Ecohealth Alliance Calls For Improved Education Surrounding Exotic Pet Ownership

NEW YORK – March 3, 2011

EcoHealth Alliance today announced the critical need for greater awareness and education for consumers purchasing exotic pets.  The allure of non-traditional, exotic pets continues to sway consumers to purchase a myriad of non-native species including reptiles, amphibians, fish, birds and mammals.  With the release of the animated feature film, Rango, pet retailers will likely experience a dramatic spike in reptile sales.  The movie centers around a chameleon as the focal character played by Johnny Depp.  Pet trends are often influenced by pop culture, raising concerns about the inadequate education surrounding exotic pet ownership.

“We believe exotic pet ownership can be managed in a conscientious manner by retailers and consumers as long as factors of conservation, disease, and animal welfare are appropriately addressed.  We urge consumers to get the essential facts to make an informed decision as opposed to an impulse buy,” said Dr. Peter Daszak, Disease Ecologist and President of EcoHealth Alliance.

EcoHealth Alliance urges consumers to ask three major questions before purchasing an exotic pet for their family.  First, ask the pet retailer if the animal is captive bred.  Wildlife removed from their natural environments are vulnerable to stress and disease.  Studies show that 90 percent of wild-caught reptiles will die prematurely, with only 1 out of 10 reptiles achieving full life expectancy.  This can have devastating effects on wild populations around the world.  Second, inquire what special needs and care will be required to keep the pet in good health. 

Many exotic pets require specialized food, lighting, housing, supplies and maintenance and can live for many years beyond a child’s initial interest.  Lastly, discuss the amount of time that must be allotted for the pet’s daily care and welfare.  With these questions answered then consider how the needs of this new pet will affect your family’s daily routine and activities, while keeping in mind the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) warnings regarding contact between reptiles and small children, the elderly, and other persons at higher risk of salmonellosis that may live in your home.

There are solid examples of rising pet sales associated with popular movies featuring charismatic animals.  The popularity of the film, The Princess and the Frog, was related to increased amphibian sales in 2009.   That year, an outbreak of Salmonella typhimurium sickened 85 people from 31 states across the U.S.  The illness was linked to contact with infected pet frogs.  The median age of affected individuals was five years with 79 percent of the cases under the age of 10.

Another film, Finding Nemo, prompted an international demand for clownfish from tropical fish dealers. Often the initial nostalgia wears off leaving the average consumer less animated when contemplating the major responsibility of owning an exotic pet.The U.S. is the world’s largest importer of wildlife.  “In the past decade alone, two billion live animals were imported to the U.S. with more than 90 percent of those animals intended for commercial sale.  The wildlife trade generates billions of dollars of revenue in the U.S. and the countries of origin,” said Dr. Daszak.  It is estimated that a large portion of global wildlife trade is illegal and reptiles represent 69 percent of that illegal wildlife trade.  The excessive demand for wild animals can ultimately deplete native wildlife populations up to 70 percent.

“The volume of wildlife arriving at U.S. ports is enormous fueling the potential to create wide-ranging negative impacts.  Our main concerns include the animals’ welfare, the commonality of releasing exotic pets into the wild, the spread of disease from infected pets to people and native wildlife, and ultimately the extinction of a species,” said Dr. William Karesh, International Wildlife Veterinarian and Executive Vice President of Health and Policy at EcoHealth Alliance.

Exotic pet ownership continues to increase according to the American Pet Products Association’s National Pet Owners Survey.  Last year, 62 percent of U.S. households owned a pet, equating to 71.4 million homes.  It was also estimated that Americans spent $47.7 billion on pets in 2010.  The urgency for improved education surrounding the ownership of an exotic animal is vital for the health of both pet and family.

About EcoHealth Alliance
Building on 40 years of innovative science, EcoHealth Alliance (formerly Wildlife Trust) is a non-profit international conservation organization dedicated to protecting wildlife and safeguarding human health from the emergence of disease.  The organization develops ways to combat the effects of damaged ecosystems on human and wildlife health.  It specializes in saving biodiversity in human-dominated ecosystems where ecological health is most at risk from habitat loss, species imbalance, pollution and other environmental issues.  EcoHealth Alliance scientists also identify and examine the causes affecting the health of global ecosystems in the U.S. and more than 20 countries worldwide. EcoHealth Alliance’s strength is founded on innovations in research, education, training, and support from a global network of EcoHealth Alliance conservation partners. For more information, visit

EcoHealth Alliance is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable organization.