Exotic pets may be fascinating, but they are also risky

A woman and her pet run through a puddle during the 2022 Go! Buddy obstacle race in Beijing on Sept 3, 2022. (WEI XIAOHAO / CHINA DAILY)

Chinese people's demand for pets, for their emotional needs, is rising along with the country's fast-paced economic development. Thanks to the increase in pet ownership, the country's pet economy is booming, and the choice of pets is becoming more diversified. In fact, the demand for exotic pets, along with traditional pets such as cats, dogs and hamsters, is rapidly increasing.

Exotic pets refer to pets from exotic places or non-traditional pets. Usually, exotic pets include lizards, frogs, snakes, turtles, beetles, parrots, even crocodiles, foxes, primates, etc.

As such, all sections of society, including individu-als, corporations, govern-ments, and law enforcement agencies, should work together to deal with the complex issues

Although most people keep pets for companionship, they mostly are unaware of potential ecological and public health risks associated with exotic pets.

First, weak supervision of the exotic pet market could threaten some already threatened species. For example, the demand for exotic pets is stimulated, to a certain degree, by people's fascination for some exotic species such as some rare tortoises. The increasing demand can threaten some endangered species and their habitat.

Second, escaped or unlawfully released exotic pets could become invasive species, posing a major threat to biodiversity and the survival of native species. Especially, the difficulty in raising large tortoises such as Sulcata Tortoises (or African spurred tortoises) or amphibians could prompt their owners to abandon or release them in the wild, which could have a serious impact on native biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Third, exotic pets pose a safety risk given that they can transfer zoonotic diseases by contact. People may not pay enough attention to the quarantine inspection that pets need to undergo before being sold in the market and thus increase the chances of infection. Also, an unhygienic environment and/or the lack of risk awareness could expose exotic pet owners to zoonosis.

Against this backdrop, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) approved 46 proposals. This will bring species of, among others, lizards, turtles, fish, birds, and frogs under CITES regulations.

China, on its part, has implemented an array of laws and regulations to prevent and restrain illegal trade in exotic pets. More specifically, the government's official "No 1 document" for 2023 advocates cracking down on the illegal trade of exotic species, tightens the supervision on exotic pet trade, and strengthens the regulation on the release of such animals.

Therefore, it reveals the urgency to address issues regarding exotic pets. And efforts should be made in the long chain of trade.

First and foremost, there are many online and offline trading channels, and the corresponding management system needs to be further strengthened.

Second, the relevant trade platforms with videos containing regulated exotic pets need to be improved. Those videos stimulate the public demand for illegal species, but it's extremely hard for the companies to manage properly and instantly given the lack of proper governmental regulations to abide by and technologies for mass video screening.

Finally, it is also necessary to increase public awareness of the law and regulations about exotic pets, and help people realize the potential health risks of raising such animals.

As such, all sections of society, including individuals, corporations, governments, and law enforcement agencies, should work together to deal with the complex issues. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) will continue to follow up on exotic pets, strengthen cooperation with local governments and law enforcement agencies, and related industries, and support demand reduction for wild and exotic animals.

The author is chief program officer of WWF China. 

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.