
Animals kept as companions generally include
domesticated dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, and rodents, as well as
non-domesticated species such as birds and reptiles. Increasingly,
however, native and non-native wildlife species (exotics) are
wild-caught, captive-bred, or imported into the U.S. and sold as “pets.”
These captive wild animals include non-native wild-caught animals who
are imported into the U.S. and sold as pets, as well as native and
non-native exotic species that are captive-bred in the U.S. specifically
for the pet trade. Indeed, considerable debate remains about which, if
any, may even be considered appropriate for human companionship.
Addressing the needs of exotics presents a
special challenge to the animal community, lawmakers and the public at
large. The wide range of species to be covered, each with unique
physical and behavioral characteristics and specialized care needs,
contributes to the difficulties of tackling the problems.
However, in order to develop a comprehensive
public policy relating to the concerns of captive wild animals, we might
look to breaking out groups of species separately as a starting point
for recommended action (e.g., birds, exotic cats, wolves and
wolf-hybrids, reptiles, elephants, marine mammals, ungulates and equines
[deer, zebra, etc.], small mammals [prairie dogs, skunks, hedgehogs,
Undomesticated birds, reptiles, hedgehogs,
monkeys, exotic cats, and other species are not suitable as companion
animals. The pet industry’s promotion of these animals as “pets” has led
to a burgeoning market that has doomed millions of them to captive
living conditions that cannot possibly address their behavioral and
psychological needs. Wild animals belong in the wild—not in our homes,
basements or backyards.
As a result, the numbers of these animals ending
up at shelter and sanctuary facilities, being confiscated from
unsuitable, unsafe, or inhumane conditions, released, abandoned or
escaping, is rapidly escalating.
State and local governments must seriously
address the impact of undomesticated exotics with respect to their
welfare and the impact on human health and join with the animal advocacy
community to achieve the following legislative objectives.
Significantly strengthen and enforce the
regulations governing the importation, breeding and keeping of
undomesticated exotics for human companionship
Enact and enforce strict penalties for
chronic violations of facility and animal care standards by commercial
importers, breeders, brokers, and individuals
Prohibit the keeping of exotics whose
spatial, social, and behavioral needs cannot be met in captivity and
strictly regulate the keeping of animals whose care requirements are
extremely difficult for the average caretaker to maintain
Discourage the practice of keeping
undomesticated exotics in classrooms, human care facilities, and other
establishments for the purposes of entertainment, exhibit or education
where the animals’ welfare is not the exclusive priority
Formulate non-lethal solutions for the
placement of (1) captive wild animals who become displaced as a result
of regulatory legislation, (2) surplus animals from zoos, exhibits, and
performing venues, (3) wild animals seized from private individuals
Address the need for shelter and sanctuary facilities to accommodate captive wild animals who become displaced
While humans have “companionized” certain
species by forcing them into the role of companion animals, in theory,
the needs of all non-domesticated captive wild animals (both native and
non-native) regardless of their size are compromised simply by captive
living situations. Even smaller species such as finches may still
exhibit stereotypic behavior that is accepted as normal in captivity but
is abnormal behavior in the wild and a direct result of the stressors
While some native and non-native wildlife
species (e.g., some birds such as parakeets, cockatiels, finches, and
lovebirds, some reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals) may be
successfully adapted to captive living situations, the commonly accepted
care standards are woefully inadequate. However, the psychological and
behavioral needs of other native and non-native wildlife species (e.g.,
non-human primates, wolf hybrids, exotic cats, tigers, lions, large
birds) cannot be met under captive living conditions.