One of the world's most senior reptile biologists warns that government failures to crack down on wild animal trade are resulting in global animal suffering, unchecked human disease, and degradation of wildlife. A major new article 'The Morality of the Reptile Pet Trade', published this month in the Journal of Animal Ethics, states that government regulatory inertia and trade-favouring policies are unscientific and damaging to animals, people and the environment.
The thought-provoking article compares the exotic pet trade to other industries and draws attention to the fact that exotic pet traders do not have to prove that their 'products' (live animals) are safe for consumers and the environment before marketing them. This is in stark contrast to other industries and a complete reversal of normal trade rules. The author uses the example of a child's cuddly toy that has to comply with a raft of safety standards before being brought to market compared to a live wild animal that can be delivered straight into the hands of a child having been subject to no checks whatsoever. A pet reptile can not only cause disease and injury to its keeper but can also pose a threat to the environment if released - and unlike cuddly toys, mobile phones or washing machines, live animal 'products' suffer too.
The author, Clifford Warwick, who has pioneered advanced concepts in reptile behaviour and welfare, states that reptiles are no less sensitive to pain and suffering than pet dogs. Reptiles as pets, however, are subjected to severe confinement and deprivation - conditions where the keeper would likely face prosecution if the animal were a dog or a cat.
Says author, Clifford Warwick:
"In my view, there is simply no reliable evidence or defensible argument to justify trading and keeping animals such as reptiles as pets. Indeed, there is a vast library that implies the practice should not be happening. Whilst the activities of sellers and keepers are predictably exploitative of these animals, the real problem arises because supposedly competent governmental authorities continuously fail to regard the overwhelming scientific evidence and rationale that warrants a ban on all commerce and private keeping of reptiles, among other wild animals."
The article also highlights the sad fact that gaining protection for wild animals from trade can take decades and cost the taxpayer a fortune. Often when restrictions on the trade in certain species are secured, traders simply move on to other species - starting the whole cycle again. Warwick points out that almost all governments adopt a bizarre approach to the trade in live animals where sellers are allowed extraordinary freedoms and those who wish to control trade are effectively "handcuffed by bureaucracy".
A welcome development, which would address many problems caused by the exotic pet trade, is the 'positive list' system - already adopted in Belgium and the Netherlands and under discussion in numerous other European countries. A positive list applies the normal regulations of other industries and requires that any animals proposed for trade must be independently proven safe on all counts before any trade commences. According to Warwick it is no surprise that animal traders fear the positive list, as it will end decades of trade-'mollycoddling' by government civil servants.