Updated: Oct 6
By: Colin Gilmer
Exotic pets have been kept by people for centuries, so much that it has become somewhat of a norm. There is nothing wrong with having an exotic animal as a pet but there are some glaring problems with the system that need to be addressed.
The definition of an exotic pet is an animal kept by a person that is not a typical dog or housecat. Exotic animals can be anything from a lizard to a ferret. However, through the widespread ownership of some animals, the “exotic” label no longer really applies.
The “National Geographic” article “Exotic Pet Trade Explained” points out that even though exotic animals have been kept by humans for a very long time, the demand for exotic and unique animals has skyrocketed in the past decade with the rise of online marketing and social media.
So, what is the problem? The first problem with the exotic pet trade is where the animals come from. Though many reputable sellers breed animals in captivity, many exotic animals are not captive-bred and are removed straight from the wild, stripping them from their natural habitats. Many animals are illegally stolen from their habitats and smuggled across national borders to avoid the cost and work of captive breeding animals the correct way. Because of this, rare animal populations and even endangered ones are affected. Another issue related to having wild-caught animals as pets is the dangers that these animals face in transport. Many of these animals are practically stuffed into containers with the hope of fitting as many in as possible. This can lead to broken legs and other injuries in the process.
Another glaring issue (and arguably a less talked about subject) is the big pet industry’s greediness. When searching for “Buying exotic animals as a trend” and any arrangement of that wording, nearly ALL the results do not relate to the actual problem. Instead, they cater to people looking to market pets and pet supplies. These results give us a look into how far the pet industry’s influence reaches. Further, they indicate that the industry has an overwhelming grip on the topic and discourse around exotic animals and their treatment. In fact, the industry’s reach is so far that when going to the pet store looking for food, medicine or other products for an exotic pet, many of the products may be dangerous for pets by containing dyes or chemicals that might hurt them. Even with this information, pet stores and companies continue to market these products despite the danger of doing so. Often to find the right product for a pet, a person will have to do hours (if not days) of research making sure that the product will not contain anything dangerous to their pet when product safety should be the seller’s responsibility. This often results in needless illness and even deaths for many animals.
One last problem that is possibly the most important of them all is the lack of research put in by prospective pet owners. Because platforms like Instagram and TikTok give people a place to showcase their pets doing cute things and being at their best, it often makes people fall in love with the uniqueness and funniness of these animals. Though there is nothing inherently wrong with sharing images and photos online of pets doing adorable things, most of the time these videos will only show the good side of pet ownership. They forget to mention how much time, effort and money having a pet requires. Oftentimes users will see these exotic animals on the internet and after falling in love with their charms, they will buy them without doing the proper research on what kind of habitat and care they need to survive. This often leads to pets being rehomed or sadly even passing away due to improper care.
The aim of this article is not to shame people who own or plan to own exotic pets—the more power to you! Instead, it is to emphasize that pet owners must educate themselves on how to properly care for animals prior to bringing them home. Animals deserve the best and their care is up to us. Education is key. Now go be nice to our world’s animals. They deserve kindness too!