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New Scientific Report Exposes Large-Scale Suffering in the Exotic Pet Trade

BRIGHTON, England, June 5, 2014 /PRNewswire/ --

Harrowing details of one of the largest exotic pet seizures in U.S. history have now been published in the latest issue of the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science. A major international wholesaler, U.S. Global Exotics (USGE)was investigated by veterinarians, biologists and other exotic animal experts alongside the Texas State authorities. Around 3,500 dead and dying animals, or 12% of the 'stock', were discarded weekly at the facility, meaning that during each stock turnover period of 6 weeks, around 72% of animals were trashed. USGE also supplied animals for the European trade, including the UK.  

Pictures obtained from the investigation (featured in the article) show the filthy and overcrowded conditions in which animals were kept and the pitiful state of the animals themselves. Animals were found suffering, dying or dead due to cold, starvation, dehydration, infections and parasite infestations, as well as being crushed or cannibalised - many had to be euthanased. In total more than 26,400 animals (mammals, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates) were seized, and on inspection 80% of the animals were found to be sick, injured or dead.

Says a UK-based biologist and medical scientist who assisted with the seizure and co-wrote the report:

"This animal dealer had operated for years with apparent impunity, largely because an amiable public facade masked the grand and sustained scale of suffering, disease and death behind the scenes. Unfortunately, as someone who has investigated the exotic pet trade for three decades, the conditions identified in this report are in my experience common throughout suppliers and retailers of all sizes." 

Clifford Warwick PGDipMedSci CBiol CSci EurProBiol FOCAE FSB

The colossal seizure came about as a result of a 7-month undercover investigation by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA). Disturbingly, during court proceedings, the dealer's defence argued that the 72% mortality during 6 weeks was industry standard. The court, however, found that all animals had been treated cruelly. If such poor conditions are accepted as 'industry standard' then this may partly explain why death rates are so high for reptiles once they reach the home environment. A study published in the Biologist in 2012 found that at least 75% of reptiles die within their first year in the home.

Says Director of the UK-based Animal Protection Agency:

"Thanks to PeTA's superb investigative work, the lid has well and truly been lifted on the wholesale and supply of animals for the exotic pet trade, and thanks to the investigators involved, this is now on record in the scientific literature. With an 'industry standard' this poor then enforcement authorities in the UK and elsewhere need to take a much closer look at all importers, breeders, wholesalers and retailers in the pet trade pipeline. 

Elaine Toland BSc(Hons) FRSPH

During the investigation, the two owners of USGE, Jasen and Venessa Shaw, left the U.S. for their native New Zealand. Jasen Shaw is now formally a federal fugitive awaiting capture and extradition to the US to face a series of charges. In just a few short years, USGE shipped hundreds of thousands of animals, many of which were likely sick and carrying disease, worldwide, including to the UK companies Coast to Coast Exotics, in Darlington, County Durham; Peregrine Livefoods, in Ongar, Essex; and PM Aquatic Imports, in Denton, Manchester.

The USGE seizure serves as a useful case study to illustrate many of the wider problems caused by the exotic pet trade. Even though the facility housed a large accumulation of diverse species from across the globe, biosecurity - or even basic hygiene - was routinely disregarded. Threats to human and animal health posed by the exotic pet trade are significant. Reptiles and amphibians, which comprised the bulk of animals at USGE, are known to harbour a raft of germs that can affect humans, agricultural animals and wildlife. At USGE, investigators also noticed opportunities where animals could escape and either spread disease to local wildlife or potentially become established and invasive.

Full reference: Ashley, S., Brown, S., Ledford, J., Martin, J., Nash, A E., Terry, A., Tristan, T. & Warwick, C. (2014) Morbidity and mortality of invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles and mammals at a major exotic companion animal wholesaler. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 17:1–14, 2014 DOI:10.1080/10888705.2014.918511.

The link to the article is:

  • For further information or pictures please contact Elaine Toland on +44(0)1273-674253 or out of hours on +44(0)7986-535024.
  • To interview Clifford Warwick, please contact the Emergent Disease Foundation on +44(0)7757-267369.

SOURCE Animal Protection Agency

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