Caring for and Healing the Earth

Wild Animals & Birds

The Trade of Wild Animals: A Serious Problem

By Alis B. Kennedy, Ph.D.
September 27, 2002

The trade in live wildlife includes the exotic pet trade (e.g. birds, reptiles, non-human primates), biomedical research and teaching (e.g. non-human primates, mammals), stocking of public or private farms and hunting ranches (e.g. big cats, rhino), zoos and safari parks (e.g. elephants, giraffes, big cats), and food (e.g. reptiles, fish). The trade in wildlife body parts and products includes traditional medicine (e.g. tiger bones and penises, bear gall bladders), food (e.g. ape bushmeat, bear paws), ornamental objects (e.g. elephant ivory jewelry, rhino horn dagger), and exotic fur and leathers (e.g. fur coats, crocodile and alligator shoes and purses). For the purpose of this article, the author will concentrate on the exotic pet trade with some emphasis on the trade in wildlife body parts and products.

The pet trade industry is a frequently ignored form of animal abuse, resulting in the inhumane treatment of billions of animals annually and threatening the survival of many species. Nevertheless, it does not stop people from selling and buying animals, especially endangered species born in the wild who were kidnapped from their natural habitat to often live in deplorable conditions in captivity. According to Interpol, the global illegal wildlife trade is, as of 2002, worth $6 billion (USD) a year. In Brazil alone, the Brazilian National Network Against the Trafficking of Wild Animals reported that poachers are taking an estimated 38 million birds, mammals and reptiles from the wild each year; most of them are sold to foreign collectors at enormous profits. The Born Free Foundation stated that the “illegal trade in wildlife is second only to the illegal drug trade in value, recently overtaking arms” (Born Free, p.2). An article from The New York Times magazine indicated that, “in recent years, only illegal drugs have outstripped the cash value of the living and dead wildlife that sluices through a black market toward trophy hunters, pet enthusiasts, and devotees of traditional medicine” (Webster, 1997, p. 28).

With the busy lifestyle of Westerners, many people do not have the time to care for traditional domestic animals like dogs; instead they keep such animals as birds, fish and reptiles, in the mistaken belief that they require low maintenance and less commitment from their human companions. Some people will go to extremes to obtain the most original “pet”, for boosting their ego and to show to friends, which in turn fuels the illegal collection and smuggling of the most endangered animals from the planet. Others, such as wildlife collectors, are under the illusion that they are acting in the interests of science or conservation by studying or attempting to breed species they have collected, which may lead to inbreeding or mating two different species. One example is the breeding of a lion and a tiger that produces a hybrid called Liger, an unusual looking animal.

What is not very well known by the general public is how these wild animals are taken from their natural habitats and how they end up as “pets”. For wild birds in general, more than a few million of them are trapped and shipped to Western countries, as inexpensively as possible to maximize profits, as part of the lucrative international bird trade. For example, an endangered Lear’s Macaw parrot is worth thousands of American dollars. The methods of capturing these birds cause shock, injuries and death to countless birds each year. If an exotic bird manages to survive capture, the chance for her/him to survive the trip is very slim. After being force fed, the birds are often crammed by the hundreds into a single crate, with no food, water or space to move around in. It is not unusual to have entire shipments of birds dead on arrival. According to the Born Free Foundation up to 9 out of 10 wild birds die before they reach their destination. The profits made by such trade are huge for the wild pet dealers, despite the high mortality rate. Wild-caught birds are usually social creatures that mate for life and live in large flocks. Being alone in a cage causes great stress when living with humans in a captive environment. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) controls international trade in exotic animals. Such species such as cockatoos, lovebirds, macaws, parrots, and parakeets are listed in the appendices of this Convention. These species are not suitable as “pets”. If birds must be kept, domesticated budgies, cockatiels and ring-necked parakeets, which are not listed in the CITES Convention, as they are not endangered and/or threatened in their wild habitats, are more appropriate from a conservation standpoint.

The wild reptile’s method of capture and shipment for the pet trade is very similar to that of the wild birds. They too suffer from being caught in netting, chased, and captured by hand, grabbed, force fed and stuffed into sacks or crates. If they are “lucky” to survive the trip, many of them are unable to adapt to captivity, dying from stress, injury, disease, neglect, and incorrect husbandry, such as poor feeding, heating and humidity. Approximately 90% of all reptiles carry and shed salmonella in their feces. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Salmonellosis associated with exotic pets has been described as one of the most important public health diseases affecting more people and animals than any other single disease.

The two great apes that are the most popular “pets” are the chimpanzee and orang-utan. They live long lives (50 years or more) with a long period of dependency on their mothers. Quite often, adult great apes are killed for the money-hungry poachers and their bosses to supply meat to the employees of logging and mining companies. They are also exploited as a “delicacy”. The orphans of these great apes are frequently taken while still clinging to their dead mothers to be sold as pets, just because they are so cute, while their mothers end up as bushmeat. In 1995, the price for a baby chimpanzee was approximately $60.00 (USD). In general, according to an article written by Richardson, for each ape that ends up as a pet, more than 50 chimpanzees have died or were killed. Orang-utans are not better off. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) between 1995 and 1999 an estimated 1,000 orang-utans may have been imported to Taiwan for the lucrative pet trade business. WWF believes that 5 to 6 orang-utans die for every baby that is traded; the Orang-utan Foundation International estimates that 6 to 8 mothers die for each baby sold as a pet. Even dead they are still profitable as a skull can be sold as a souvenir for up to $70.00 (USD) in Kalimantan, Indonesia. In the early 1990’s, a Taiwanese television show featured a baby orang-utan as a pet. Shortly after, up to 2,000 baby orang-utans were captured and shipped to Taiwan for the pet trade. It has been estimated that over 6,000 adults were killed and 4,000 captured babies died to supply the demand for 2,000 pets.

Non-human primates withstand extreme physiological and physical trauma in trying to adapt in a captive environment. These primates require consistency and stability and are capable of causing severe injuries to other pets and humans. They can receive and transmit respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases from humans. During the first year of captivity many die due to improper medical care. In addition, they are strong willed if they focus on something they want, and are particularly strong. As they mature, they become increasingly more burdensome to maintain. Their captors find it difficult to consistently provide humane conditions, thus leading to abuse, neglect (ending up in cages, confined to a basement and/or chained) and ultimately to abandonment or even killed.

Other popular animals, other than birds, reptiles and non-human primates caught in the illegal pet trade are tigers, lions, bobcats, cougars, lynx, bears and even baby elephants. According to Rob Laidlaw, Director of Zoocheck Canada, an animal welfare organization, a person can buy, over the Internet, an adult tiger for as low as $100.00 (CdnD). Nikolovsky indicated, in an article, that a person can obtain a tiger cub for $200.00 or a black jaguar for $3,500.00 (CdnD) instead of visiting them at a local zoo.

Quite often, when people get bored with their “pets”, or the novelty has worn off, or caring for the animal has become too time consuming and/or costly, they will “dump” these animals at refuge centers, roadside zoos, circuses or simply let them loose in their neighborhoods. Most refuge centers will not take former exotic pets and, if they do, will euthanize the animals. Roadside zoos are usually non-accredited and are ill equipped to provide for them. Circuses are notorious for abusing most of their animals, beating them “into submission” and painful mutilations such as declawing and tooth removal. Many exotic animals, when abandoned in their new surroundings, displace or prey on native animals through predation and competition for food. They often introduce disease and hybridization and some of them may destroy native habitats. By their very nature, exotic wild animals are dangerous. Many pets, children and adults have been mauled or killed by big cats, bitten by non-human primates, and asphyxiated by snakes. The same applies to former domesticated pets such as dogs and cats that become feral. They kill enormous numbers of birds and rodents and other native animals, and are also a threat to small children. Feral hogs that dig up the ground and destroy habitats in their search for food are also a problem.

There is another side of the trade of endangered species: the trade in wildlife body parts and products. As previously indicated, this particular trade includes traditional medicine, food, ornamental objects, and exotic furs and leathers. Methods used to capture and kill wild animals whose parts are destined for the trade are disgustingly inhumane. Animals are habitually trapped or snared, poisoned, hacked or bludgeoned to death. Their parts are often removed before they are dead. Rhinos and sharks are often still alive when their horns and fins are removed, then left to die a painful death only to rot and drown. Some people will obtain live exotic animals and raise them for “parts”. Laidlaw reports that, at an exotic animal auction in the United States, he overheard a man saying that he wanted to buy a tiger for the meat and hide. The hide alone can sell from $1,000.00 to $3,000.00 (USD) and more.

Tiger and elephant body parts are highly prized for their use in traditional Chinese medicine and poachers can earn huge sums from the trade. However, if the current rate of poaching continues, these animals will be extinct in the foreseeable future. In Cambodia, animal body parts are sold for traditional medicine. An elephant’s tail sells for $200.00 (USD), a piece of an elephant’s skin (half the size of a business card) for 30 (USD) cents, and tigers’ bones at $1.50 (USD) for 10 grams. The latest practice in Cambodia’s remote jungles is to shoot a monkey for bait and mount the body on a landmine; a tiger will leap on the primate and detonate the mine. The mine will destroy the underbelly but leaves the skin and the bulk of the tiger intact. The majority of the body parts of the feline are used for traditional medicine. All that suffering and killing, despite the fact that there is no scientific evidence for the effectiveness of these animals’ body parts in treating illness.

The illegal commercialization of Bushmeat is a very serious problem in Central and Western Africa. The chain of distribution begins with the logging companies who hire employees to buy Bushmeat from hunters, to whom they supply guns and ammunition. The meat is cut up and smoked, then inserted between logs on logging trucks. The interior railway system carries the meat to towns and cities, and the city markets sell to international distributors. In addition to the traditional paid hunters, professional poachers, and logging and mining company employees also participate in the killing of animals. For many “elite” individuals the meat is not simply a source of protein, but is considered a delicacy. It is estimated that the illegal Bushmeat trade is worth $50 million (USD) annually.

The Humane Society of the United States reported that 965 African and 39 Asian elephants were poached from January 1, 2000 to May 21, 2002. The ivory seizures were 2,542 for numbers of tusks, 14,648 for numbers of ivory pieces or objects, with a total weight of 5,953.4 kilograms. It is estimated that poaching is responsible for the decline of 80% of Africa’s black rhino population in the last two decades. Most of these animal products are used to make jewelry and trinkets.

The endangered Chiru antelopes have extra fine and soft furs that are used to manufacture luxurious fashion garments. Supermodels and high-fashion designers promote the sale of shawls made of Chiru fur that are said to cost $5,000.00 (USD) each, thus encouraging the widespread butchery of these antelopes along the China-Tibet border. In some countries fur coats are back in fashion. Nowadays, the reason that most people wear fur is to display their wealth and/or status in society. Some animal rights persons will spray paint on people’s fur coats to demonstrate their repulsion. However, this is a meaningless gesture, as the person who had her/his coat sprayed will probably acquire another one. This means that other defenseless animals will be sacrificed. In addition, this will only make those who are targeted averse to any efforts made by legitimate animal rights agencies to stop the carnage. Instead, educating people about how these animals are caught and killed might be the best deterrent to the purchase of natural fur. Considering today’s high technology that can produce “fur-like” garments, it is unethical to kill animals only to wear their dead skin that was not meant for human animals.

There are alternatives to “owning” wild animals, still keeping them a part of your life without supporting the wild animal pet trade. The following are some of many suggestions: if you feel you must see live wildlife and cannot venture into the wild to see them on their own terms, visit a local accredited zoo and spend time near the animals that you particularly like, get to know the animal as an individual, also talk with zoo keepers about your favorite animals. If possible volunteer at an accredited zoo or animal sanctuary/rehabilitation center either locally or abroad. Consider becoming a “foster parent” at a local accredited zoo or at one of the many national and international organizations that have such a program. Learn more about the pet trade and other similar problems and educate others about this issue; knowledge is power. Do not patronize businesses that are involved in the trade and exploitation of wild animals in any of its aspects: animal auctions, animal fairs, circuses, roadside zoos, movies and television programs using wild animals. If you know of an animal being abused or living in deplorable conditions do not attempt to buy the animal. Instead, call your local Humane Society or any other appropriate animal control agency. Please, for the animal’s sake and for you and your loved ones’ health and safety do not buy exotic animals as “pets”.

With all the domestic animals available to choose from as pets, why would a person want to live with a wild and potentially dangerous animal? If you love a specific wild species that much why would you keep her/him chained in your backyard or caged in your basement? The acquisition of such animals encourages the prolonged exploitation of the wild population that is pushing some species toward extinction. Wildlife dealers thrive on “sympathy buyers”, people who buy wild animals out of pity for the animal, ignorant of the fact that this merely encourages more animals to be removed from their natural habitats. Do not forget, as soon as a wild animal is purchased, the dealer will obtain another one for sale; that is the pet trade business. By demanding that wild animals be left in their natural environments, the want for exotic pets will end. Wild animals living in captivity endure insufferable boredom and psychological deprivation through human ignorance. They are denied the companionship of their own species and access to their natural environments. The physical and psychological "torture" that captivity inflicts on wild animals cannot be justified by the personal pleasure and ego gratification of their "owners" who try to make pets out of animals that will never be pets.





The material on this page is copyright © by the original author/artist/photographer. This website is created, maintained & copyright © by Walter Muma
Please respect this copyright and ask permission before using or saving any of the content of this page for any purpose

Thank you for visiting!