By Terri-Lee Reid
The exotic pet trade is putting wildlife and their habitats at risk. This is a global problem – and one that’s having a negative impact on Canada’s wildlife.
Reports indicate that illegal wildlife trade is one of the highest-value worldwide criminal activities, right up there with narcotics, counterfeiting and human trafficking. It is putting wildlife populations at risk through the introduction of new diseases, the introduction of invasive species, poaching and habitat destruction/loss. Let’s dive in a little deeper into the problem.
The American Bullfrog, African Clawed Frog, and the Cane Toad have a few things in common. They are common species in the exotic pet trade. Two are not native to Canada at all while one is not native to certain provinces; nevertheless, they are all carriers of the lethal disease-causing fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis or chytrid.
Although these species are carriers of the fungus, the fungus does not bother them, they can however pass the fungus onto other species and cause a great deal of damage to them. In fact, chytrid fungus is being cited for the disappearance of frog populations around the world, even driving some to extinction. The Rocky Mountain population of the Northern Leopard Frog found in British Columbia, for example, is listed as Endangered by Canada’s Species at Risk Act. One of the reasons listed for their decline is the disease that is caused by the chytrid fungus.
Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans or BSal, is another fungus that impacts salamanders and newts. Originating from Asia, this fungus spread to Europe as part of the pet trade and is increasing the risk of local extinctions. This fungus is not yet in North America but it is still a concern to those in wildlife management. In Canada, the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative is doing what it can to prevent this fungus from getting into the country. With at least three species known to carry BSal that are often imported to Canada for the pet trade, CWHC is raising awareness on this important issue and wanting to see mandatory testing of imported species .
There are many reasons why someone may want an exotic pet – the desire to have something unusual, the fascination. Far too often however, the interest in keeping this pet waivers and they are released into the wild. While many of these abandoned pets will not survive as they lack the necessary skills, there is a chance that enough of these exotic pets will survive, reproduce, and become an invasive species; competing and displacing our native wildlife.
Red-eared Slider turtles are native to south-central United States. A popular pet, owners often got tired of looking after them or they would outgrow their tanks – whatever the reason – they were released into the wild. In Canada, Red-eared sliders have now established themselves in many locations and are aggressively competing with our native turtles.
While many people are aware of rhino horns and elephant ivory that help make up the multi-billion dollar/year global illegal wildlife trade, many don’t realize that this statistic also includes turtles taken from the wild - in Canada. In fact, the issue surrounding turtle trade is very serious and is putting turtles at risk. The rarer the turtle, the more they are prized by collectors. Blanding’s Turtles, Spotted Turtles, and Wood Turtles – all listed on Canada’s Species at Risk Act – are threatened by many things including habitat loss, road mortality and turtle poaching and trade.
Habitat Destruction and Loss
It is not uncommon for many species in the exotic pet trade to be taken from the wild, sometimes from already environmentally sensitive areas like the rainforest or coral reefs.
Tropical marine fish for instance are sometimes captured with cyanide poisoning. Cyanide stuns the targeted fish making it easier to gather them up. The fish that survive are sent to aquariums, while many fish are killed by the cyanide. The result is damaged coral reefs with potentially serious impacts to tropical fish populations.
The exotic pet trade can include the largest animals or the very small, animals from other countries and from our own. Regardless, the consequences to species populations and their habitats are very real. Before buying a pet, ask questions to ensure you are not supporting this global problem.