SEVERAL recent incidents highlighted a disturbing trend of individuals keeping wildlife as pets.
The first incident covered in the media was about a sun bear kept in a private residence without a permit.
Within the same week, an endangered Brahminy kite was found in a cage in a private residence, where the protected bird had been illegally held captive for over a year.
To the disappointment of Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM), the official custodian of our nation’s wildlife, Perhilitan, did not act on a resident’s complaint filed four times about the caged bird.
These cases are not uncommon. People are motivated to own an exotic pet by a variety of psychological factors. These include prestige or the desire to be different, according to Dr Michael Gumert, a psychology professor at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.
Obtaining exotic animals is easy and rarely results in penalties. The animals are removed from their habitat in the wild and kept in substandard conditions without proper care, and die or are abandoned.
Selling protected wildlife in pet shops or on the Internet is one of the largest sources of criminal earnings, following arms smuggling and drug trafficking. Popular animals sought after are chinchillas, sugar gliders, iguanas, tortoises and turtles, various primates, iguanas and snakes.
SAM’s growing list of concerns about exotic wildlife include:
> The well-known risk of disease transmission to humans.
> Conservation problems in the native countries due to demand of endangered species that contributes to the threat of extinction.
> The ecological effects from released or escaped exotic animals can be serious for local wildlife.
> Lack of eductation among the public.
> Poor regulation of the trade.
SAM strongly opposes the keeping of exotic wildlife as pets and believes that all commercial trafficking in these animals should be prohibited; all pet shops in the country should be monitored. SAM is also calling for a ban on the sale of exotic animals in pet shops.
SAM welcomes news of the proposed legislation to ban online advertisement of sales of endangered animals in the amendment to the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010. High priority should be given to preventing this animal abuse and ensuring that species do not suffer at the hands of their captors.
However, despite measures taken, the trade in captive wildlife will likely continue until people realise that wild animals are not something that can be confined or owned.
Until then, the laws can help prevent these abuses and, hopefully, foster understanding that animals exist for their own sake, not merely to be possessed as “pets”.
Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM)