The living of an exotic pet in a non-native area is one issue; an escaped exotic pet is another issue. What about when pet owners deliberately release these animals back into the wild that is entirely different from what the animal is originally accustomed to? The presence of an exotic animal, right from when it is taken away from its natural habitat to the destination in which it finally resides in, can have dire consequences on the environment. Consequences range from minor nuisances, to devastating and significant repercussions that can be permanent.
The global trade in wildlife provides disease transmission mechanisms that not only cause human disease outbreaks but also threaten livestock, international trade, rural livelihoods, native wildlife populations, and the health of ecosystems.
Wildlife Conservation Society, USA
Hampering Conservation Efforts
The act of capturing exotic animals can damage existing conservation efforts. Collectors may sometimes go to the extremes in order to get their hands on a certain and even protected species, if there is a demand for it from which they can earn money. For instance, precious coral reefs may be deliberately damaged to reach fish. Cyanide, capable of killing fish, can also be utilised to stun and capture tropical fish while destroying others that might be endangered and hence efforts for its conservation. Additionally and unfortunately, some of these exotic fish caught have vital roles in maintaining their ecosystems (such as facilitating the removal of parasites that feed on other fish or algae) and hence reduction in their populations will have severe consequences on the local marine ecology.
Ecosystems Disrupted by Exotics-
from its capture to being released back into the wild
Driven by demand and profits for exotic pets, people invade natural habitats to capture wild animals that subsequently threaten local wildlife population, food chain and overall survival. The capture of exotic species from the wild often also includes the immoral act of killing the mother in order to take the young, further contributing to the lowering of population levels and eventually extinction rates.
How about when owners consider themselves to be unwilling or incapable of looking after their exotic pets? One option is to release these animals into the wild, whereby chances of surviving is low due to animal-environment incompatibility and lack of skills. In rare but equally devastating cases, the exotic pets released would thrive, reproduce greatly and sufficiently, eventually upsetting the already balanced and established local ecosystem and food chain.
Having established their dominance in an area, these invasive species can produce irreversible impacts on the local habitat. These non-native species would compete for resources with native species, prey on them, or even introduce new parasites or diseases that can have fatal consequences. In the long-run, native populations would become decimated.
Risks of Diseases
The importation of exotic species as pets is also accompanied by the importation of disease risks to theirs owners and thus people in general, perhaps even novel infections and diseases a geographic region is not familiar with.
For instance, reptiles (such as snakes, turtles and lizards) carry salmonella which can cause diarrhoea and fever in humans. Other infections and diseases with which exotic pets can infect humans include also chlamydia, hepatitis A, tuberculosis, measles, monkey pox – some of which can be non-threatening while others are serious and potentially fatal. Around 75% of the emerging diseases in people today are zoonotic, that is, diseases transmitted from animals to humans.
When exotic pets are released into a new environment, the animal can also spread diseases to the other native animals in the region.
Neighbourhood Nuisances; Safety Compromised
Compounding the risk of diseases is that many of the exotic animals are dangerous in other ways, such as being innately aggressive or poisonous.
When released exotic pets like snakes or tarantulas re-enter the human compound, they can pose a risk of danger to the human residents. Irrespective of whether it is an incidental escape or intentional release into the wild, exotic pets can easily be translated into public safety hazards for people, their pets, and even the general wildlife living in the local community.