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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.
Contrary to popular belief, most exotic pets in North America are bred, rather than imported. But smuggling does take place in other areas. Often a massive amount of the species are stored into small, usually airtight, containers and smuggled in. A large number of animals perish as a result.
In one example of smuggling, slow lorises trafficked from Indonesia have their teeth removed prior to being sold locally, or exported to Japan or Russia. The animals are not given any pain relievers during their surgeries.
Some importing of live reptiles and amphibians to the USA occurs, though most of the popular reptile species kept in the USA are rarely if ever sourced from wild populations.
Some exotic animals (primates, big cats, bears, etc.) are physically capable of maiming or killing their owners, though this is not a concern with most species.
It is not legal in most states for most exotic animals (with the exception of some common species like hamsters) to be kept as pets, at least without a permit.
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.
Since most exotic animals are bred in captivity, CITES regulation does not cover much of the trade. 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 animals bred in captivity exist in the trade, 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
In the past, trade in exotic pets has been known to drive the destruction and extinction of animals in the wild. To a much smaller extent, this holds today: one of the major factors behind the status of the slow loris is the fact it is often kept locally as a pet, or traded to Japan.
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. This, however, is also true of many dog or livestock breeds.
Zoonotic disease is known to occur in a small number of exotic pets. For carnivores like raccoons and foxes, rabies is the main concern, 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 such as foxes. though animals that 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, though this is rapidly changing.
- adequate housing may be difficult and/or expensive to procure or build. This is usually only a problem for large and/or highly active animals that need a large amount of space.
- 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 impractical or impossible in a home setting.
- licensing may be required for the owning or breeding of some exotic animals. Most US states and municipalities, for example, regulate exotic pet ownership.
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.
Risk to Humans
Unlike dogs (but like domestic cats), 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. 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.
Mammals are the most likely exotic pets to injure or kill humans, with non-human primates topping the list. Bears, as well as cats above 100 pounds in weight, kill a slightly smaller percentage of owners. In contrast, reptiles kill a far smaller number of humans.
Two exotic pets that are domesticated are the tamed silver fox and the ferret. As with domestic cats, however, neither behave in the exact manner most people (who are more familiar with dogs) expect domestic animals to behave.
- 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. Archived from the original on 2 February 2015. 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.
- Hundreds of dead wild animals found at South Africa airport.
- "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.
- "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