Australia’s wish list of exotic pets: biosecurity and conservation implications of desired alien and illegal pet species

The live pet trade is a major pathways for invasive species. Australia imposes tough regulations against the trade of non-native animals as pets. However, there exists an illegal trade of these animals in Australia that threatens biosecurity. Here, we used government records of enquiries from the general public to assess the characteristics of species that are likely desired as pets. We found that desired species are more likely to invasive species elsewhere or at risk of extinction due to trade. Our findings suggest that in absence of strict laws, an unregulated pet trade would threaten Australian biosecurity and global conservation efforts.

By Adam Toomes, Oliver C. Stringham, Lewis Mitchell, Joshua V. Ross, Phillip Cassey in Research

August 18, 2020


Globalisation of the live pet trade facilitates major pathways for the transport and introduction of invasive alien species across longer distances and at higher frequencies than previously possible. Moreover, the unsustainable trade of species is a major driver for the over-exploitation of wild populations. Australia minimises the biosecurity and conservation risk of the international pet trade by implementing highly stringent regulations on the live import and keeping of alien pets beyond its international CITES obligations. However, the public desire to possess prohibited alien pets has never been quantified and represents a number of species that could be acquired illegally or legally under different future legislative conditions. As such, highly desirable species represent an ongoing conservation threat and biosecurity risk via the pet-release invasion pathway.

We aimed to characterise the Australian desire for illegal alien pets and investigate potential sources of external information that can be utilised to predict future desire. Using public live import enquiry records from the Australian Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment as a proxy for alien pet desire, we tested for differences in the proportion of species with threatened listings and records of invasions, after accounting for taxonomy. Additionally, we used a United States of America (U.S.) live imports dataset to infer pet demand in another Western market with less stringent regulations and determined whether species highly desired in Australia had higher U.S. trade demand than would be expected by chance.

Posted on:
August 18, 2020
2 minute read, 238 words
conservation invasive species wildlife trade exotic pet trade australia
See Also:
Drivers of the Australian native pet trade: The role of species traits, socioeconomic attributes and regulatory systems
Response to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment's 'Proposed amendments to the Appendices of CITES for Australian Native Reptiles'
Challenges and perspectives on tackling illegal or unsustainable wildlife trade