What do you think when you hear the word “pet”?
Do you think “dog” or “cat”? Or, in a wider sense, a domesticated animal companion – a sentient creature who can benefit from living in a household run by and for humans? Or do you think “monkey”, “sugar glider”, “meerkat”, “raccoon”,” iguana”, “chameleon”, “turtle”, “terrapin”, “boa constrictor” or “Burmese python” ...?
With more than 1,000 species of mammals, birds, invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians (a conservative estimate), and hundreds of fish species involved in the pet trade, there are many different interpretations and expectations of pets today. Usually animals are kept as companions, but increasingly often as curiosities, status symbols, trophies or items in a collection. And as the collection habit spreads, at the expense of the companionship ethos, animals are paying the price with the length and quality of their lives.
As part of our Pet Origins campaign, OneKind has been pressing for a wholesale review of the legislation governing the trade in pets and in particular, the exploding market in exotic animals. Our report Pet Origins, Giving our companions a better start in life: the case for reform of UK pet vending legislation describes the potential threats to animal health and welfare, human health and species conservation that accompany this trade.
Our key concern is the effect on animal welfare, including the misunderstanding of animals’ needs, denial of their natural wild behaviours and sometimes outright neglect. Then there are more and more incidents of exotic animals going astray or simply being abandoned by their owners. We can only speculate as to why someone would illegally dump a live animal – a so-called pet – in an environment where it is unlikely to survive. The reasons given on advertising websites for wanting to re-home an exotic animal include ”too big”, “too aggressive”, “too time-consuming” and “no longer interesting”. Most of these poor abandoned animals will die if they are not rescued quickly, but some non-native species can and do become naturalised, often out-competing native species and becoming persecuted as “pests” as a result – simply for surviving.
OneKind believes that the most effective means of addressing these problems is to limit the quest for ever more unusual specimens as so-called pets. We recommend the introduction of a positive list system to identify those animals that are suitable for private keeping, and to prohibit or stringently license the keeping of all other types. Belgium and the Netherlands already have legislation of this type and welfare organisations across Europe are promoting the positive list approach.
OneKind is delighted therefore that the Scottish Government has committed to a review of the trade and importation of exotic animals for the pet trade in Scotland. The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, Richard Lochhead MSP, said today:
“Current legislation in Scotland already provides protection for the welfare of exotic animals kept as pets, forbids the release of non-native animals and also has the power to ban the sale or keeping of certain invasive species.
“However I feel that perhaps more can be done to protect not only the exotic animals that are being brought into the country, but our own native animals and environment. That is why I am publicly committing to a review of the trade and importation of exotic animals as pets in Scotland and I will be asking for the thoughts and advice of animal welfare groups, veterinary organisations and biologists across the country in due course.
“Calls have been made for new approaches to be taken at EU level and I would like to see Scotland taking the lead in supporting this.”
The review of the exotic pet trade and the positive list approach will form part of a wider review of pet welfare in Scotland, including the breeding and sale of animals.
In the months to come OneKind will support the review and press for continued progress, in Scotland and across the UK. You can help us by writing to the Scottish Cabinet Secretary to welcome today’s announcement – positive support for a positive list can only be a good thing!
Email the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, Richard Lochhead MSP here email@example.com or write to him at: St. Andrew's House, Regent Road, Edinburgh, EH1 3DG