BELIEVE it or not, Chinese New Year can be very bad for animals. This is because each year of the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac is associated with a particular animal. It is believed that the animal ruling a person’s birth year has a great influence on their personality and destiny, and there would be demand for such animals as pets.
Hence, come Chinese New Year, pet shops and petting farms would go all out to get the animals associated with the zodiac sign for the year. For example, in this year of the rat, a petting zoo farm is drawing in the crowds with its collection of foreign breeds in the rodent family, including capybara, porcupine, degu, dormouse, chinchilla and Sphinx rat.
This is a deadly start to buying an animal on impulse in the belief that it would bring luck, especially ones that are young and cute. But once the novelty dies off or when the animal becomes too troublesome or has outgrown its cuteness, it might be neglected or abandoned.
When pet stores sell exotic animals, they help fuel the public’s desire for unique pets. It is the need for the newest and trendiest pet that leads consumers to the Internet, where sellers are waiting to make quick cash off
illegally obtained exotic animals that cannot be found in pet stores (pic). The rarer the animal, the more money the seller can get, and as long as there’s a demand, the cycle will continue.
Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) has frequently criticised the trade in and keeping of exotic pets due to the inhumane and harmful practices associated with it, including disregard for the animal’s welfare, species destruction and public health and safety.
Pet shop operators are quick to assure buyers that exotic species are “easy to keep”. But chances are they do not have much knowledge about the care needed by a particular species and would often provide wrong or false information to the buyers. This is a prime example of how the pet trade treats animals as a mere commodity.
Many of these exotic pet species are not domesticated and often have special requirements
in captivity. Lack of accurate and comprehensive information on keeping these pets and the difficulty in finding specialist veterinary care for them put them at risk of both behavioural and physical problems.
What the public does not know is the effect of the exotic pet trade on the species in the wild. There is rampant poaching for them, and this is devastating animal populations worldwide.
Many animals suffer during capture and transport. If they are still alive at the end of their journey, they are often distressed, unable to eat, move or behave as they would in the wild.
They also suffer at the hands of dealers in pet stores and private zoos. Life in captivity is a death sentence for these animals who suffer from malnutrition, improper care and environment, loneliness and the stress of confinement.
Robbed of their natural habitat, denied the space to roam, they’re forced to pace in endless repetitive circles in their enclosures.
When abandoned, these animals may starve or fall victim to the elements or predators. Those that survive may overpopulate and wreak havoc on the ecosystem, killing native species.
Most non-traditional pets also pose a risk to the health of young children. In the United States, both the American Academy of Paediatrics and Centre for Disease Control have advised parents against getting exotic pets as these animals can carry health risks, including salmonella, herpes B virus and E. coli bacteria.
The acquisition and ownership of exotic pets should therefore be discouraged through all means.
Buyers are unaware that countless animals are taken from the wild – often illegally – for use in breeding operations. The offspring are either sold locally, smuggled out of the country or intentionally mislabelled as captive-bred and exported legally.
The death rate of trafficked wild animals, particularly reptiles, is horrendous and the plundering of wild populations for pets has decimated some species, especially tortoises.
Currently, there are no regulations to control the influx of exotic animals into Malaysia.
SAM is strongly opposed to the keeping of exotic animals as pets. We call for a ban on the sale of exotic animals in pet shops as well via online advertisements.
Until the ban is in place, awareness campaigns must be held to inform the public that wild animals belong in their natural habitats and not in their homes as pets. The best practice is never to keep exotic animals as pets.
MEENAKSHI RAMAN , President Sahabat Alam Malaysia
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