They are one of the most misunderstood creatures on the planet and considered Africa’s most legally traded live animal- the Ball python. The reptile is perceived to have no feelings or experience suffering, but it is the poster animal for the exotic pet trade. It is called a Ball python because it has the tendency to curl up into a tight ball when stressed or frightened. The false assumption that the reptile requires little care is another reason they end up as exotic pets.
Now, a ground-breaking report by World Animal Protection is sounding the alarm over the international trade of this reptile and also calling for a stop on the global wildlife trade, which is a ticking time bomb for infectious and deadly diseases. Wild animals, poached from their natural habitat or bred in captivity, are typically placed in cramped cages under dirty conditions, creating a lethal hotbed of disease. This also causes them enormous suffering.
China banned the consumption of land-based wild animals due to COVID 19 and late last week Vietnam followed suit. While this is a great first step, other wild animals used for non-edible purposes, such as exotic pets and traditional medicine are so far not included.
A permanent ban on all wildlife trade is the only long-term solution which will help to prevent major health epidemics from happening again and eventually save the African Wildlife.
Edith Kabesiime, Campaigns Manager at World Animal Protection – Africa, says, “With the recent coronavirus outbreak, we are also starting to realise that the economic and human costs of an outbreak due to the demand for an exotic animal is a price not worth paying. The international trade of African Ball pythons is an important source of economic income for some local communities, but when the snakes are all gone, the money will be too.
Meanwhile, Ball pythons and other wild animals continue to suffer in the exotic pet trade.
“The trade of Ball pythons as exotic pets is a massive global market that has impacted and depleted millions of animals in Africa over the last several decades. These animals suffer cruelly from capture, throughout to a life of captivity.” Says Edith Kabesiime.
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 behavioural 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.
All told, wild animals belong in the wild and World Animal Protection is asking everyone to do their part and Join the movement to call for an end to the global trade of wildlife. It will help humans and animals alike.