Recently there has been an influx of ‘cute’ videos on social media – the bear, lion and tiger cub living together, or the tickling slow Ioris and the latest being the ring-tailed Lemur asking for a back scratch. However, these create a market for an illegal wildlife/pet trade.

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What is Illegal Wildlife Trade? Selling of wildlife or animals parts or even plant resources is wildlife trade. Not all wildlife trade is illegal. When there is an overexploitation of certain species of wildlife or plants laws are put into effect in a bid to sustain and maintain the balance in nature. Poaching of tusks from elephants, horns from rhinos and skin and bones of a tiger are examples of illegal wildlife trade.

What is Illegal Pet Trade? Selling of wildlife for use as pets is illegal pet trade since it threatens countless species that sends them towards extinction. Parakeets, turtles, Lemurs are a few animals that are captured from their habitat gradually emptying forests, rivers and skies for a global consumer market.

How does this start? Demand drives the illegal wildlife trade. Rhino horns have become a much more prized commodity since inaccurate information got around about rhino horn curing cancer. Tiger skin and bones have always been traded illegally because of its apparent health benefits. With the illegal pet trade, it mostly stems from cute viral videos that misses crucial context. Slow Iorises were a species not known to most people, however a video of an slow Ioris lifting her hands up while being tickled turned into the most demanded pet.

What other reasons are there?

  1. There are many nations that have a high demand for wildlife or wildlife goods and expect that lifestyle to be supplied.
  2. On the flip side of the coin, there are people suffering in extreme poverty who see bartering of wildlife as a viable source of income.
  3. Governing bodies do exact laws and have harsh penalties, however, there are gaps in conserving wildlife.
  4. Certain countries have competitions with these illegal pets taking centre stage.

How do the viral videos tie in with the bigger picture? Watching the bear, tiger and lion cubs tumbling around with each other similar to a littler or puppies or cats disillusions you to the actual danger of the wildness of these magnificent beasts. Watching a slow Ioris with its arms raised while being tickled makes you believe these are animals make adorable pets. The lemur being back scratched again disillusions you into believing that this wild animal can be domesticated and live as pets.

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Why is this dangerous? Half information, out of context information is always very dangerous. Rhino horns do not cure cancer and tiger parts do not help make you healthy. However, that has not stopped the illegal wildlife trade. In the same vein, a slow Ioris doesn’t actually like being tickled. Arms raised is a sign of distress, because a venom is released under its armpit that it licks and then bites the source of threat. Lemurs are social creatures and need to be surrounded with other lemurs, they are also vicious and do not like being domesticated.

What has been the fallout from the Illegal Wildlife Trade? Tigers, Elephants and Rhinos are among the most endangered animals in the wild. Conservationists are trying their best to protect these wild beasts however, deforestation, reduction in habitats and poaching are causes for concern. Governing bodies and conservationists can only do so much, however, there are too many ‘illegal trade hot-spots’ that eradicating this trade is difficult.

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What has been the fallout from the Illegal Pet Trade? The slow Ioris is a prime example of this. No one knew what a slow Ioris was until there was a YouTube video. The pet trade flourished because of this, because they bite their threats with a venom from under their arms – their teeth were clipped out without proper anaesthesia causing a lot to die from infections or blood loss. Many died during transport conditions which are very overcrowded, stressful situations. If a slow Ioris survives the transport to its new owner, they do not survive too well, since even well-meaning owners do not understand the animals needs, habitat requirements and food requirements. Most of these social animals die in loneliness. This has caused the slow Ioris to become an endangered animal. The lemur is already an endangered animal as well, and many owners are unable to maintain them as pets and these are locked, abandoned or killed, since even in a domesticated environment they are aggressive.

What can you do? Learning more is always a plus. Find out more about the animals that are there in the videos – are they endangered, do they really make good pets? It’s always beneficial to learn more, photos and videos tend to skew our perceptions, as many people believe dolphins and chimpanzees are perfect animals in captivity. However, till date every dolphin in captivity has died as they are social creatures and we do not know much about their way of life that we cannot recreate it in captivity. Chimpanzees, though ape-like and show similar characteristics to humans are wild animals and cannot be domesticated either as they tend to show aggressive tendencies as well. If you end up sharing videos make sure you spread the correct context about the creature involved. Speak out about wildlife trade. Stand with the Indian Government and conservationists in protecting the countries endangered wildlife {India is committed towards fighting illegal trade of elephants, tigers and rhinos}.

Remember – Increasing an animal’s appeal as a pet, encourages illegal trade and threatens the species.

Sources: National Geographic, Huffington Post, WWF

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