The Pet Trade

As with the trade in hardwoods, the capture and sale of animals from tropical forests has become a lucrative business for some people, and is thought to be the second biggest cause of species loss after habitat destruction. Unfortunately many of the animals die before they even reach a pet shop; some estimate the losses to be as high as 90%. The desire to keep unusual species appears to be fuelling this trade, with the resultant threat to animals in their natural habitat. With increased affluence in the west, this trade is becoming ever more attractive to those trying to make a living from the forests, but it is by its very nature an unsustainable activity, as the numbers of individuals within each species are often quite low despite the great biodiversity of the ecosystem. The threat to the world’s endangered species has been recognised in the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which seeks to limit this trade by making it illegal to export or import protected species of both plants and animals. As with the attempt to regulate the timber trade, the rules are frequently flouted. Smuggling has also become ever more prevalent as the rewards increase.

What can we do?

Keeping unusual animals may seem like an attractive and novel idea but we need to be aware of the consequences of the international pet trade. If we want to keep unusual pets these should be bought from a reputable pet shop, which only deals in legally traded animals. Even then, as in the case of hardwoods, it is not always possible to be sure that what you are buying will not lead to a reduction in wild animal numbers. In some places animals are now being farmed for the pet trade, providing a sustainable income for local people. For example, the butterflies at The Living Rainforest are bought from a butterfly farm at the edge of a Costa Rican forest.

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