Exotic species, awaiting full protection

Exotic species acquired as pets are not protected by law in Spain, where a new animal welfare law is being debated. While this initiative is being debated in Congress, in countries like Mexico, associations are fighting to improve wildlife regulation, which is still deficient in the face of strong corruption and illegal trafficking.

Last November, the Nature Protection Service (SEPRONA) rescued Kenya, a seven-month-old clouded leopard, from a private home, another of the many exotic specimens kept as pets in Spain. “A Despite the fact that they are not suitable for keeping as pets, private possession of the vast majority of them is allowed in our country.”, explains Marta Merchán, head of public policies at the AAP Primadomus, an institution that has taken care of the panterino, classified as vulnerable.

This case is not anecdotal, but one more case among many others that we receive each year and which highlights the lack of protection in which exotic animals find themselves.“says Merchan. The organization he works for is the largest wildlife rescue center in Europe and has an office in Alicante that provides shelter and rehabilitation to seized primates and big cats.

felines, pets, exotic fauna, exotic species, conservation, animal protectionKenya, a seven-month-old clouded leopard rescued from a private home / AAP Primadomus


Lack of protection for exotic animals

In Spain, anyone can collect exotic animals as long as the relevant administrative requirements are met,”something not difficult to achieve in most cases“, assures the head of the center, while waiting for the animal welfare law to go forward, which includes positive lists, a tool that would protect specimens such as big cats.

This regulation, still pending in parliament, could be a turning point in the global protection of animals like Kenya, one of the rarest felines in existence and of which only 4,500 individuals remain at large in the world.

The owner must clarify the origin of this confiscated panther, which confirms the disastrous consequences of the fashion to have exotic animals as pets.

Much of the wildlife seized belongs to non-domesticated species; in captivity they cannot meet their basic physiological, behavioral and socialization needs. And, although there are certain laws that regulate their traffic, they are insufficient in terms of trend, as it happens like the CITES agreement“says Merchan.

Trafficking in alien species, an international problem that requires global solutions

Of an international nature, this agreement tries to control the trade of endangered animals through three annexes, the first being the most restrictive because it includes the species over which hangs the greatest danger. “However, it does not prohibit the possession of wild animals, it only regulates the trade in those which have been directly taken from the wild. If the specimen was bred in captivity, it can be sold with the relevant documentation.», Specifies the member of the rescue center where Kenya is under protection.

CITES does not protect this animal if the owner presents a tendency permit. “Beyond trade regulations for species conservation, these regulations do not take into consideration animal welfare and it is very easy for anyone to have a specimen like this unique panther“, he adds.

felines, pets, exotic fauna, exotic species, conservation, animal protectionA melanistic leopard, commonly known as a black panther, seized by Latvian authorities after being found crouching illegally in an apartment in Riga. / AAP Primadomus

In the case of Mexico, we are even worse than in Spain. We are further behind in wildlife protection and welfare and big cats are heavily trafficked“explains Daen Morales, lawyer expert in environmental and animal law and vice-president of Biofutura, an association which, in addition to carrying out actions to protect biodiversity, fights to defend animal rights. “We use CITES as a tool to protect certain endemic animals that official laws do not contemplate“, explains the expert, whose association has a legal department with which judges and authorities are trained.

The alien species business

Although there are various animal welfare laws, “they are not fulfilled and even less so for species as trafficked as the jaguar. Its permanent ban has been imposed since 1987 and no one without exception can own it, however, there are legal jaguar farms and they are commercialized.“says Morales. As the lawyer details, even the environmental authority itself, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) can issue licenses to have it.

It is a business that moves a lot of money and is surrounded by a lot of corruption, with public prosecutors and police officers involved.“, assures the vice-president of Biofutura, one of the associations that is part of the National Alliance for the Conservation of the Jaguar, from where they have taken several legal actions to protect them. “But the trade union has a lot of weight, there are a lot of animal traffickers who have power in politics”, assures Morales, author of a report analyzing the effectiveness of environmental institutions in the face of offenses committed in this area.

In Spain SEPRONA does its job, in Mexico the authorities cannot be trusted: 99.98% of environmental crimes go unpunished. Here, corruption pervades everything. Even if an animal’s origin is illegal, the process can be easily faked. Jaguars captured by poachers are marketed as if they had been bred in captivity. This is called wildlife “washing”. However, even born in captivity, no big cat can thrive outside of its environment.”supports the lawyer.

felines, pets, exotic fauna, exotic species, conservation, animal protectionIzzy Barbary Macaque rescued in the Netherlands. She had lived all her life guarded as a pet in Germany. / AAP Primadomus

Alien species become invasive

In addition to not having the conditions to carry out a healthy development, many of these exotic species that live as pets escape or are released into ecosystems to which they do not belong. “In addition to the possible damage they can cause, such as the transmission of diseases, to acquire them, plundering is committed in their original wild populations, as in the case of Vietnamese piglets, and they can become invasive species.“says Merchan.

In a habitat foreign to its own, the animal has two possibilities: to die or to become an invader, displacing the endemic fauna. “A global problem that in Spain has given rise to the Spanish Catalog of Invasive Alien Species», explains the expert.

This initiative, promoted by a royal decree, establishes the prohibition of certain animals by means of negative lists which lengthen as the number of species that have become invasive increases.

However, it does not avoid the problem, but tries to give you an answer when it is already created. The legislation is far behind, without providing a comprehensive solution. In Spain, as long as a species is not classified as invasive and does not come from the wild, being listed in Appendix I of the CITEC, it is very easy to have an exotic animal legally. That’s why we’ve spent years advocating for Positive Lists, a tool that incorporates the new Animal Welfare Act.“, explains the head of AAP.

Positive inscriptions, a turning point

The initiative, which adopts a preventive pet tendency regulation system, covers species suitable for keeping as pets, after an evaluation carried out by independent experts that follows objective and scientific criteria. In this way, the possession of any fauna not included in the list is prohibited.

This would clarify which animals can be made pets based on criteria of animal welfare, public safety, public health, species conservation and the environment. Anyone who does not meet any of the criteria would not be automatically allowed“, explains Merchán, who confesses to being “looking forward to and delighted with the approval of this measurewhich has already been adopted in many European countries such as Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Malta, Cyprus, Croatia, Lithuania, France and very recently Italy.

It would be very effective in Mexico, where permits to have, for example, a jaguar or a panther are so easy to obtain.said Morales.

The approval of this chapter of the law which includes the positive lists would avoid in Spain cases like that of Kenya, whose future depends on whether the individual who had it, a collector of exotic fauna, presents or not documentation in order.

We are aware that this specimen was separated from its mother at too young an age, with the physiological and behavioral problems that this can cause in any mammal. In addition, she has cataracts and is practically blind. It is still unclear what will happen to her, if the papers say she is of legal origin she will have to be returned to where she was rescued.laments Merchán.


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