Is it time to close down the exotic species trade?

Definitely a touchy subject, but it’s also considerably too late for most if not all locations that allow non-native pets. As a wildlife biologist who owns 9 pet snakes, I’d rather see proper education, policy, and enforcement over blanket bans (which certainly would not work). The majority of releases, especially ones that make the news, are one-off events that will not impact the local environment. For those species that do become established, it’s often too late at that point. Sure, we can try to prevent further harm, but most invasive fish and reptiles in Florida (for example) are simply not going away, especially when those who like to look for them keep locations secret and perpetuate their existence for fun. Hell, wildlife agencies often introduce fish to new regions to encourage sports fishing. Pet keepers are not the only ones that release non-native things.

Governments, even natural resource departments, would do better by acknowledging cats and dogs as invasive species rather than pets often labeled as “exotic.” Domestic cats do far more damage worldwide than any “exotic” pet ever could, yet governments do not acknowledge this fact and perpetuate the existence of feral colonies. We could eliminate most of them, too, at least in more urban and suburban areas. Many areas already catch them for sterilization, yet they release the invasives back into the environment when they’re done poking needles. This worldwide issue is far, far more important than someone who releases a tropical fish in a small pond that freezes over in the winter.

Blanket bans are unhelpful and an overreaction in many circumstances. Certain restrictions and policies would be helpful, but they need to be based in fact. Few exotic pets can survive or even become a problem in temperate North America. Bans aren’t necessary in most places.


Can you say, “political suicide”?


Pacu is common aquarium fish. It looks like piranha. Black pacu grows to a big size. Pacus are not dangerous fish.

True, I forgot about the cargo ships coming from their natural range. Thanks for correcting me.

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I’m fully with you with your comments regarding domestic cats. However, saying it’s ‘too late’ to avoid establishment of invasive species is not really an argument against at least attempting to stem the continued influx/reproduction of more individuals, is it?

Also, I think it would be more accurate to say ‘tropical’ rather than ‘exotic’ if you’re arguing that they won’t survive in temperate zones. Many species from temperate Eurasia do just fine in North America.

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This may be flawed reasoning. In all reality, the pet trade is only one of many different vectors or avenues in which species get introduced, and one which is comparatively small. In many cases, these aren’t new or novel species just being bought here for the first time, as was the case with things such as Asian carp or zebra mussels, which are totally apples and oranges as far as the vectors by which they got there. In most pet cases, establishment also really only happens with the mass release or escape of animals (as has been observed with the Burmese python in FL), not from individual pet releases or escapes.

A species has to become established somewhere first before they can be considered as “invasive”, and In the case of many domestically bred species of herps and other pets, have already been here for many decades and have had ample opportunities to establish themselves. Despite this, they have large not done so aside from a very small number of states/areas in the U.S. which present very unique circumstances for them to be able to do so (i.e. Florida, etc.).

Rules or no rules, the exotic pet (and plant) trade will exist. Why? Because some people want strange pets and will pay money for them, and others will meet that demand. Yes, some of those exotic species will become weeds. Yes, exploitation will drive some species to extinction. So I would say, nibble around the edges of this, as we’re doing now. Prohibit trade in endangered species because this may reduce but won’t stop trade in species people want. Prohibit import of some species known to be problems. Enforce rules about caring for animals properly. Provide free spaying and neutering for dogs and cats. (And euthanize strays, I say, though that will arouse fury in some of you.) Most of all, educate. We can reduce the problems some, though they’ll never go away.


Oh I know, that’s why they don’t do it. We need to change the culture. But alienating exotic pet owners isn’t helpful either.

By “too late,” I am specifically referring to species that are established. House geckos, Cuban treefrogs, Burmese pythons, Cuban brown anoles, etc., are all breeding and spreading in the US. They have been doing so for decades. Most of those were not introduced via the pet trade.

It takes a lot of introductions of a lot of individuals, and the right conditions for breeding, for a species to become established. As stated, many species have had the opportunity. I believe we’re at “maximum capacity,” for lack of a better term, in regards to new invasive animals (because that’s what I study) becoming established. If it’s not already breeding and spreading, it most likely will not do so in the future.

Terminology is beyond the point here. OP used exotic, so I continued.

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