Wildlife Trafficking: Behind the scenes of the exotic pet trade
By: Akshita Saxena
The Earth is suffering. We are currently in the midst of the sixth mass extinction, also known as Anthropocene extinction. This is the time when human or anthropogenic activities have a significant impact on climate and the environment. It is undeniable that our advancing lifestyles have a significant influence on biodiversity, catastrophically accelerating the rate of extinction of species.
Habitat fragmentation, pollution, and the illegal trade of exotic species, commonly known as wildlife trafficking, are all factors contributing to biological annihilation.
When we talk about wildlife trafficking, we immediately identify it with the illegal trade of wildlife (tigers, rhinos, elephants, and pangolins) and their body parts as a status symbol, delicacy, and even for medicinal purposes. We are prone to overlooking seemingly innocuous acts such as buying or selling exotic species as pets, whether legally or illegally. We are oblivious to the potential consequences to the ecosystem, and hence, unknowingly encourage ‘exotic pet trading.’
So, at this moment, I believe it no longer remains a meager concern, but rather that human activities have resulted in a major catastrophe.
By removing animals from their natural habitat, we undermine the environment, and incompetent owners end up causing considerable damage to the local ecology by releasing the species into the wild. Hundreds of (non-native) invasive species are wreaking havoc on native species and ecosystems across the world, including Small Indian mongooses (Herpestes auropunctatus).
This species is suspected of being the cause of the barred-wing rail’s extinction (in Fiji). They also raid on the critically endangered hawksbill turtle’s nests (in the Caribbean) and are responsible for the extinction of several avian species. This is only one example among many.
Red-eared turtles (Trachemys scripta), native to the United States and Mexico are being a threat to local species of the natural water bodies across Northeast India. These water bodies are home to 21 out of 29 vulnerable native Indian species of freshwater turtles but displaced by the said species. They have wrecked the local ecology and are also known to spread numerous infections.
Exotic species are not only hazardous, but they may also spread a variety of diseases that are damaging to humans and other animals. In 1971, the Newcastle virus infected a major portion of Florida’s poultry population. To help stop the infection from spreading, around 12 million birds perished or were euthanized. And what was the cause behind this? The infection was traced back to the parrots trafficked out of South America.
Owing to the increased demand among pet owners, this booming industry has destroyed several natural populations, including that of the African grey parrot (Psittacidae erithacus), and as a result, the IUCN has reclassified them from vulnerable to critically endangered.
All in all, no good can come out from trading exotic species, ergo encouraging wildlife trafficking. This challenge will most certainly not be solved tomorrow, but there is a reason for optimism – as I usually say, “don’t think about changing the world, think about how it is meant to be kept.”
It is important for us to understand how the species interact with the ecosystem, how they are affected by human-influenced activities, what are the risks of owning these animals as being aware is the first step towards saving what matters.
Akshita is a wildlife illustrator and the founder of Espérance Co.Know More