Prevent Illegal Wildlife Trade

The illegal wildlife trade is one of the largest threats to wildlife after destruction of their habitat. When most people think of the illegal wildlife trade, they think of ivory, rhino horn, and tiger skins. While this does make up a large part of the illegal harvest, smaller animals like reptiles, birds, and fish can also be threatened when they are captured for the pet trade. Making smart choices about the type and source of pet you choose can help reduce threats to wildlife.

What Kind of Pet is Right for You?

Having a pet can be a rewarding experience; however, it is also a huge responsibility. Being a responsible pet owner begins before the animal ever comes home with you.

The first step to becoming a responsible pet owner is planning and research. Pets should never be an impulse buy. Carefully select a pet that is suited to your home and lifestyle.

Domestic pets include animals such as domesticated dogs, cats, small mammals (e.g. mice, rabbits, ferrets, and hamsters), some birds, and aquarium fish. Exotic pets include animals like non-domesticated dog and cat species (such as wolves, foxes, and ocelots), parrots, and most reptiles.

Some of the exotic animals at the Zoo may look adorable, but they don’t make good pets. Some examples of Minnesota Zoo animals that are threatened by the illegal pet trade are tortoises and parrots.

Responsible ownership includes providing a safe environment for the animal’s life. For some exotic animals such as turtles and parrots, this might mean you need to care for them for 30 years or more. In addition, caring for exotic pets is often more challenging. Make sure you know what you are buying and the needs, time commitment, cost, and space a pet will require as it grows older and larger.

To help you find a pet that fits your lifestyle and doesn’t contribute to the illegal pet trade, use this Best Bets for Pets wallet card.

Where to Find Your Pet

Once you have determined that you can provide proper care and know what to expect, then please obtain your pet responsibly. Exotic pets may either come from the wild or a breeder. It often requires more research to learn the origin and to make sure you are not harming wild populations. If you decide that you want an exotic pet, make sure you acquire it from a reputable dealer, and make sure it was bred in human care. Anyone selling mammals must be licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture. A good dealer should be very knowledgeable about the species, provide you with a lot of information, provide references, and ask you several questions about your lifestyle. A great choice is adopting surrendered or abandoned pets. You may be able to find rescued animals at your local animal shelter or herpetological society.

Minimizing Harm Pets Do to Local Wildlife

If you can no longer care for a pet, do not release it into the wild. The best option for dealing with an unwanted pet is to find someone new to care for it. Contact your local animal shelter, rescue group, or herpetological society (for reptiles and amphibians)—they will usually try to help you place your pet in a new home. You can also contact local science teachers and nature centers.

Pets that are released, or escape, into the wild are not prepared for life outside of human care and they can also be a danger to local wildlife. They could become invasive species—species that cause damage after being introduced to a new environment. They can cause problems such as increased predation, disease, or even extinction of local species.

For example, Florida has many problems with invasive species that were previously exotic pets. Researchers believe Burmese pythons, one of the largest snakes in the world, were once kept as pets but released into the wild when they became too big. Burmese pythons are responsible for a decline in the bobcat, rabbit, and opossum populations. In Minnesota, non-native red swamp crayfish aggressively compete with other species for food, and their burrowing habits cause damage to water control structures like dams. Scientists think they spread through the release of pets.

Additionally, outdoor pets and especially domestic cats and feral cats have a negative impact on wildlife.  Feral cats are those living in the wild that descended from domesticated individuals. Scientists estimate that free-ranging domestic cats kill billions of native birds and mammals every year. Cats are instinctive hunters and are likely to kill many birds and small mammals even if they are well-fed by humans indoors. You can help our local wildlife by keeping your pet cat indoors and not feeding feral cats.