Crocodiles, Gila monsters, monkeys and more legally sold in British pet shops
Over a hundred thousand wild animals including crocodiles, monkeys, sugar gliders (small mammals) and Gila monsters (venomous lizards) are being legally sold in pet shops across the UK despite being unsuitable pets, according to our new report.
“The scope and scale of wildlife for sale to the British public on our high streets is truly shocking. Wild animals have complex environmental, social and behavioural needs which cannot easily be met by pet owners." Peter Kemple Hardy, World Animal Protection, Wildlife Campaign Manager
The study used data obtained via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to UK local authorities, on licences to sell animals as pets in the UK. It found nearly 2000 pet traders licensed by 283 different councils had permission to sell shockingly high numbers of wild (i.e., non-domesticated) species, otherwise known as ‘exotic pets’.
Licenses indicated that the maximum numbers of exotic pets permitted for sale in the UK at any one time included at least 64,810 reptiles, 54,634 amphibians, 23,507 birds and 6,479 mammals. Some local authorities failed to provide licensing information, so these numbers under-represent the true scale of wild animals for sale at pet shops across the UK.
Dangerous wild animals
The license data also revealed the shocking diversity of wild animals for sale in pet shops, including dangerous wild animals, endangered species and species known to be highly susceptible to serious welfare problems in captivity. Whilst owners are required to obtain a license to keep dangerous wild animals, the vast majority of exotic pets can be kept without any sort of license at all.
Pit Viper iStock
Some of the dangerous wild animals permitted for sale include:
Venomous snakes such as pit vipers (Crotalinae), a subfamily containing 190 species, many of which are capable of inflicting fatal bites on humans, making it very challenging to look after appropriately or access veterinary care.
Venomous lizards including Gila monsters, strong quick animals which grow up to 50cm long and can inflict excruciating bites due to neurotoxins which can cause respiratory failure.
Crocodilians such as Caimans, even Dwarf species grow to 1.5-2m long and pose a serious risk of injury due to aggressive behaviour. Difficulty in handling, very specific environmental needs and a lack of knowledge of captive care requirements mean they are at a high risk of neglect.
Carnivorous mammals including African civets, solitary, nocturnal, and primarily tree-dwelling predators that feed on rodents, lizards, snakes and frogs. Noise and social interaction have negative impacts on their welfare and they frequently suffer from poor diet and housing in captivity.
African Pygmy Hedgehog iStock
Some wild animals permitted for sale that are particularly susceptible to serious welfare problems in captivity include:
Sugar gliders, small nocturnal marsupials that can glide up to 45m between trees in the wild and live in large family groups in tree nests. Highly prone to anxiety from lack of exercise and inappropriate housing and disorders related to poor nutrition in captivity.
African pygmy hedgehogs, insectivorous, nocturnal mammals who live in a range of savannah and semi-arid habitats and are highly active at night. It is very challenging to meet their welfare needs for adequate space, exercise and appropriate diet leading to a range of conditions including obesity and skeletal disease.
Primates including marmosets, highly intelligent, social animals with complicated welfare needs that can't be met in a home environment. Frequently suffer intense stress from boredom and metabolic bone disease from poor diet and lack of UV light.
Enormous risks to animal welfare
The exotic pet trade involves enormous risks to animal welfare at every stage, from capture or breeding, to being sold, transported and kept in captivity. Captivity limits the natural behaviour of wild animals and places their mental and physical wellbeing at risk. Exotic pets often lack adequate shelter, nutrition, space to roam, and an appropriate environment to maintain their health. The Government intends to bring forward legislation to ban the keeping of primates as pets next year, but this will be the first species of exotic pet banned on welfare grounds.
Peter Kemple Hardy, World Animal Protection, Wildlife Campaign Manager said, “The scope and scale of wildlife for sale to the British public on our high streets is truly shocking. Wild animals have complex environmental, social and behavioural needs which cannot easily be met by pet owners. These animals do not belong in our homes. We know that exotic pet owners are often motivated by a love of animals, but the reality is that for a wild animal, even with the best intentions, a life in captivity becomes a life sentence.”
Our previous research found that the UK imported more than 3.4 million wild animals over a five-year period (2014-18) for commercial purposes, including the exotic pet trade.Imported wild animals originated from 90 countries around the world, including regions identified as emerging disease hot spots, highlighting how the global wildlife trade represents a significant risk to public health.
We have called on G20 leaders to ban the global wildlife trade and urges consumers to never buy an exotic pet, and if they already own one, commit to not replacing them in the future.