It’s too easy in this world to acquire things we shouldn’t. I won’t get bogged down in the list, but it starts somewhere with guns and drugs … In the world of animal protection, it’s also true: how easy to buy elephant ivory, or coyote fur, or reptiles as pets. How easy to visit a breeder for the “perfect” dog while millions wait patiently to be adopted. One thing is quite clear: with the advent of the internet and online shopping, it’s easier than ever to purchase things we shouldn’t.

Years ago, I remember my shock and surprise at seeing young lions and primates for sale at flea markets and trade days around the country. How easily they were bred and sold to unwitting consumers, acting on the impulse of the moment and the irresistible adorableness of the small feline faces in front of them. Now, Born Free USA has revealed a new investigation into the online trade in exotic animals as pets: Downloading Cruelty. I find the results astounding and concerning.

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The Ease of Purchasing Exotic Animals

Our researchers spent three months poring over online classified ads from four different websites that allow exotic animal sales. In just that time alone, they found more than 1,800 advertisements for wild animals, including various primates, exotic cats, raccoons, kinkajous, badgers, turtles, rodents, skunks, sloths, frogs, and other species.

What is perhaps more shocking is that the overwhelming majority of these ads (90 percent) included no direction on the care required for these animals; 75 percent had no information on the animals’ history (where they came from); and 66 percent had no information on their current health status. How many people will get excited by the prospect of “owning” exotic animals and knowing that those animals are just a click away… but have no clue whether the animals they are acquiring are sick, and have no clue how to provide care?

In contrast, a paltry 2.4 percent of sellers actually asked for information about the buyer, and a shocking 0.2 percent actually noted that the animal could be harmful.

As Born Free USA knows all too well through our Exotic Animal Incidents Database, exotic animals are dangerous. They can bite, scratch, and attack; they can transmit disease; and they can kill.

There are some undeniable truths about the trade in exotic animals as pets. There is no way for the average person to provide the care these animals require for their psychological and physical well-being. Wild animals kept in confinement with humans are physically manipulated to make them less dangerous (their teeth are filed down and nails are removed, for instance) or to make them more adaptable to life in someone’s home (for example, their tails are removed to accommodate diaper wearing and they are tethered or caged for hours every day).

Exotic pet ownership poses risks to animals and humans alike. And, when things go wrong — as they often do — it is over-burdened humane societies and wildlife sanctuaries that bear the brunt of the cost.

What We Can Do

With all of these truths so obvious, it seems time to make it harder to acquire exotic animals as pets, rather than easier. Websites need to crack down on ads for exotics and, at the very least, mandate full health records and rigorous screening programs before any animal is ever sold. No animals should be sold sight-unseen online. Bills like the Captive Primate Safety Act, which prohibits trade in live animals as pets, should be passed by Congress expeditiously. And, individual states must take action to ensure that they are prohibiting exotic pet sales rather than encouraging them.

Just because you see something you want, it doesn’t mean you should have it. The internet enhances impulse purchases, which are now all just a click away. It’s time to take wild animal cruelty off the web and end the online trade in wild animals as pets — once and for all.

Image source: Thiago Mancin/Shutterstock

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