Animal Welfare

Native animal as pets deters smugglers and protects wild populations, academic says

Key points

  • There are 98 species in South Australia exempt from permits, making them more attractive as pets
  • Native pets encourage owners to respect natural habitats, one environment spokesman says
  • Making a native species more common could protect it from smugglers

This little central bearded dragon and hundreds of species like him could be the key to saving Australia’s native fauna and habitats — and combat reptile smuggling.

Photo: Sonny Smith, of Port Lincoln, with Little Jimmy, who is a central bearded dragon newly added to the non-permit list. (ABC Eyre Peninsula: Jodie Hamilton)

South Australia has added 40 animals to its list of species you can keep as a pet without a permit from July 1, bringing to 98 the number of species exempt from permits in the state.

The aim is to encourage animal lovers to own native species so they will become conservationists for the wild populations of birds, reptiles, and other fauna.

A greater respect for the animals is expected to have benefits for conserving habitats and it may even reduce the number of Australian reptiles being smuggled overseas, according to an academic.

But some animal groups oppose the move.

The Humane Society International said the pet trade was a major threat to wildlife.

SA Department for Environment and Water spokesperson, Jason Higham, said the 2019 Wildlife Regulations were the result of a four-year review and public consultation.

“We, at the department, encourage people to have native animals as pets,” Mr Higham said.

“One of the reasons is it helps people connect with native wildlife and in turn care for the environment.

“For those native species that don’t require a permit we’ve deliberately done so to encourage native animals to be people’s pets rather than a cat or a dog.

“By having them exempt that’s a clear recognition that they have really strong populations or aren’t of a conservation concern and are relatively easy for novices to look after.”

Black market trade

The permit extensions don’t mean people can just go and collect a new best friend from the wild.

“It’s actually illegal to take an animal from the wild without permission from the department, so all of the species we have on the exempt list are relatively easy to get in the captive animal trade,” Mr Higham said.

Flinders University associate professor in molecular biology, Mike Gardner, said native animal ownership encouraged conservation habits and could deter smugglers.

“We’ve got such a variety of different animals here that lots of people overseas are very keen to have and look after,” Professor Gardner said.

“There’s often reports in the media about animals that are being taken and re-caught from a seizure at an airport.

“So if we can make it easier for people in Australia to have those animals, and they get very common, they actually become less desirable for people overseas if they’re more commonly held in captivity by people.

“The fact that they have come off a specialist list actually makes them less desirable so the ones that are most desirable are the ones that are rare and harder to get in captivity.

“In any situation like that people are going to want to get the most rare thing that they are going to get the most money for.”

Professor Gardner said pets had benefits as companions for people.

Mr Higham said allowing people to have natives as pets would protect wild animals.

“That’s where the other message comes in around looking after the habitat that these animals live in and protecting our environment – being water conscious, not polluting the environment, not leaving our rubbish lying around, being careful when we’re driving around the countryside, and being aware of fragile habitats.”

Wild should be wild 

Humane Society International (HIS) spokesperson Nicola Beynon said the pet trade was a major threat to wildlife.

“Encouraging a flourishing pet trade in wild animals encourages illegal take from the wild which threatens wild conservation,” Ms Beynon said.

“Wild animals belong in the wild with needs and instincts that can only be met in the wild.

“Despite the best intentions of owners, keeping any wild animal in captivity will always compromise their welfare.”

Pets for life

Mr Higham said potential pet owners needed to be aware that a lot of the native animals were a life-long commitment.

“We find a lot of people love to get pets when they are young and it’s worth saying if you get yourself a galah or something as a child then you should probably put it in your will because they often live longer than you do,” Mr Higham said.

Little Jimmy is a central bearded dragon, which no longer requires a permit.

He was given to Sonny Smith, of Port Lincoln, for a birthday present in January.

“Sonny just loves him, he watches Hawthorn play footy with him, plays Yahtzee with us, and plays video games with Sonny too,” mum Lyn Smith said.

“He’s been to school and has his own Instagram page.”

Sonny calls Jimmy his BFF.

Source: ABC News