The idea of having an exotic pet excites a lot of animal lovers. Having a snake, bird, or any little critter that most people never get to see, let alone own is too much to pass up. Sadly, there are a couple major problems with this. First, the exotic pet market is one of the key things that support poachers and black market animal dealers, but that’s only the problem on the front end. New research is showing that a lot of those imported, exotic pets are getting loose and becoming invasive species.
More than one million exotic animals are imported into the US each year and more and more of them are now finding their way into the wild. Because many exotic pets are relatively cheap, people just let them free when they become too big or too much of a pain for them to handle. According to research, the most common exotics that get released into the wild are iguanas, Chinese water dragons and ball pythons. When they get loose, they can spread disease as well as destroy the balance of the ecosystem. In many areas, bird populations are being threatened by growing snake populations that feed on their eggs.
In the new report from Oliver Stringham and Julie Lockwood, leading ecologists at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, they found that 1,722 species of reptiles and amphibians that were sold on the U.S. market between 1999 and 2016. they also found that the species that tend to get released are the ones that grow the largest and have the longest lifespan. For example, Boa Constrictors can grow to be several feet long and live for over 30 years.
“These species are so abundant in the pet market, they’re potentially more likely to be bought by impulsive consumers that haven’t done the proper research about care requirements with some small fraction of these consumers resorting to releasing these pets when they become difficult to care for,” Stringham said in an interview with Earther. “Even if released exotic pets fail to become established, they still cause harm to wildlife by spreading new diseases.”
Some of the problems that have already experienced in the ecosystem include the spread of the chytrid fungus plague which has devastated amphibian populations on a global scale. Meanwhile, in the Florida Everglades, Burmese pythons and tegu lizards are decimating native animal populations.