- Peter Laufer Forbidden Creatures: Inside The World Of Animal Smuggling And Exotic PetsBinding : Gebundene Ausgabe, Label : Lyons Pr, Publisher : Lyons Pr, NumberOfItems : 1, medium : Gebundene Ausgabe, numberOfPages : 250, publicationDate : 2010-06-01, authors : Peter Laufer, ISBN : 1599219263
THROUGH Marie Sigaud, Kyoto University
It only concerns a few dozen species, while the trade in wild animals (also known as exotic pets) represents hundreds of thousands of animals each year in France alone, and constitutes a market of several. billion euros at European level.
Their plight, however, attracts much less attention from the media, the general public and even the authorities.
A lightly regulated trade
In France, certain brands specializing in exotic pets offer for sale a large number of species, some of which are taken from the wild – such as the Sakalava gecko (Blaesodactylus sakalava), endemic to Madagascar. For around 500 euros, it is thus possible to buy a juvenile green python (Morelia viridis), directly from Indonesia. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has, however, warned of the impact of trade in this species, popular in terrariums, on wild populations.
The list of species available for sale, more or less legally, is very long. Take the example of reptiles. Almost a third of existing species, ie more than 3,000, can be purchased on the Internet, regardless of their protection status or the fragility of wild populations.
In France, the decree of October 8, 2018 sets the general rules for keeping non-domestic animals. There is a list of species subject to a declaration obligation or requiring a certificate of capacity.
Currently, a simple declaration of detention is sufficient to own up to 75 ring-necked parakeets (Psittacula krameri), yet considered invasive species in Europe, or up to 10 spurred tortoises (Centrochelys sulcata), a species classified as endangered by the IUCN Red List.
But this decree does not set any binding rule or minimum requirement as to the conditions of detention of individuals. In addition to the impact on biodiversity, the development of this flourishing trade raises the question, which is now increasingly legitimate, of the suffering of exotic animals held in captivity.
An often unsuitable environment
However, keeping exotic animals in captivity in good conditions requires both appropriate facilities, in-depth knowledge of the species – its behavior and the characteristics of its natural environment – but also a significant investment of time.
While zoos are supposed to have adequate facilities and qualified staff, individuals, on the other hand, generally have much more limited means. In the vast majority of cases, they are unable to provide an environment that meets the basic needs of the animals.
Reproducing the foraging behavior of exotic species in captivity is complex. For starters, feeding is not just about eating food, but also includes foraging, which is an important activity for many species. In the wild, most parrots spend between 4 and 8 hours a day looking for and consuming their food against less than an hour a day in captivity.
Providing them with suitable food is also essential.
For example, the flying phalangers (Petaurus breviceps), small marsupials native to Oceania, are very popular as pets, especially in North America and Japan. In the wild, they feed on insects and vegetable gum, but are most often fed on fruits in captivity, causing dental infections and metabolic disturbances.
One of the most common reasons for consultation for reptiles and amphibians is the appearance of osteodystrophy (metabolic bone disease), bone deformity that can lead to spontaneous fractures, frequently caused by inadequate nutrition.
The physiological needs of amphibians and reptiles are very complex and often unrecognized. For example, most amphibians require a controlled level of humidity, a diverse environment and the provision of live prey. This requires installations that are sometimes expensive and not always set up in private homes.
The royal python (royal python), one of the most popular snakes in specialist pet stores, is touted as an ideal docile species for « beginners » in terrarium keeping. These animals can live for several decades and quickly exceed one meter in length (from the age of 2 or 3 years). Professionals in the sector offer terrariums « adapted » to this species, which in reality do not even allow them to extend their body, maintaining the idea that a snake lives coiled on itself. Lack of space and restricted movement are the lot of many other exotic species held by individuals.
In the absence of an aviary, birds are kept in cages that do not allow them to fly, or sometimes even to spread their wings. Many of them are deprived of their ability to fly by cutting the wing feathers (or more rarely by splitting, irreversible cutting of the base of the wing) often used to minimize the risk of the wing escaping. people.
In their natural environment, many species live in groups. For these social animals, the possibility of interacting with congeners is an essential component of their behavioral repertoire.
For illustration, the gray of Gabon (Psittacus erythacus) is one of the most popular parrot species among individuals. This species lives in groups of up to 10,000 individuals, which involves complex social behaviors and very important cognitive abilities.
Thus, to keep a Gabonese gray in good conditions, it is recommended to have several individuals who can interact; to offer them various enrichments (or games) to be renewed every week, and to give them the possibility of swimming; and finally to interact at least 4 hours a day with the bird. Alone in a cage, bowl-fed, these animals suffer from a deadly lack of stimulation. The impossibility for these animals to express a basic behavioral repertoire generates intense psychic suffering.
Captivity at the origin of mental disorders
Sensory and emotional deprivations linked to an environment poor in stimulation are at the origin of metabolic disturbances, but also of “abnormal” behaviors assimilated to manifestations of post-traumatic stress.
These behaviors take various forms such as aggressive behaviors, excessive vocalizations, the development of stereotypies – invariable repetition of behavior without apparent function – or even self-mutilating behaviors.
For example, pecking (feather damaging behaviour) plumage is a form of self-harm very often seen in parakeets and parrots in captivity, which can be complicated by damage to the skin and muscles.
A trivialized suffering and mortality
The trade and keeping of wild pets goes hand in hand with the trivialization of animal suffering and a high death rate. Some researchers estimate that nearly 75% of reptiles die in their first year in a private home.
These figures are added to a very high mortality throughout the distribution chain: from collection in the wild, during transport – this is also valid for individuals from breeding – and up to arrival at an individual. For reptiles, a mortality of nearly 70% has been noted among certain “wholesalers” in the sector.
In 1992, it was estimated that for every 700,000 wild-collected birds that arrived in the United States alive each year, five times as many had died in the process. This trade represents a huge waste which, in addition to trivializing the suffering of these animals, has serious consequences on biodiversity and poses public health problems.
Based on this observation and the difficulty of offering adequate conditions of detention for most of these species, it is urgent to think about a change in the regulations.
List the salable species
At present in France, a long list of species is subject to the obligation of declaration or certificate of capacity. Thus, species absent from this list are not subject to any restriction.
While tens of thousands of species are available for sale on the Internet, this type of approach seems outdated. One step forward would consist in reversing the current logic by setting up a positive list which would specify a reduced number of species authorized to be held by individuals. It would be much easier for the authorities to control trade and for individuals to learn about these species and have the real means to take care of their animals. This solution, approved by many experts and associations, is already at work in some countries.
In Belgium, for example, 232 species of reptiles, 63 species of birds and 43 species of mammals are authorized for detention. In France, a first step in this direction was taken with the filing in January 2021 of an amendment for the creation of a positive list on the proposal of the association « Animal Code ».
Marie Sigaud, Postdoctoral research fellow, Kyoto University
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