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An exotic pet is a rare or unusual animal pet, or an animal kept within human households which is generally thought of as a wild species not typically kept as a pet.
Commonly, the definition is an evolving one; some rodents, reptiles, and amphibians have become firmly enough established in the world of animal fancy to no longer be considered exotic. Sometimes any unique or wild-looking pet (including common domestic animals such as the ferret and the fancy rat) is called an exotic pet.
"Exotic" generally refers to a species which is not native or indigenous to the owner's locale; and "pet" is a companion animal living with people.  Therefore, the American College of Zoological Medicine has defined the group as "zoological companion animals".
Legally, the definition is subject to local jurisdiction, but is defined federally in the US, in part: "[An animal] ...that is native to a foreign country or of foreign origin or character, is not native to the United States, or was introduced from abroad." However, "[The term pet] ...excludes exotic animals and wild animals."
Animals kept as exotic pets
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It has been estimated that as many as 15,000 non-human primates are kept by private individuals as pets in the United States. Nine states ban the keeping of non-human primates, but no federal law regulates ownership. In 1975, the Center for Disease Control prohibited their import into the US for use as pets. The breeding industry uses descendants of animals imported before 1975. Non-human primates of various species, including those listed as endangered, such as cottontop tamarins, baboons, chimpanzees, Diana monkeys, lemurs and gibbons are still available for purchase in the US, although due to captive breeding, this does not affect wild populations. For example, chimpanzees are popular in some areas despite their strength, aggression, and wild nature. Even in areas where keeping non-human primates as pets are illegal, the exotic pet trade continues to prosper and some people keep chimpanzees as pets mistakenly believing that they will bond with them for life. As they grow, so do their strength and aggression; some owners and others interacting with the animals have lost fingers and suffered severe facial damage among other injuries sustained in attacks.
Many professionals, including veterinarians, zoologists, humane societies and others, strongly discourage the keeping of non-human primates as pets, as their complex emotional and social needs and other highly specialized requirements may be difficult (but not impossible) to meet by the average owner.
Although the breeding population has been largely isolated from wild populations outside the US, they still have the potential to transmit zoonotic disease. There is a considerable risk of monkey B virus from rhesus macaques. Research workers have died from this disease contracted from non-human primate research subjects. Additionally, there is considerable risk to the non-human primate pet through transmission of human disease. One such example is herpes simplex virus, which can be deadly to certain smaller monkeys.
The exotic pet trade puts both the animals and their owners in harms way. In order for the animals to be brought into the United States, a mass amount of the species are stored into small, usually airtight, containers and smuggled in. Because of this most of the animals do not even make it through the move. The animals are also uprooted and torn away from any of their families and homes. Many animals, like the Slow Loris, must undergo painful surgeries to remove any venom sacks, sharp teeth, or claws. These animals are not given any pain relievers during their surgeries and are forced to watch as others undergo this process before them. Some animals carry very serious diseases that could make owners seriously ill. The animals will still have their wild instincts and could lash out at any time without warning. It is not safe, or legal in most states, for exotic animals to be kept as pets.
The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, or CITES, moderates the trade of some exotic pets around the world, to prevent any threats to their survival and ecological damage. Certain animals may be strictly regulated or restricted outright due to both their conservation status, as well as the possibility of the animal becoming an invasive species.
In some cases laws are circumvented by breeding the animals in captivity. The USDA issues permits for keeping and breeding certain exotic species, whether captured from the wild or bred. In the United States, for example, it is illegal to import non-human primates for the pet trade, but a flourishing breeding industry exists, using animals descended from those brought in legally before the ban was enacted.
In 2003, the US Captive Wild Animal Safety Act became law and in September 2007 the US Fish and Wildlife Service enacted rules to enforce the CWASA. The law now bans the sale or transport of big cats, which includes lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, cougars, snow leopards, clouded leopards, cheetahs and their hybrids across state lines for the pet trade.
Impact on the world
The trade in exotic pets has been known to drive the destruction and extinction of animals in the wild. However, with captive breeding exotic animals becoming more prevalent, fewer and fewer animals are being captured from the wild.
Veterinary costs for treatment of exotic animals may be significantly higher than for a more conventional pet, owing to the increased specialization required.
Some wild animals are known to carry or contract diseases that can affect humans, such as salmonellosis and rabies, though any animal born in captivity does not carry any of these diseases, contrary to popular belief and despite their species. Similarly, some human diseases can be dangerous for certain animals (like strep throat). The American Veterinary Medical Association, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Animal Control Association, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association and the CDC all discourage the private ownership of certain exotic animals. Though animals who are captive bred in the United States have no risk of contracting any harmful disease as they are not exposed to it in any way.
In the UK, where exotic pet ownership is high, voluntary organisations such as "SEEPR" (South East Exotic Pet Rescue) take in unwanted, ill or lost exotic animals to nurse them back to full health before rehoming them.
Providing appropriate environmental conditions, housing and diet for an exotic animal may be difficult for several reasons:
- insufficient information may be available on caring for such animals in captivity
- adequate housing may be difficult and/or expensive to procure or build
- it may be difficult to provide the correct environment (such as temperature or amount of sunlight)
- feeding the correct diet may be difficult or impossible
- providing the right social environment for highly social species may be impossible in a home setting
- licensing may be required for the owning or breeding of some exotic animals
However, captive care and husbandry information for many commonly kept amphibians, reptiles, birds, and small exotic mammals are widely available through literature, animal enthusiast groups, and Internet websites and discussion forums.
Unlike commonly domesticated pets, exotic animals retain their wild nature. Even if they are bred for the pet trade and raised by humans, they may be unpredictable, relatively resistant to training; in some cases, especially as full-grown adults, they can be dangerous. The only exception on this list is the tamed silver fox and the ferret. Injuries to humans may be relatively common, but reported yearly deaths due to exotic pet ownership are rare. Statistics compiled by an advocacy organization indicate a yearly average of less than 3.5 fatalities per year in the United States; and another lists 87 exotic animal incidents resulting in human death from Jun 20, 1990 to Apr 15, 2016.
- A FRAMEWORK FOR ASSESSING THE SUITABILITY OF DIFFERENT SPECIES AS COMPANION ANIMALS, Appendix C; Animal Welfare 2000, 9:359-372, p.360 pet animal, as defined by the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals (Council of Europe 1987) as: animals sharing man's companionship and in particular living in his household.
- "Exotic Animal Law & Legal Definition". USLegal. Retrieved 8 October 2012.
Exotic animal is defined by 9 CFR 1.1
- "Pet animal". USLeagal. Retrieved 8 October 2012.
According to 9 CFR 1.1 [Title 9 -- Animals and Animal Products; Chapter I -- Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Department of Agriculture]
- "List of Exotic Rodents kept as pets". Retrieved 2014-05-24.
- "The Perils of Keeping Monkeys as Pets". Retrieved 2008-07-13.
- "B-virus from Pet Macaque Monkeys: An Emerging Threat in the United States?". January–March 1998. Retrieved 2010-03-26.
- "Chimpanzees Don't Make Good Pets". The Jane Goodall Institute. Retrieved 1 February 2015.
- "The Problem with Pet Monkeys – Keeping Monkeys as Pets". Retrieved 2008-07-13.
- "B Virus (Cercopithecine herpesvirus 1) Infection CDC NCID". Retrieved 2008-07-13.
- "What is CITES?". Retrieved 2010-03-26.
- Federal Register: August 16, 2007 (Volume 72, Number 158)
- Summary of US State laws regarding Exotic Pets from the Born Free USA website and Map of Exotic-Animal-Laws at Born Free USA website. Both accessed May 22, 2016.
- Hundreds of dead wild animals found at South Africa airport.
- "Exotic Pet FAQ". Retrieved 2010-03-26.
- Exotic animals bringing health risks with them
- Responsible Exotic Animal Ownership
- "Total Numbers and Odds of an Accidental Death in the USA by Cause of Injury in 2005" (PDF). REXANO. Retrieved 8 October 2012.
- "Exotic Animal Incidents Category: Escape/Attack resulting in human death". Born Free, USA. Retrieved 22 May 2016.
- American College of Zoological medicine (ACZM) - Certifies veterinary specialists in zoological medicine which includes zoological companion species.
- Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians (AEMV) - US and international database of exotic mammal veterinarians
- Wild & Dangerous: The World of Exotic Pets