The now popular Netflix series Tiger King follows the life of Joe Exotic. The show focuses on his private zoo of over 200 big cats. Co-directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin started filming after visiting an animal dealer, and discovered a snow leopard in the back of a van. Goode told Vanity Fair, “That set us on this journey to really understand what was going on with private owner ship of big cats in this country.” The show is dramatic, political, and funny. Exotic pet owners and animal rights activist have gone back and forth for years about animal rights. The owning of exotic animals is a public safety risk, but also put the animals at risk. Millions of exotic animals are kept as pets in the US and the annual profits is the multibillion-dollar market.
The demand for exotic pets is attributed to popular shows like Tiger King, e-commerce, and social media. Some exotic pets are bred in captivity, and many countries allow for the export of bred animals if the proper legal documents are provided. According to National Geographic, extreme poaching is devastating animal populations worldwide. Animals that are captured are often mistreated during transport and end up dying. If they do make the journey, some animals end up unable to eat, move, and behave as they would in the wild. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international agreement bans or limits trade in many animal species sought after as pets.
According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the exotic pet trade is a multi-billion dollar industry, second only to drugs and weapons on the black market. It’s a $15 billion dollar business in the United States alone, with breeders and dealers selling animals over the Internet or in trade magazines. Millions of animals are forced into the exotic pet trade every year for the purpose of becoming someone’s pet or entertaining the masses in a circus or roadside zoo.
A variety of sources provide millions of animals to the trade. According to born free USA, more than 1,000 site offer to sell, give advice, and provide chatrooms for sellers and buyer. Monkeys are the most common non-human primate to be held by individuals. Non-domesticated felines like lions, tigers, leopards, and cougar are commonly held as pets. Reptiles like snakes and lizards make up about 3% of household pets. Exotic animals carry disease that may be lethal to humans. For example, herpes B-virus, salmonellosis, avian tuberculosis, and tularemia. Exotic pet trading is regulated by a patchwork of federal, state, and local laws that vary. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 is the primary law that protects imperiled species. The Lacey Act of 1900 is a conservation law in the US that prosecute persons in possession of an animal illegally obtained in a foreign country or another state.
According to the “Journal of Veterinary Behavior,” The trade and keeping of exotic pets has been frequently criticized for the commonly inhumane and harmful practices that are associated with common domestic animals and their poor/inadequate maintenance in the home. Many of the animals suffer in chains from being captured to breeding, and housing. When owners feel overwhelmed, they either turn to zoos or sanctuaries, and maybe just release the animal which threatens other species. Modern research and analysis indicate that the keeping and trading of animals trigger defensive behaviors, or their natural instincts.
PETA uncovered a massive exotic animal wholesaler in Texas seizing more than 27,000 animals that had been subjected to crowded living conditions, poor ventilation, and a lack of food, water, and basic care.
The exotic pet trade continues to gain popularity. The multibillion-dollar industry puts the public at risk for deadly diseases spread from animal to human. The welfare of the animal is left to chance, as many owners can’t properly take care of the animals. Although, laws are in place to protect said animals’ poachers find a way around it.