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The joint effort seeks to highlight the risks and challenges of keeping certain exotic pets
(Washington, D.C. – December 20, 2022) – A joint initiative by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’s Wildlife Trafficking Alliance (WTA) and IFAW launched today online and in three target cities. The campaign, dubbed “Not A Pet,” shines a much-needed spotlight on the illegal trade of live wild animals sold as pets in the United States while also highlighting the risk of disease emergence, spillover, and spread caused by the legal and illegal live exotic pet trade. The initiative aims to connect with potential owners of exotic pets to help them understand the risks to animal and human health and the specialized and expensive care required for these wild animals.
Demand for exotic pets is prevalent, as evidenced by IFAW’s years of research and monitoring of online marketplaces and the rapid rise in AZA-accredited facilities needing to work with law enforcement officials to place confiscated wild animals. A simple online search can lead someone to purchase a protected species, including live birds, small mammals, turtles, and other reptiles. Wildlife trade laws are complex and vary by species, state, and even county or city jurisdiction. Sellers often provide little detail about the species for sale and its associated regulations, placing the onus and risk on the potential buyer.
According to data provided by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for 2015-2019, the agency documented over 830 cases involving confiscated live wildlife, including nearly 48,800 individual live specimens that required care and placement. Many of these exotic species require specialized care. AZA-accredited facilities are often the only places where these animals can be humanely housed. But space and resources are at a premium, and the sheer volume of seized live animals can strain these facilities tremendously.
The Not a Pet campaign aims to ensure that people are adequately informed about the risks associated with owning certain exotic pets, which range from the spread of disease to the financial burden related to ownership costs and concerns regarding animal wellbeing and wildlife conservation. In many cases, simply owning that particular exotic pet can be illegal, making ownership not worth the risk.
Research shows that many people who want exotic pets love animals and are not driven by nefarious purposes or commerce. Based on this insight, the Not a Pet campaign aims to educate and empower individuals, allowing potential exotic pet owners to become advocates for wildlife instead of contributing to the problem.
The campaign will also feature targeted efforts in Cleveland, Boston, and Los Angeles. According to confiscation data, these three metro areas experience higher-than-average wildlife confiscations than other U.S. cities. The AZA-accredited zoos in these cities will plan educational activities to raise awareness of the possible pitfalls of exotic pet ownership.
According to IFAW US Director Danielle Kessler, “Trading and trafficking in live animals entails a broad spectrum of risks to both people and animals. It is, for example, a key risk factor for zoonotic disease spillover, occurring when diseases spread from animals to people. The wildlife supply chain—both legal and illegal—presents numerous opportunities for the emergence and transmission of zoonotic pathogens. Our hope is that through our joint Not a Pet campaign, potential owners will begin to fully understand the implications of exotic pet ownership and the broader risks involved.”
The most recent and widespread example of zoonotic disease spread is the emergence of COVID-19, though other examples of diseases that began in animals but spread to people include HIV/AIDS, monkeypox, and SARS.
”For decades, law enforcement officials have turned to AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums to provide emergency health care and housing after confiscating trafficked animals. Unfortunately, the demand for their help is only growing,” said Sara Walker, Senior Advisor on Wildlife Trafficking at AZA’s Wildlife Trafficking Alliance. “We have to take action now to inform consumers before they make dangerous and possibly illegal pet-buying decisions. AZA and its members are excited to partner with IFAW on this important public education campaign.”
The campaign will involve digital and traditional media while working with AZA-accredited facilities and their local audiences. You can learn more about the joint effort at the campaign’s website, NotAPet.net. The campaign will run continuously, with breaks for evaluation and updates.
Note to the editors
President and CEO Azzedine Downes of IFAW and President and CEO Dan Ashe of AZA will be available for interviews upon request.
About The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA):
Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and 12 other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit www.aza.org.
About IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare):
IFAW is a global non-profit helping animals and people thrive together. We are experts and everyday people, working across seas, oceans and in more than 40 countries around the world. We rescue, rehabilitate and release animals, and we restore and protect their natural habitats. The problems we’re up against are urgent and complicated. To solve them, we match fresh thinking with bold action. We partner with local communities, governments, non-governmental organizations and businesses. Together, we pioneer new and innovative ways to help all species flourish. See how at ifaw.org.
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