Open letter to Australian threatened species commissioner: Not “patriotic” to keep koalas, kangaroos and wombats as pets

Wombats are among the native wildlife species Australians sometimes choose to keep as pets and recently, Australian threatened species commissioner Gregory Andrews praised Australians doing so as “patriotic.”The following is an OPEN LETTER sent electronically to


Re: Keep Wildlife Wild!


Dear Mr Andrews:

As one of the world’s leading animal welfare and conservation organisations, the International Fund for Animal Welfare was deeply dismayed by your comments published this week calling for Australians to keep native animals as pets and felt compelled to write to you to register our grave concerns.

IFAW is opposed to the capture, trading, keeping and breeding of wild animals for the pet trade. Wild animals including Australian native wildlife have extremely complex biological and husbandry needs – none of which can be adequately met in domestic environments. Domestic animals such as dogs and cats, have been bred for thousands of years to live in domestic situations and yet shelters such as the RSPCA are continually inundated with abandoned and surrendered animals when their owners can’t take care of them.

Where IFAW does agree with you is on the issue of our native wildlife being under unprecedented threat. However, bringing native animals into our homes is not the answer, nor is it a “patriotic” act, and will undoubtedly create added pressures on species and biodiversity down the track. We are unaware of any conservation or recovery plans for any of Australia’s threatened species where they recommend the keeping of native wildlife as pets as a means of promoting recovery?

Instead, why not address the major threats facing our wildlife, namely the fact that their habitat is being destroyed and as you have already identified the huge threat posed by feral cats. It’s somewhat ironic that you are calling for wildlife to become domesticated in order to save it, when it’s lack of responsible pet ownership that has contributed to the feral cat problem. Feral cats didn’t all start out wild, but came about largely due to people not caring for domestic cats properly and releasing or abandoning them. These stray cats then turned to hunting wildlife for survival, eventually becoming feral and contributing to the devastating demise of our native wildlife.

Calls encouraging the keeping of native wildlife as pets simply expose our native wildlife to the biggest predator of them all – humans. By encouraging people to bringing wild animals into an alien environment such as our living rooms, you are not only endangering the wild animal but are putting humans at risk too. As we all know, every baby animal is cute but can turn into a wild, powerful unpredictable and sometimes aggressive adult as they grow up. They also carry diseases that can be transferred to humans including salmonella and toxoplasmosis.

There is no such thing as an ‘easy to keep pet’ and you really think that people will be able to cope with looking after wild animals responsibly? Wild animals are by nature wild and often highly specialised, with very specific environmental and dietary needs which are incredibly hard to imitate in an artificial environment. Appropriate care for wild animals requires considerable expertise, specialised facilities and lifelong dedication. Their nutritional and social needs are demanding to meet and, in many cases, are unknown.

Responsible pet ownership is already a huge issue in this country, with countless pets suffering from abuse, neglect and abandonment. Animal charities are already struggling to cope and do not have the capacity to deal with any additional burden your comments may place on them.

Opening up the pet trade to allow the capture, breeding and sale of native wildlife into the pet trade puts an economic price on the heads of native wildlife and exposes them to poaching from the wild and illegal trade. In Australia many of the reptiles that are currently kept as pets under license conditions are from captive bred sources, although there is always the strong threat of illegal capture and trade. Even those animals that are bred in captivity specifically for the pet trade once had relatives that were collected from the wild. The capture, transport and sale of wild animals is known to cause unacceptable suffering and death for individual animals.

Just as unwanted dogs and cats are dumped in the bush or at pet shelters across the country, the ease by which people will be able to release native wildlife back into the environment when they tire of them or dump them on the already overburdened volunteer wildlife care network, is of grave concern. Apart from exposing the individual animal to potential suffering, there is the undeniable threat of potential for the spread of disease into wild populations, competition for food and resources, and long lasting impacts on biodiversity as a whole.

While IFAW shares your passion for seeking greater public awareness and “patriotism” in the plight of Australian native wildlife, as our National Threatened Species Commissioner, we believe this should be by encouraging people to value our wildlife in the wild. -by all means open our garden gates to native wildlife, plant native species, leave water out, but native animals should not be let in front door.

Today is World Wildlife Day. Please use this awareness day to encourage people to think about ways to protect our native wildlife in the wild rather than bringing them into our homes. Australia’s unique and iconic wildlife was born to be wild and needs to stay that way.

I very much hope you will reconsider your position on this critical issue.


Yours sincerely

Josey Sharrad

Native Wildlife Campaigner


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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