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16/02/15 00:01

Review of exotic pet trade

Cabinet Secretary commits to review of trade and importation of exotic animals as pets.

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, Richard Lochhead, has committed to a review of the trade and importations of exotic animals for the pet trade in Scotland.

Following discussions with animal welfare charity OneKind, where it was revealed that currently more than 1000 species of mammals, birds, invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians, and hundreds of fish species, are involved in the pet trade, Mr Lochhead is keen to review current legislation and explore the effect tighter controls on exotic pet ownership could have.

He said:

“There is an increasing desire across Europe, including in Scotland, to keep exotic pets. There are potential threats to animal health and welfare, human health and our native species that accompany this trend and merit serious investigation.

“Current legislation in Scotland already provides protection for the welfare of exotic animals kept as pets, forbids the release of non-native animals and also has the power to ban the sale or keeping of certain invasive species.

“However I feel that perhaps more can be done to protect not only the exotic animals that are being brought into the country, but our own native animals and environment. That is why I am publicly committing to a review of the trade and importation of exotic animals as pets in Scotland and I will be asking for the thoughts and advice of animal welfare groups, veterinary organisations and biologists across the country in due course.

“Calls have been made for new approaches to be taken at EU level and I would like to see Scotland taking the lead in supporting this.”

The trade of non-domesticated animals on the Internet is a key concern for animal welfare charities. A range of pets, including monkeys, pygmy hedgehogs, sugar gliders, meerkats, raccoons and raccoon dogs, iguanas and chameleons, turtles and terrapins, boas, and pythons are available from sellers around the world, with few guarantees around responsible sourcing or animal welfare.

There have also been several cases of exotic animal abandonment in Scotland to date, including bearded dragons which were discovered in supermarket toilets, and a snake that found its way into a legal office in Clydebank. Examples reported by the Scottish SPCA last year included a Chinese water dragon, five corn snakes, four terrapins, and a six-foot boa constrictor among others were apparently abandoned or lost.

Libby Anderson, OneKind policy director said:

“We are delighted that the Cabinet Secretary has taken our concerns about the animal welfare and conservation issues surrounding exotic, non-domesticated pets so seriously.

“OneKind believes that the most effective means of solving these problems is to limit the quest for evermore unusual specimens as so-called pets. We recommend the introduction of a positive list system to identify those animals that are suitable for private keeping, and prohibit or stringently license the keeping of all other types. Obviously exceptions can be made for certain specialist purposes.

“Belgium and the Netherlands already have legislation of this type and welfare organisations across Europe are promoting the positive list approach.”

Ultimately the Scottish Government considers it the responsibility of individual pet owners to ensure that they have the knowledge, facilities and resources to care for any pet before they take it on, and to make every effort to buy their pet from a responsible breeder or dealer.

However, it is planning to conduct a wider review of pet welfare, including the breeding and sale of animals for the pet trade. It is likely that the review of the exotic pet trade will be addressed as part of this project, and the positive list approach that has been developed in the Netherlands and Belgium is something that will be considered as part of the review.

The Scottish Government acknowledges that there are serious issues surrounding the Internet sales of a variety of animals and this issue will also be looked at as part of the review of pet welfare. However, it is worth noting that excellent progress has already been made with some well-known websites by the Pet Advertising Advisory Group, which has developed and implemented minimum standards for websites advertising animals for sale.

Notes to editors


Exotic animals as pets

Millions of individual wild animals are imported annually into the European Union to supply the non-domesticated (‘wild’ or ‘exotic’) pet trade. The diversity of species is considerable and involves more than 1,000 species, including invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.

While a large sector of the exotic trade in the UK and Europe is now captive bred, the animals are still not considered domesticated in the same way as more traditional pets. Their physiological and behavioural needs may not be fully understood, and, where they are known, may not be easily met.

Adequate husbandry of exotic animals often requires specialist equipment and knowledge, and in some cases, particularly where little is known about the species, may be impossible with the resources of the average pet-owner. Failure to understand and meet the needs of the sentient individual animal can cause injury, sickness, suffering or death.

Current legislation

The sale of animals as pets, including over the Internet where holding premises are within the UK, is currently covered by the Pet Animals Act 1951. The husbandry of certain exotic animals considered to be dangerous is covered by the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976, while the transport of all animals for commercial purposes, including pets, is covered by the Welfare of Animals Transport (Scotland) Regulations 2006, which implements EU requirements. The welfare of all protected animals, including exotic pets, is provided for under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006.

Abandonment of any protected animal is an offence under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006. In the case of exotic animals, abandonment or escapes could also potentially impact on native species. In this regard, Scotland is bound by EU conservation legislation, including the recent regulation on the prevention and management of the introduction and spread of invasive non-native species, which forbids the possession, transport, selling or breeding of species deemed as of ‘Union Concern’.

The trade in exotic pets can also have implications for the conservation of exotic animals in their home territories and is subject to the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), an international agreement between governments around the world that aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

The positive list approach

Existing legislation amounts to multiple ‘negative list’ approaches, where access to certain specific species is prohibited or subject to a requirement for licence due to concerns surrounding invasive potential or public safety. This approach requires cross-checking between legislation, and sometimes agencies, in each individual case and allows currently unknown dangers to be imported legally where present legislative instruments are silent.

OneKind proposes a shift from a series of negative lists to one single positive list of animals that may be kept as pets. This would: take full account of existing negative lists, be based on clear and transparent criteria and evidence around species conservation, invasiveness disease, and ease of good husbandry, and be clearer for both pet owners and enforcement agencies.

Domestic Case Studies (provided by Scottish SPCA)

  • In June 2013, a female bosc monitor lizard was found in the disabled toilet of a supermarket in Edinburgh. She was making her way out of a white sack when a member of the public noticed her. In a previous case in September 2011, the Scottish SPCA rescued a bearded dragon left in a white sack in the toilets of another supermarket, not far from where the bosc monitor had been left. It was thought the abandonments were possibly linked.
  • The same year, a severely ill bearded dragon was found on an industrial estate in Falkirk along with another that had already died. The surviving bearded dragon was very thin and dehydrated, and maggot infestations to the carcass of the dead animal indicated that it had been there for at least a week.
  • The trade in exotic species creates a demand for rodents as a food supply, which leads to further welfare concerns highlighted in the case of a Falkirk man who kept 170 rats in a two storey rabbit hutch approximately two feet by four feet in size. It is believe the rats were being bred to be sold as snake food. Scottish SPCA Inspectors, investigating after some of the rats escaped and were found by neighbours, discovered the hutch swarming with rats, many piled up on top of each other due to lack of space. The conditions were described as woefully inadequate and completely inhumane. Of the 170 rats, 140 were females and many of them were pregnant. A further 50 mothers and their young were also found in smaller boxes, bringing the total number to 220. Young rats were seen being eaten by their mothers and other rats due to stress. While 220 rats were removed, the figure soon multiplied as many gave birth in Scottish SPCA care.

International Case Studies (provided by OneKind)

  • Stichting AAP Rescue Centre for Exotic Animals in the Netherlands was recently informed by a vet that the owner of a skunk had come to his clinic complaining that the animal stank. In the Netherlands is it against the law to remove the stink glands unless there is sound medical reason to do so. By the time AAP staff got back to the vet to offer to take in the animal, the vet informed them that it had already been euthanized.
  • Also in the Netherlands, a woman bought two dormice after being told by the seller that they do not easily breed. Dormice are far more difficult to keep than many people realise and within months there were almost 30 dormice. The owner struggled to separate the animals by sex and found it difficult to find a vet who knew how to do it. Given the great diversity of species involved in the pet trade, it is almost impossible to imagine a situation where there would be a specialist vet to deal with each animal concerned, let alone accessible to the owner in question.
  • In another case, marmosets which were mistaken for squirrels were being kept in the south of the Netherlands. The breeder had sold them as squirrels and treated them as squirrels (including their diet) and the owners kept doing the same. It is legal to keep most species of squirrels as pets in the Netherlands, but not primates. It is unclear whether this is the reason the breeder misrepresented the species at the point of sale.

About OneKind

OneKind, formerly known as Advocates for Animals, is an Edinburgh-based UK animal protection charity, working to end animal suffering through campaigns, research and education.

OneKind supports the keeping of appropriate domesticated species of animals as pets, provided there is benefit for the animals, as well as the humans, in the relationship. OneKind believes that citizens and legislators have an obligation to provide the best possible welfare standards for animals wherever they are bred, reared, traded or kept.

OneKind is a member of the Pet Advertising Advisory Group. Further information on PAAG’s work can be found at


Claire Stanley, Scottish Government : 0131 244 2614 / 07580 485951

Louise Robertson, OneKind: 0131 225 6039 / 07930 539832