This year's AWF Discussion Forum
includes a debate on whether it's possible to meet the welfare needs of exotic animals in captivity. As well as inviting two leading exotics vets, we've also invited Chris Draper
and Mark Jones
from the Born Free Foundation. They'll be presenting their argument on why it is not possible to adequately provide for the needs of exotic animals in captivity. We asked them to give us an insight into the topic.
- What sparked your interest in the topic?
Born Free was originally founded in 1984 in order to highlight and address concerns for the welfare of wild animals in captivity. Challenging the exploitation of wild animals for captive purposes continues to form a key part of our efforts to prevent animal suffering, protect threatened species in their natural environment, and keep wildlife in the wild where it belongs.
We are convinced that the wide variety and complex needs of wild animals mean that it is very difficult, and in many cases impossible, to adequately provide for their welfare when they are confined to captive environments. Regulations on the trade in and keeping of exotic animals is inadequate, and in many cases we don’t even have the knowledge or means to make meaningful welfare assessments. The welfare of exotic animals is also compromised throughout the trade chain including in captive breeding facilities, and the collection of animals for captive use can have serious conservation impacts for wild populations and species.
- Why is this topic particularly relevant now?
We have an ethical and moral duty to provide for the welfare of animals in our care, a duty we are not able to adequately discharge for many exotic animals.
Today, there are more than 300 zoos in Great Britain, and a large and probably increasing number and variety of wild animals kept as pets. Yet wild animals are declining at unprecedented rates in their natural habitats. The 2018 Living Planet Report estimated that humans have caused wild animal populations to drop by 60% since 1970. While these headline figures hide big variations in the plight of particular species, nevertheless the loss of wildlife is having devastating impacts on ecosystems, in turn threatening the very systems on which all life on our planet relies.
Wildlife trade is a significant threat to many species. The demand for live animals as exotic pets, for commercial facilities such as zoos, circuses, aquariums, or for use in tourism, is a major factor. Live animal trade for captive purposes is implicated in ongoing declines in wild populations of all taxa, from primates such as chimpanzees and lorises, to big cats such as cheetahs, birds such as African grey parrots, and many species of reptile, amphibians, and fish.
- What are the key issues of your topic?
The keeping of wild/exotic animals is partially regulated, but there are concerns about the quality of standards and enforcement, the assessment of animal welfare and the background knowledge among the general public and specialist veterinarians involved in keeping wild animals in captivity.
Our knowledge of the complex biological, nutritional, social and emotional needs of wild animals is, at best, rudimentary, and for many rare and unusual species may be all but non-existent.
The international and national trade in live animals for captive use is also poorly regulated. As such, it is all-too-often unsustainable, and subject to high levels of corruption and illegality.
The trade also has a massive impact on animal welfare. As a consequence, while exotic animals suffer greatly at their ultimate destinations, many are also destined to die in transit or live short, miserable lives in captivity. Many are also abandoned by their owners and there are insufficient specialist veterinary facilities or rescue centres to deal with these victims.
- What are you hoping delegates will take away from your session?
In general terms, we cannot provide for the welfare needs of exotic animals in captivity, since we do not have sufficient knowledge of those needs. Nor do we have sufficient oversight of how animals are kept, sufficient specialist veterinary and other services to provide appropriate health care and welfare advice, or sufficient rescue facilities to deal with animals that are abandoned.
Being born in captivity does not equip wild animals with the ability to cope with captivity; and individual wild animals may suffer poor welfare even when they are the product of several generations of captive breeding.
In addition, we cannot limit our considerations to the welfare impacts of captivity at the end destination. Animals suffer and die at every stage of the often torturous and complex trade routes that have developed to supply animals for the live trade - from collection from the wild, to intensive captive breeding, holding and transport.
- Are there any statistics, research, new developments or case studies that you can share with us about the topic?
Interrogation of the ‘Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)’ trade database reveals that, in 2016 alone, more than 17,000 international transactions took place involving more than 5 million individual live animals. Around a million of these were declared to have been taken from the wild. Declared exports to the United Kingdom in 2016 included 30,000 reptiles, almost 800 mammals, and 260 birds. These are of course just the official
records of cross-border trade in CITES-listed species; the total number of live exotic animals in trade vastly exceeds these figures.
Recently the RSPCA revealed that it had rescued more than 4,000 exotic pets in England and Wales during 2018, many of which had been seriously neglected or abandoned, They included 500 snakes, 300 turtles, 145 bearded dragons, five raccoon dogs, four marmosets and a wallaby.
There are a number of key case studies and reports that provide some insight into these issues. Some examples produced by the Born Free Foundation include:
Book your ticket now and join the debate on 5th June at One Great George Street. The Discussion Forum is CPD accredited and is followed by an evening reception at the House of Commons. Find out more.