An animal welfare group is urging people on Prince Edward Island to use a provincial survey to share their input on snakes, lizards, frogs and parrots as pets.
World Animal Protection is a global organization that would like to see a ban on amphibians, reptiles and parrots being kept as pets.
"They're wild animals," the group's wildlife campaign manager Michèle Hamers told CBC Radio: Island Morning's Laura Chapin, in an interview from Toronto. "They need very specialized environmental conditions in order to thrive, and we cannot provide that to them in captivity."
Even professional zoological institutions face serious challenges providing exotic animals all the options and behavioural stimulation to keep them healthy and happy, Hamers said.
For instance, snakes — currently very popular as pets, Hamers said — are often kept in glass tanks. But Hamers said snakes do not recognize the glass as a barrier, and have been known to be injured when they bang their snouts into it.
World Animal Protection is asking people not to purchase the pets in the first place. They advise those who already have exotic pets to seek expert veterinary care, not to buy more and not to breed their pets.
The Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown does have a vet on staff who specializes in exotic animals. She was unavailable to speak with CBC P.E.I. or answer emailed questions because of her busy schedule.
'Vague and hard to enforce'
Cats and dogs have been bred over thousands of years to be domestic pets, Hamers said, but exotic animals have not.
P.E.I.'s Animal Welfare Act includes standards for housing, feeding and care of exotic pets, but those only apply to retailers and boarding facilities. There are a handful of breeder-retailers on P.E.I.
Exotic wildlife is also regulated under the keeping of wildlife in captivity regulations and general regulations of the Wildlife Conservation Act, P.E.I.'s Environment Department says.
The fish and wildlife division does issue licences under the WCA, and carries out inspections.
"There are standards: many of them are quite vague and hard to enforce," Hamer said. "Telling [you] that an animal needs 'adequate' amounts of food or water doesn't necessarily refer to the needs of the specific species."
Hamers said her group began asking the chain PetSmart two years ago to stop selling amphibians and reptiles like snakes, frogs and lizards, but added that so far the company has not responded.
CBC P.E.I. asked PetSmart about the group's request that it stop selling reptiles and amphibians, and did not receive a reply.
Ban could be harmful, says P.E.I. business
East Coast Exotics is a business in Morell, P.E.I., that breeds and sells crickets, worms, fruit flies, mice and more for exotic pet food.
Owners Jason and Rachel Hoogerbrugge say they have been in the business for 27 years and do not breed the pets themselves.
"We have sold pets in the past, but chose to stop and support local breeders instead. We want to focus on ensuring owners have access to an appropriate, affordable and healthy food source as well as education and the correct supplies and equipment ensuring pets can be properly cared for," they said.
They agree that not everyone cares for exotic pets properly — but they point out that some people don't properly care for cats, dogs and livestock either. The Hoogerbrugges say they themselves have been guilty in the past of improper exotic care, because they were not properly educated.
But they don't support a ban.
"Whether it is illegal or not, people will keep them. In fact, demand is higher for exotics that are not permitted and increases when bans are put in place," they said. "This can create issues for exotic pets if bans are put in place as owners refrain from sharing and seeking information and may not seek out medical care when required."
The couple said they do not support customers buying their pets from pet stores because of the potential lack of correct care information. They say there are several reputable breeders on P.E.I. and a supportive and informed community of pet owners on exotic pet Facebook groups in the Maritimes who effectively police one another.
"We find keepers and breeders of exotic pets are very outspoken.... If they see somebody doing something incorrectly they offer advice and best practices with links to evidence-based articles and information. New and potential owners seek out advice from experienced keepers and breeders," they said.
'General concern of the exotic pet trade'
P.E.I.'s Department of Agriculture is currently asking Islanders to answer a survey about their knowledge, attitudes and practices toward animal welfare in P.E.I. so that it can identify gaps in animal welfare laws and policies. The province made major changes to the act back in 2017, and followed up with a public education campaign.
The survey is open until Feb.15. and includes a section asking Islanders about their views on the sale, trade and exhibition of exotic animals on P.E.I.
The P.E.I. Department of Agriculture told CBC News that people's responses, along with information gathered through meetings with external groups, "will continue to inform our interdepartmental discussions."
"We're hoping that people will speak out on a general concern of the exotic pet trade and the inherent risks that the exotic pet trade causes to our own biodiversity," Hamers said.
Threat to local environment?
Another point Hamers makes: Buying exotic pets feeds into the illegal sale of wild animals. Pets can escape or are sometimes released into unfamiliar environments, threatening local species and often leading to the pet's death.
"We would like to see the end of the keeping of exotic wild animals as pets," Hamers said, noting Canadians are generally not permitted to make pets of native wildlife species such as raccoons, so should not be permitted to keep wild animals from other countries.
East Coast Exotics said they'd like to see animal welfare groups helping to educate consumers. And they think Islanders without knowledge of exotic pets should refrain from answering the province's survey.
"The purpose of the survey was to help identify concerns of the Island public regarding animal welfare and to identify gaps in animal welfare laws and policies in P.E.I.
"We know nothing about cattle, so what right would we have to participate in a survey that might jeopardize our neighbour's cattle farm or another neighbour from having a pet cow?" they said.
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