The Ritz Herald
© Aaron Gekoski. World Animal Protection

Global Reptile Trade Creates Enormous Suffering, Cruelty and a Hotbed of Disease

Millions of wild animals, including Ball pythons, are being captured or born into captivity, to be sold into the multibillion-dollar exotic pet trade, which is having a devastating impact on wildlife populations across the world

Published on March 24, 2020

A ground-breaking report by World Animal Protection is sounding the alarm over the international trade of African Ball pythons; Africa’s most legally traded live animal.i

The wildlife trade is also a ticking time bomb for infectious and deadly diseases, says the charity. Wild animals, poached from the wild or bred in captivity, are typically placed in cramped cages under squalid conditions, creating a lethal hotbed of disease, while causing enormous suffering and cruelty.

These findings are featured in a shocking new documentary released on March 23, 2020. Worryingly, in just over 45 years, more than three million Ball pythons have been exported from West Africa to Europe, Asia and the United States – which is the largest importer.

The reptile trade makes up 20% of the global exotic pet trade, yet they are perhaps one of the most misunderstood types of animals. Assessments of over 5,000 snakes found that conditions provided by breeders across North America and the EU do not meet the minimum recommended care standards as they stuff reptiles in small plastic containers and glass boxes when on display for sale, raising major on-going animal welfare concerns.

Ball pythons, the poster child for the exotic pet trade, alongside other reptiles, are often believed to not have feelings or feel pain and suffering. Yet, the name ‘Ball python’ refers to their tendency to curl into a tight ball when stressed or frightened, and the false assumption that they require little specialized care is another reason they end up as exotic pets.

Highlights from the report, involving investigations in West Africa, the EU, and North America include:

  • 99% of all Ball python global imports originate from just three West African countries: Togo, Benin and Ghana.
  • Ball python “ranching” in West Africa is dependent on wild capture (which involves them being physically dug out from burrows, stuffed into sacks often filled with other snakes) that can result in distress, injury, death, and disease.
  • Tens of millions of exotic pets are thought to be in homes around the world, with reptiles amounting to 51% of the almost 9 million exotic pets in US homes alone.
  • Ball pythons have complex and specific requirements to meet even their most basic needs in captivity – including the ability to extend to the full length of their bodies. The only place where these behavioral and biological needs can be fully met is in the wild.
  • In captivity, Ball pythons are kept in spaces vastly smaller than their natural habitats allow, and they typically don’t have the proper access to water, shelter or enrichment, even if owners have their best intentions to care for them properly.

Online activity is helping to drive the demand and the cruel trade – the key players being; Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. Pet stores and e-commerce sites are also increasing both the consumer demand and market availability of exotic pets like Ball pythons.

A permanent ban on all wildlife trade is the only proper solution – protecting wild animals in the wild, eliminating animal suffering in captivity will also help to prevent major health epidemics. The recent outbreak of coronavirus and regular outbreaks of Salmonella infections highlight how proximity between stressed and injured wildlife and humans can be a dangerous cocktail. Action is needed to end the exotic pet trade, not only for animal welfare and biodiversity but also to protect human health.

Cassandra Koenen, Global Head of Wildlife not Pets at World Animal Protection, says, “The trade of Ball pythons as exotic pets is a massive global market that has impacted millions of animals over the last several decades. They are one of the most misunderstood species, these animals suffer cruelly from capture, through to a life of captivity.”

“Whether traded legally or illegally, keeping wild animals as pets is cruel – Ball python sellers in North America and Europe are failing to meet even the minimum care standards for these snakes. They are cruelly stuffed into tiny plastic containers lacking the space to move at all and without access to water, shelter or the ability to regulate their body temperature. It’s devastating that sellers have somehow forgotten that these are wild animals, not commodities. Wild animals are not pets, they belong in the wild.”

World Animal Protection is urging people to not buy, or breed Ball pythons as pets. A life in captivity is a world away from a life in the wild.

Join the movement to call for an end to the global trade of wildlife, including Ball pythons.

i This is according to species listed on the Convention on the Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) database. Downloaded on 19 Feb. 2020.

Newsdesk Editor