THE seizure of 1000 endangered and exotic turtles by Perhilitan underscores a very serious problem - that of the booming exotic pet trade.
This is a multibillion dollar wildlife trade where animals are illegally trafficked and those caught in the wild are often mislabelled as “captive bred.”
The chances of getting caught are so slim and the financial gains are so huge that exotic animal traffickers gladly take the risks with breaking the law, since penalties are little more than a monetary fine or in extreme cases, a short jail stray.
Attempts to regulate and control the trade have failed globally.
The problem is getting worse and time is running out. Investigations to find the masterminds behind the trade in these tortoises should be initiated.
The novelty and thrill of owning a unique exotic animal often drives people - from the highest social stratum to the man in the street - to purchase these exotics to feed their fetish or simply to keep up with the Joneses.
Doing so, allows this trade - supposedly regulated by the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species (CITES) - to exist.
Honestly speaking, no one has any idea as to whether the trade is sustainable. The combined reported output from the few breeding centres cannot account for the large volume of individuals traded, so one can assume that majority of animals are illegally sourced from the wild.
The illegal trade is particularly devastating because of the number of animals which die along the supply chain. As many as three animals may die for every one that makes it to the buyers alive.
Normally exotic pet “lovers” are ignorant to the level of abuse coupled with the injustices and scale of the “modern” pet industry. No matter what the species, exotic pets suffer from a multitude of stresses and maladies.
These range from commercial handling by dealers to cage confinement by ignorant hobbyists or being fed the wrong diet lacking in nutrients. Death is the end result.
At the end of the day, those involved in exotic pet keeping create alien environments by dumping their pets in the local environment, causing havoc to pristine wildlife. A perfect example of an exotic species that thrives well in our local ponds is the red eared slider.
With millions of live animals traded legally throughout the globe each year and countless more sold on the black market, the pet shop trade is thriving but the same cannot be said for the animals caught up in it.
Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) has always been consistent on its stand against pet shops due to the deplorable conditions of animals, reptiles and amphibians kept in unconducive environments. They are only into profits without any regard for animal welfare.
Perhilitan too, is even encouraging buyers to own animals with its varying licence fees from as low as RM3. It would be interesting to note how Perhilitan ascertain that an exotic animal is captive bred before they can be sold in shops as stipulated under the law.
The lack of control by Perhilitan has even emboldened pet shop traders who are assuring buyers that “they (the authori-ties) won’t check your house lah.” Such words raise doubts on the competency of Perhililtan in protecting and managing wildlife species.
The trade also implies a misleading message by treating animals as commodities. In this way children are taught the wrong concept that animals can be removed from their natural biological communities.
SAM urges for an end to the breeding, trading, sale of wild animals and issuing of licences. It urges that buyers be taught that wild animals belong in the wild, not in homes.
S M MOHD IDRIS
President, Sahabat Alam Malaysia