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An exotic pet is generally defined as 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.

According to animal welfare charity OneKind there are more than 1000 species of mammals, birds, invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians, and hundreds of fish species, are involved in the pet trade. In 2014 the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association estimated an exotic pet population in the UK of approximately 42 million (including fish).

Issues with the Exotic Pet Trade

The trade in exotic pets is believed to drive habitat destruction and extinction of animals in the wild. While some wild pets are bred in captivity, many exotic animals are taken directly from their native habitats. The stress of been captured and transported of then causes many animals to die before they reach the UK.[1]

Another concern is that young animals can grow into dangerous adults which can become unmanageable in a domestic environment which may not satisfy their welfare needs[2]. In addition. As exotic animals grow, their needs for food and space increase leading to the risk of neglect and abuse.[3]


The Animal Welfare Act 2006 imposes a legal responsibility on a pet owner to provide for their animal’s basic needs, stating an animal needs a suitable place to live, a proper diet and the opportunity to behave naturally and the owner has a duty to keep it safe from pain, suffering and disease. This act applies only in England and Wales, the Scottish Parliament having passed a similar legislation, the Animal Health and Welfare Act (Scotland) 2006, while in Northern Ireland, the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 1972 is the principal set of legal rules governing animal care.

The keeping of dangerous wild animals as pets is regulated by the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 and the selling by pet shops of exotic animals as pets is regulated by the Pet Animals Act 1951. There are no detailed controls on the keeping of non-dangerous exotic animals as pets, which some charities think is unacceptable. 

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, gives protection to some of our native species which might once have been considered for keeping as exotic pets and prohibits the release of exotic species into the wild. Some of the European endangered species which in the past were seen as potential pets are today afforded protection under the Berne Convention and other similar EU statutes.

Campaigns by Charities and Other Organisations

The BVA issued a joint statement with the British Veterinary Zoological Society (BVZS) on the importation of wild reptiles and amphibians into the EU in 2014. The statement outlines the major issues with the trading and keeping of exotic pets and recommends enforcement of current import and welfare legislation. The BVA also issued a holding statement, in June 2013, which calls for information to assess the economic and environmental impact of harvesting other exotic species from the wild, and independent research into the implications of catching fish in the wild.

The Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE) believes that some exotic species are completely unsuitable to be kept by the general public. At a meeting in October 2013 FVE agreed to support the principle of drafting ‘suitability lists’, which specify the species that can or cannot be kept by private individuals.

The Ecologist published an article in November 2014, calling the exotic pet trade “an evil which must be stopped”. The article states that exotic pet mortality is high and survivors are often abandoned by their owners and released into the wild. It also highlights the dangers of imported exotic diseases.

The RSPCA and Born Free are both charities that disagree with keeping exotic animals as pets due to the suffering caused to many animals and the possibility of transmitting infection diseases. For more information see charity and other organisations’ websites:

Scottish Government Review

The Scottish Government committed to a review in February 2015 of the trade and importations of exotic animals for the pet trade in Scotland. This is being led by The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, Richard Lochhead. Following discussions with animal welfare charity OneKind, Mr Lochhead stated he is keen to review current legislation and explore the effect tighter controls on exotic pet ownership could have.

[1]     Captive Animal Protection Society, Exotic Pet Trade, Accessed 7 December 2015

[2]     One Kind, Exotic Pets, Accessed 7 December 2015

[3]     RSPCA, Wild Animals in Captivity, Accessed 7 December 2015

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