Author: World Animal Protection | Date: 23 March 2020
They are one of the most misunderstood creatures on the planet and considered Africa's most legally traded live animal-the Ball python. A poster animal for the exotic pet trade, their name comes from the animal's tendency to curl up into a tight ball when stressed or frightened. Reptiles are often perceived to have no feelings, and false assumptions like this and the myth that reptiles require little care are some reasons they can end up as exotic pets.
Now, a ground-breaking report by World Animal Protection is sounding the alarm over the international trade of Ball pythons. The charity is also calling for a stop on all global wildlife trade. Wild animals, poached from their natural habitat or bred in captivity, are typically placed in cramped cages and dirty conditions, which causes them suffering and creates a lethal hotbed of disease. This can harm humans when coming into contact with them as we have seen with COVID- 19. The virus is believed to have been transmitted from animals to humans at a live animal market in Wuhan, China.
Snakes sold there were originally suspected as a potential source. However, even if snakes are not the original source, the charity's visits to snake farms in West Africa revealed that these facilities do more than just feed the demand for Ball pythons as pets. They also act as wider trade hubs, exporting other wildlife, including bats, civets and primates, which are higher up the human health list of concern when considering their role in epidemics such as SARS in 2002 and Ebola in 2013.
China banned the consumption of land-based wild animals due to COVID-19 and late last week Vietnam followed suit. While this is a great first step, other wild animals such as exotic pets and animals used for traditional medicine are not included.
Limiting our contact with these animals is necessary to decrease the chances of viruses spreading to humans and a permanent ban on all wildlife trade would help to prevent major health epidemics and pandemics from happening again, as well as reduce animal suffering.
Edith Kabesiime, Wildlife Campaign Manager at World Animal Protection Africa, says, "The international trade of African Ball pythons is an important source of economic income for some local communities, but when the snakes are all gone, the money will be too. With the recent coronavirus outbreak, we are also starting to realize that the economic and human costs of an outbreak due to the demand for an exotic animal is a price not worth paying."
Meanwhile, Ball pythons and other wild animals continue to suffer in the exotic pet trade.
Cassandra Koenen, Global Head of Wildlife not Pets at World Animal Protection says, "The trade of Ball pythons as exotic pets is a massive global market that has impacted millions of animals over the last several decades. These misunderstood animals suffer cruelty from capture, through to a life of captivity. We must end the global trade of wildlife for our health and their welfare."
Canada is considered one of the main importers of Ball pythons. In just over 45 years, more than 3 million Ball pythons have been exported from West Africa, to Europe, Asia, the United States and Canada.
In Canada, an estimated 28,000 Ball pythons are kept in households as pets. While most owners mean well, the lack of understanding for the animal's welfare just leads to suffering as Ball pythons are mainly kept in spaces much smaller than their natural habitats.
Once these animals are sold, anyone who comes into contact with them is at risk of contracting illnesses like Salmonella. A recent outbreak in Canada had just over 90 cases where people had come into contact with pet snakes before they became ill and that may have been the cause of the outbreak.
We are all in this together and our relationship with animals needs to change. World Animal Protection is asking people to join the movement to help stop the global wildlife trade. It will benefit humans and animals alike.