5 surprising facts about African grey parrots

What are the facts?

Wildlife. Not pets.

We answer some frequently asked questions about the trade in wild species as pets.

What do we mean by ‘domesticated’ and ‘wild animal’?

Domesticated animals

Pets like cats and dogs are domesticated animals, which means they’ve adapted to living with us in our homes. Through generations of breeding by humans, their appearance and behaviour have changed in ways that make them different to wild animals. 

Dogs may have been domesticated as early as 27,000-40,000 years ago, while cats are thought to have been domesticated between 3,600-9,500 years ago

Wild animals

We use ‘wild animals’ to describe any species that isn’t domesticated in the UK. 

Even when they’re bred in captivity, wild species aren’t domesticated. They still have complex social, physical and behavioural needs that are adapted to their specific natural habitat. Without this environment, they suffer.

Compared to dogs and cats, the selective breeding of wild animals has been happening for relatively few generations, and has only changed animals’ appearances, not their fundamental needs. 

We avoid using the term ’exotic pet’ wherever possible because it’s an outdated and highly problematic term. Wild species do not become ‘pets’ just because they’re kept in someone’s home. The word ‘exotic’ acknowledges that these are wild animals without being open about it.

 

Is the trade in wild species as pets a new thing?

No. Wild animals have been kept as pets for many thousands of years, but their popularity has grown hugely in the last few decades. 

Globalisation, the internet and cheaper transport costs have driven the rise of a lucrative global wildlife trade that’s now worth USD $30-$42.8 billion a year. A significant proportion of this is the trade in wild animals as pets. 

Worldwide, millions of animals are being caught, bred, bought, sold and transported just so people can keep them in their homes. They’re part of a global logistics and supply chain, treated just like any other product. 

 

How many wild animals are caught in the pet trade in the UK?

There isn’t accurate data available for all species, including the many different wild mammals in the UK pet trade. Some data we do have are: 

By comparison, the UK has an estimated 12 million pet dogs and 11 million pet cats.

The variety of wild species caught in the pet trade is huge. A 2015 study of online classified websites found 142 unique species for sale in just 3 months. This included: 

  • Highly endangered species (Egyptian tortoise)
  • Species with particularly high welfare needs (primates and scarlet macaws)
  • dangerous wild animals such (hybrid cats)
A sugar glider clings to a blue cage

Captivity can never be the same as life in their natural habitat.

Why do wild animals suffer when they are kept as pets?

Whether they’re caught in the wild or bred in captivity, wild species have complex welfare needs which are extremely difficult for pet owners to meet.

Captivity can never be the same as life in their natural habitat. Wild species kept as pets are denied the chance to:

  • Move freely through space, without glass or metal boundaries
  • Explore complex, stimulating and varied natural habitats 
  • Engage in natural behaviours, such as burrowing, foraging, flying, hunting or courting
  • Consume a rich and varied natural diet 
  • Interact with other animals of the same species
  • Choose a mate and produce offspring
  • Make everyday decisions for themselves

When animals are trapped in inappropriate or unfulfilling captive conditions it puts their physical and mental health at risk. 

Sometimes we can see evidence of this suffering in behaviour such as feather-plucking in parrots, pacing or excessive grooming in mammals, or repeatedly rubbing or banging into glass walls in reptiles. 

At other times, the signs of stress, disease or unhappiness are less easy to recognise, so the animal suffers in silence. 
 

How do you know wild species kept as pets suffer in captivity?

There’s growing concern among vets about the welfare of wild species kept as pets in the UK. A 2022 survey by The British Veterinary Association found that 81% of vets thought the welfare needs of wild species kept as pets were not being met. 

The most cited issues were: 

  • Irresponsible animal ownership (82%)
  • Irresponsible breeding or sourcing (11%)
  • Lack of specialist veterinary care (10%)

Veterinary research shows that wild species in captivity experience a wide range of health problems because of poor care. For example: 

Reptiles 

  • Metabolic bone disease due to inadequate diet and UVB light
  • Obesity and anorexia
  • Thermal burns from heat sources
  • Abrasions from rubbing or banging on glass
  • Respiratory disease
  • Skin problems and shell diseases due to incorrect humidity and hygiene
  • Gastrointestinal issues caused by the materials used to line enclosures
  • Death due to poorly-managed hibernation

Sugar gliders

  • Hypocalcemia, hypoproteinemia, anaemia and metabolic bone disease due to poor diets
  • Behavioural problems caused by stress or anxiety, including overgrooming, fur loss, self-injury and pacing

African grey parrots

  • Hypocalcaemia syndrome caused by poor diets, resulting in tremors, tetanus, and seizures 
  • Nasal and sinus infections and respiratory disease from poor housing and environments 
  • Behavioural problems including aggression, shrieking and feather-plucking often caused by boredom, isolation and lack of exercise
Macaque reach out of cage Jatinegara Jakarta

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Are you saying pet owners who keep wild species are cruel?

Absolutely not. We know that most people buy wild species as pets because they love animals. Animals bring us joy, so it’s understandable that people want them to be part of their lives every day at home. 

But the trade in wild species as pets promotes unrealistic expectations about how easy it is to care for them. Owners simply aren’t equipped to meet all wild species’ needs, despite their best efforts. 

Many owners are unaware of the suffering their animals endure. We’re pushing for people who keep wild species to commit to not buying any more. We also offer guidance on how to give your pet the best life possible, for as long as you can. 

 

What’s so different from keeping a cat or a dog?

We believe that people should only keep domesticated animals as pets if they can meet all of their needs. 

Although, sadly, many domesticated pets experience poor welfare, cats and dogs are well adapted to living alongside humans. The care they need is common knowledge and it’s easy to find vets that can give them specialist medical attention. 

In contrast, most people just don’t have the knowledge, expertise or resources to meet the needs of a wild animal in captivity, and specialist vet care can be harder to find. 

Owners often underestimate wild species’ complex welfare needs and capacity to feel things, leaving them highly vulnerable to poor welfare conditions. Reptiles and amphibians often suffer because it can be much harder for people to interpret their behaviour or even recognise signs of stress, disease or injury.  

What’s World Animal Protection doing about it?

We believe that the only place wild species can live full lives is in their natural habitats in the wild.

Through our Wildlife. Not Pets. campaign we are:

  • Challenging the social acceptability of keeping wild species as pets and reframing our relationships with wild animals.
  • Disrupting the commercial exploitation of wild species bred and sold as pets.
  • Engaging with local and national governments to ensure laws regulating the pet trade are strengthened and properly enforced when it comes to wild species.

Learn more

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Suffering in silence

Wildlife. Not pets.

Reptiles are sentient animals that can feel pleasure, distress, excitement, fear and pain, and they suffer greatly when kept as pets. The UK’s cruel trade in reptiles as pets is an animal welfare crisis.

Star tortoise

Wildlife. Not pets.

Wildlife

Millions of animals are suffering in captivity in homes across the UK. Royal pythons, bearded dragons, tree frogs, African grey parrots, sugar gliders and many more species have complex needs that can’t be met in our homes.

Dolphin pod swimming in the wild

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