Monday, 25 June 2012

Exotic pets in captivity – the good and bad side

Panther Chameleon male

There is a definite attraction in keeping exotic pets but whilst there is a booming trade supplying these animals there is both a good and a very bad side to the business. What is positive about this is that many people really do love and care for the creatures they have in captivity, but this comes at the expense of all those millions that die after being captured in the wild and are kept and transported in very bad conditions. The ones that end up on sale are often a minority that survived, although many are captive bred which is fair enough.

The appeal of tropical and exotic animals is often because they are very colourful, unusual or just plain cute to look at. Chameleons come into all these categories. The number of people interested in these strange reptiles can be seen by the millions of views videos on Youtube get for the creatures. The Panther Chameleon (Furcifer pardalis) from Madagascar is one of the most popular species, coming as it does in dazzling shades of vibrant blue, brilliant red and vivid green. These strange reptiles have become so popular there is a range of books about them.

It is all well and good if people look after their exotic pets but so often this is not done. Even with the best intentions many tropical animals are very hard to keep in captivity and many grow very large.  Some reptiles such as alligators, iguanas and snakes, such as pythons, end up getting released into the wild. In some cases non-native animals set up breeding colonies and become invasive species at the expense of creatures that are already living there. There are many examples of this. The American Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) is a notable one because it eats smaller creatures including endemic species of frog and other amphibians.

Slow Loris female

Some species of exotic animal are actually being brought close to extinction due to the demand for them. The Slow Loris (Nycticebus coucang) is one such creature, and it is usually subjected to horrific cruelty too. The animal has a venomous bite and so to make them safe collectors and dealers pull out or clip out their teeth using no anaesthetic and leaving the terrified animals bleeding badly and subject to infections. All of this, just because they look ‘cute,’ and can make some money for some poor villager in Indonesia or other part of Asia where they live.

Many species owe their survival to being kept in captivity where they are successfully bred. Such is the insanity of the modern world that it really is true that some types of animal are safer in the care of humans than living in the wild.

Zebra Pleco. Photo by Birger A

Habitat destruction is a major threat to so many animals and plants today. The black and white Zebra Pleco (Hypancistrus Zebra) catfish from Brazil is one fish that may end up surviving only because of its looks that have made it popular with tropical fish-keepers. It lives only in a limited area of the Xingu River and if the Belo Monte Dam is built the conditions this fish needs will be destroyed.
Père David's Deer (Elaphurus davidianus) is a deer from China that only survived because of a captive herd that all living animals of this species are descended from. It is extinct in the wild.

It is very easy to say that all wild animals belong back in the wild but it is not that simple. In some cases, such as the deer mentioned above, the species would no longer be alive if they had not been kept by humans. 

Copyright © 2012 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.

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