A local conservation charity is using National Pet Month to throw a spotlight on the dark side of the international pet trade. A new exhibit at Newquay Zoo focusses on one part of the problem – the illegal trade in South East Asian songbirds.
The Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust is the charity that runs Paignton Zoo, Living Coasts in Torquay and Newquay Zoo in Cornwall. Spokesperson Phil Knowling said: “National Pet Month is a great opportunity to talk about the pet trade from a conservation perspective. We want to raise awareness about the illegal and unsustainable harvesting of wild animals to sell illegally into the pet trade.
“Pets are important – they help people form a connection with nature and learn to empathise with animals. But the illegal trade in animals is causing a conservation crisis for many species.”
Most of the bird species in Newquay Zoo’s Gems of the Jungle walk-through aviary are threatened by the illegal pet trade. They include Sumatran laughing thrush, Pekin robin and bul bul. But it’s not just birds; other animals are in danger, including tortoises, parrots and loris.
Newquay Zoo Animal Collection Manager John Meek said: “Gems of the Jungle was built to highlight the illegal bird trade in Asia. Birds are kept in small cages in most homes throughout Asia. To have a song-bird in your home is a status symbol. These birds are caught and sold cheaply – and, because they are kept separately, they don’t get a chance to breed, which is another reason for their decreasing numbers.”
In countries like Indonesia, many local species are facing extinction in the wild. In the same country, the authorities regularly stop consignments of illegally-caught turtles numbering thousands of animals.
The illegal pet trade can include species covered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). As more individuals are trapped, the species becomes rarer, increasing the commercial value.
Paignton Zoo’s Head of Veterinary Services Ghislaine Sayers makes another point: “Illegally imported animals arrive without quarantine or vet care, so they can very easily bring new diseases into this country. The animals also suffer from poor welfare, poor nutrition, unsuitably-small travelling crates, social deprivation and other stresses which suppress their immune system and make them more susceptible to diseases they may be already carrying.”
Phil Knowling: “What can people do? Contact their MP; ask local pet shops where they get their animals – the more questions we ask the better.” Paignton Zoo Environmental Park is a registered charity. For more information go towww.paigntonzoo.org.uk or ring 01803 697500.