Saying "No" to Wild and "Exotic" Animals Sold as Pets


                              By Dr. Michael W. Fox 

Some people think it is great to own some exotic or wild animal, which they soon learn will never become a “pet” and often die in captivity with no local veterinary expertise available. This market, blindly sustained by people wanting to feel closer to “Nature” is actually destroying Nature: natural ecosystems plundered by wildlife poachers and “legal” collectors for the international market, and targeted species becoming increasingly endangered and, in many places, now extinct. America’s wild turtles/tortoises are notably in peril. from collectors and habitat reduction and degradation.

The international wildlife trade, tied in with sex and drug-trafficking cartels, is a Pandora’s box of potential zoonotic, animal-to-human diseases, the COVID-19 pandemic being one. Captive breeding of reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals for this international pet trade, often justified erroneously as species conservation, along with wildlife “harvesting”, should be outlawed. Either way, some escape or are deliberately released by owners or are surrendered to various animal sanctuaries when they are too much trouble or difficult to properly care for, notably long-lived parrots and snakes and various monkeys and wild cats including lions in some states still legal to own.. Those who are released can spread diseases to indigenous species, out-compete with them and disrupt natural ecosystems.

National and international prohibition is unlikely considering this is a multibillion- dollar industry enjoying government sanction and support in many countries. It is therefore up to us “consumers” to vote with our dollars and not purchase some “exotic” or wild animal. In the U.S. these include the Serval and Genet cats, Squirrel monkey, Fennec fox, Hedgehog, Kinkajou, Sugar Glider, Capybara, Tamandua (anteater), Piranha and Axolotl fish, Chinchilla, Hyacinth macaw, Wallaby, Alligator and Ball Python, to name a few. ( See for more details).

I wish that every state and national veterinary association would emulate the British Veterinary Association’s efforts to discourage owning wild and exotic animals and also provide information about the basic needs and proper care, too often lacking, of domesticated caged pets such as gerbils, hamsters, guineapigs and rabbits. To argue that there are educational benefits for children in purchasing wild and exotic animals is another rationalization of consumerism devoid of compassion and understanding. Stick to these tried and true cage and aquarium animals and check out your local animal shelters for animals waiting to be adopted into loving homes. The United States imported more than 30,000 whole bats and bat body parts from China over a recent five-year period, the non-profit conservation organization Center of Biological Diversity (CBD) told Newsweek. 9/29/20

The non-profit organization has published a report—which analyzed U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service data—documenting a “massive” wildlife trade that they say is fueling the risk of global pandemics. The report found that the U.S. imported nearly 23 million whole animals, animal body parts, animal samples and products made from bats, primates and rodents between the years 2010 and 2014—the most recent five-year-period for which data is available .According to the Living Planet 2020 report by the World Wide Fund for Nature there has been an average 68% decline in the world’s mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish since 1970.. (See

Investigation brings down flying squirrel traffickers

Acting on a tip from a concerned citizen, wildlife investigators uncovered a flying squirrel trafficking scheme that involved a dealer in Bushnell, Fla., who claimed illegally trapped squirrels had been bred in captivity. The man was among seven people charged in the scheme, in which some 3,600 flying squirrels and other protected species were illegally trapped and exported to Asia for the pet trade, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Full Story: NBC News (1020)

Salmonella Outbreaks Linked to Exotic Pets

The CDC is investigating Salmonella Muenster infections in 13 people from eight states, 10 of whom said they had been in contact with a bearded dragon. Also under investigation is an outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium that has infected 32 people in 17 states, and 16 of 23 who were interviewed after becoming ill reported contact with a pet hedgehog. Full Story: CNN (101)

A salmonellosis outbreak that has sickened at least 32 people, four of whom were hospitalized, in six Canadian provinces has been traced to pet hedgehogs, according to public health officials. Kissing or cuddling hedgehogs raises the risk of contracting salmonellosis, which can be particularly dangerous in children younger than 5, the Public Health Agency of Canada says. Full Story: CBC News (Canada) (12/1/2020)

World fails to Meet Every UN Biodiversity Goal

We have not met any of the 20 United Nations biodiversity targets agreed on by almost 200 nations in 2010 in Aichi, Japan. There are hopeful signs to build on: in the last ten years, the rate of deforestation has fallen globally by about a third, and good fisheries-management policies have paid dividends. And 44% of key biodiversity areas are now protected, compared with 29% 20 years ago. These must inspire us to make “a significant shift away from ‘business as usual’ across a broad range of human activities” heading into the next Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) summit, says the report. One area that is ripe for reform is government subsidies for harmful agriculture, fossil fuels and fishing practices. “We are still seeing so much more public money invested in things that harm biodiversity than in things that support biodiversity,” says David Cooper, the report’s lead author. Reference: Global Biodiversity Outlook report


The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service proposed a rule earlier this year that would require anyone involved in the handling of wild and exotic animals for exhibition to undergo training and that would set standards for environmental enrichment of all animals covered under the Animal Welfare Act. APHIS is accepting comments by mail and online through March 10. Full Story: AVMA News (2/14/23)

I am more encouraged by the British Veterinary Association, of which I am a member, publishing their policy position on the importation, captive-breeding and ownership of “exotic” pets: pets. This position statement includes an end to the import of wild-caught reptiles and amphibians for non-conservation reasons.Also as an Honor Roll member of the American Veterinary Medical Association I am calling for the AVMA to take a similar position. But so long as some veterinrians see exotic pets as a generator of income, this may not be soon forthcoming. Better for veterinarians with expertise in dealing with “exotic” animal health to engage in wildlife rescue, recovery, release and conservation