Welcome to Ambiente-se in English, a version of my blog Ambiente-se - http://www.ambientese.blogspot.com/ - dedicated to my non-portuguese speakers friends and colleagues. And of course, also to my Brazilian and Portuguese friends who enjoy reading in English.
This is not exactly a translated blog, but a space where I intend to publish the articles, texts etc that I have the chance to write in English.
The first article that I publish is "Born to be wild", which was the main result of my studies in Cambridge University (UK) during my experience as a press fellow in the Wolfson Press Fellowship (Sept-Dec 2007).
In this text I write about a recent change made on the Dangerous Wild Animals Act in the UK that raises the question of how complex the trade of wild animals is, both to conservation and animal welfare. At the same time, in Brazil, Conama (National Council of Environment) has approved a resolution that defines the criteria of a list of wild animals that will be allowed to be sold as pets in the country.
This text is an attempt to cross the current status of regulation on the trade of wild species of animals in the UK (developed country) and in Brazil (non-developed), generating an overview (and a point of reflection) about the problem of poaching of animals everywhere in the world.
The animal trafficking "industry" is the third biggest one in terms of amounts of money negotiated - behind only the drug and weapons trafficking - and makes a lot of animals suffer and die only for the amusement of humans, I dare say. Only in Brazil, it is estimated that 38 millions of animals are illegaly caught from the ecosystems every year, and the majority of them dies during transportation. Also, the majority of these animals are sold to US and Europe, which make it very important to analyse how the Law in these countries could encourage (or not) the traffinking in its origin.
Hope you have the chance to read all the article - sorry, it is a little bit long... - and that the information presented can be useful for your work and lives. And I also like to thank some special people who helped me a lot in this work: John Naughton, director of Wolfson Press Fellowship Programme, Paul Brown, environmental journalist and also a press fellow in the Michaelmas term, and Dr. Anabela Pinto, my animal welfare teacher and dearest friend.
All the best,
Jaqueline B. Ramos
Born to be wild (November 2007)
After considering 33 wild animals – covering 120 species - harmless enough to be kept as pets without the need of a licence, a recent review in the Dangerous Wild Animals Act in the UK ended up raising the complex implications behind having exotic animals at home, as if they are just like cats and dogs.
by Jaqueline B. Ramos (Photo: Sloth in the Amazon Forest, Brazil/by Jaqueline B.Ramos)
Christmas is coming. Suzanne and Bill want to surprise their two children with unusual presents. A breeder in the neighborhood is selling the cutest black lion tamarin. What a catch! No other kids in the school have a monkey pet from the far away rainforests of South America. Tamarins are more exotic than cats and there is no need at all to apply for a licence anymore since it was recently listed as a non-dangerous wild animal in the UK.
What an exciting Christmas Eve! The kids are crazy about the animal and spend all their time playing with it until it is exhausted. Crackers, so they named the tamarin, tries to escape the stress of being constantly handled by the kids. Some of the behaviour, apparently cute and playful, are no more than expressions of distress and fear. Sooner or later its jumping results in ornaments breaking. Spots of urine and faeces start appearing on the furniture. Finally one of the kids is accidentally bitten when handling the monkey which screams in distress.
By February the little monkey isn’t that funny anymore and its charm has faded. The kids have already forgotten about it and would much rather have the latest i-Pod. Suzanne and Bill only feed it when they have time before and after work, keep it in a cage so it can not destroy the house and wander what will be the best thing to do with the monkey - which, by the way, is officially considered as a critically endangered species (according to the IUCN Red List 2007), as they are surprised to discover later on.
This fictional story can very well become a reality since the recent change in the UK Dangerous Wild Animals Act (DWA). A total of 33 animals (equals 120 species), among them several tamarins, sloths (photo), lemurs, emus, mangrove snakes and even Brazilian wolf spiders, are considered harmless enough to be kept as pets without the need of a licence (see information at the end of this article about the de-listed species and conservation and animal welfare implications).
The critical amendment in the DWA Act was released by DEFRA – the UK Department for
Natural habitats, not houses
Species that have been domesticated for so many years have been selected for characteristics that make them dependent on humans. There has been a selective pressure to accommodate behaviour that is compatible to a human environment.
Exotic wild animals, whether bred in captivity or illegally caught, have not been subject to this artificial selection. In order to maintain welfare standards, owning one of these animals would require adequate knowledge and information about its needs.
Domestication of wild animals without appropriate understanding will only contribute to a substantial decrease of their welfare. Inducing suffering is not ethically acceptable. So, it is reasonable to question the ethical status of keeping animals in artificial human environments just for the amusement of humans.
By making it easy to acquire these animals, the change to the DWA Act promotes and facilitates the breeding of species unsuitable for linving in humanized and urban environments. Wild animals belong in their natural habitats.
Removing an animal from its natural habitat to be sold as pets or live toys is also a threat to the biodiversity. There are only two possible sources for such animals: legally registered breeders or illegal wildlife trade. Even with the legal breeders, the question is what was the primary origin of the animals in the first place?
When DEFRA officials are questioned about conservation and animal welfare implications of the recent changes of the DWA Act, they make it clear that “the Act was placed to protect the public from wild animals which were privately owned, rather than to conserve species”.
It is not enough to think only about how dangerous wild animals are to humans. It is necessary to think further about the implications that this classification may lead to. But the DWA Act’s perspective is of public safety and the justification is wider legislation linked to it covering conservation and animal welfare issues, like the Animal Welfare Act, which came into force in 2006, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, (CITES), which controls by a licensing system the import and export of endangered species in 172 States which are parties to the convention.
“The DWA Act does have some ancillary welfare provisions within it, although it really shouldn’t, and so we delayed the removal of the species until the AW Act came into force to ensure that the de-listed species wouldn’t be left without any welfare protection”, says Dave Wootton, policy advisor from Wildlife Species Conservation Division who has the responsibility for the DWA Act in DEFRA.
Wootton adds that the present Act was the subject to one more consultation in the end of 2007 looking at some further deregulatory measures, but not changing the list of species. He explains that ancillary welfare provisions are to be removed and reference will then be made to the AW Act.
The AW Act came into force in 2006 and makes owners and keepers responsible for ensuring that the welfare needs of their animals are met. This includes the need for a suitable environment and diet, exhibition of normal behaviour patterns, to be housed with, or away from, other animals (if applicable) and to be protected from pain, injury, suffering and disease.
However, little or no information is provided about the proper handling and husbandry of exotic pets. Neither by the Law – general codes of practice to provide guidance on the keeping of certain species, such as dogs, cats and primates, are still under construction – nor by the suppliers of the animals.
“Many exotic animals are not only potentially dangerous to humans but are extremely difficult to look after properly and need specialist care. We are disappointed and concerned that several exotic species have been removed from the DWA Act schedule”, says Tim Thomas, Senior Scientist of the Wildlife Department from RSPCA – the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Offences under the AW Act, like causing an animal to suffer unnecessarily, can lead to criminal prosecution. The RSPCA is the organization responsible for checking a possible offence after being informed of some cruelty against an animal.
“We really hope that the AW Act complements the DWA. But the control to ensure animal welfare is object of concern yet, because we can only do something after the animal is suffering or has already suffered. We depend on people revealing the abuses they see”, says Thomas.
He continues: “Our biggest concern is still with the welfare of all these exotic pets, even with the new regulation. The AW Act puts a duty of care on pet owners and we urge people to thoroughly research their choice of pet before they buy it and make sure they can look after it properly”.
Thomas say that the RSPCA aims to enforce a code of practice with information about the basic provisions needed to keep exotic animals, so that people are aware of how complex it is and are encouraged to think more cautiously before deciding to have them.
Apart from that, the RSPCA is working on a proposal for the final consultation of the DWA Act that suppliers are required to apply for a licence from the local authority, for the case of wild animals which still require licences to be kept as pets.
The RSPCA’s proposal of a stricter control on the suppliers represents an attempt to reinforce the monitoring of the trade in wild animals in the UK, which nowadays is run under the rules of CITES. The Convention came into force in 1975 and was introduced in order to help protect endangered species from excessive international trade, principally concerned about the conservation of species.
Despite the presence of CITES, the effectiveness of the protection depends on the introduction and enforcement of national law. Many states parties passed strict laws and created national policing bodies to enforce CITES regulations.
Even so, there is still a large and profitable illegal wildlife trade all around the world, estimated at more than ten billion US dollars a year, comparable to drug and weapons trafficking in terms of profits.
According to IUCN Red List 2007, 30% of the de-listed species are considered threatened and, therefore, are covered by Appendix I of CITES – the one which prohibits all commercial trade in a species, affording the greatest protection.
DEFRA makes it very clear that the trade itself is not its responsibility. “There is no direct link between the two pieces of legislation. Tigers are listed on Appendix I of CITES but not wandering spiders, however both require a licence under the DWA Act”, affirms Wootton.
It really does not seem that those who drafted the DWA Act in the UK ever considered the reinforcement of CITES. On the contrary, it is arguable that it encourages the trade in a significant number of wild animals, almost one third of them already threatened, suggesting future problems in conservation and controlling of illegal trade.
Encouraging illegal trade?
In a nutshell, the DWA Act came into force in 1976 with the intention of regulating the keeping of certain kinds of dangerous wild animals in order to protect the public. Some of the listed species were tasmanian devils, gibbons, tigers, crocodiles and elephants.
According to DEFRA, the large number of zoos and commercial safari parks in the UK during the 1960s and early 70s led to an increasing trade of dangerous carnivores, which was considered an offence at common law causing a public nuisance by keeping animals to the danger of the public.
A major review was commissioned by DEFRA in 2000. This review, and its recommendations, led to further consultations in 2001 and 2004. Analyzing the evolution of the Bill and the intention of Parliament, it’s worth pointing out the position of the House of Lords during the latest review: “this Bill deals in a timely way with a mischief which has already become apparent and which, without provision of this kind, definitely threatens to grow larger. The main purpose is to discourage the keeping of dangerous wild animals as pets, but is sufficiently flexible to allow for exceptional circumstances.”
De-listing 120 wild animals from the need of a licence appears to be one of the exceptional circumstances, for it definitely is not a way of discouraging the keeping of exotic pets at all, whether they are considered dangerous for humans or not.
In the opinion of Rachel Hevesi, Health and Welfare officer of the Monkey Sanctuary Trust, a charity for primate welfare and conservation based in Cornwall, “Since the change in the DWA Act there has been unfortunate publicity. Newspapers reported it stating that now it is possible to keep primates, almost encouraging people. In the days following the publicity we took telephone calls from people who had believed that keeping a primate was illegal and are now keen to buy one. The market has been encouraged and, in our opinion, a dangerous message sent out.”
DEFRA’s justification is that the latest review found that the Act should be updated, as some of the animals listed were considered to be no more dangerous than domestic cats and dogs and further animals needed to be added to the dangerous list. So they took the advice of experts to revise the list of non-dangerous wild animals.
The group of experts consulted by DEFRA for the revision was composed by specialists from RSPCA, Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, Bristol Zoological Gardens, Welsh Mountain Zoo, Zoological Society of London, National Association of Private Animal Keepers, Oxford University and International Zoo Veterinary Group.
The experts took into account factors such as the animal’s armory, the animal’s ferocity, the potential harm it could to a child, the animal’s likely behaviour when unrestrained or cornered outside of the keeper’s premises, recorded incidents of deaths or serious injury and what legislation already exists for regulating the acquisition or keeping of animals.
“After intense discussion with the government, the kind of judgment used for this review was, for instance, the fact that the wild cats listed as non-dangerous have teeth and claws sometimes smaller than a domesticated cat, or that the sloth moves too slowly to cause any harm. The DWA Act does not take into account the fact that many of the animals de-listed are extremely difficult to look after properly”, explains Tim Thomas, from RSPCA, who was one of the experts consulted.
Specialist keepers are also critical of the recent changes and the DWA Act. “Licensing procedures and fees charged are found to vary widely between areas and this is a problem. In some counties you pay £95 for a licence fee per year and in others this value reaches £600. The level of information required from the candidate of a licence is also different. Depending on the county it can be very easy to get a licence to own a wild animal”, says Rory Matier, consultant to The Specialist Keepers Association (TSKA), based in Lincolnshire.
Basically, anyone can nowadays apply to the Local Council for an exotic pet licence, as the Act is administered and enforced by local authorities (city, district or borough councils). The environmental or wild life division of the police, for instance, is only called if a situation with a dangerous animal is not under control.
The Act says that local authorities cannot grant a licence unless someone over the age of 18 makes an application specifying the species and number of animals and the premises where they will be kept and pays the appropriate fee. In addition, a licence, that is valid until the end of the year it has been issued, cannot be granted unless a vet has inspected the premises and produced a report for the local authority attesting that the animals can be suitably held there.
According to DEFRA, for the animals that clearly require specialist keeping, it would be for the local authority to decide whether a licence should be issued in each case. As long as a person satisfies all of the required local criteria, the assumption is that a licence would be granted.
“The main problem emerges from the fact that this legislation never came out aiming husbandry or animal welfare. And apart from that, the trade of wild animals holds a lot of money. Most times the supplier is not really very interested in who is buying, but only in how much it is paid. After this recent change, it’s expected a raise on the prices of some animals, making it even more like a business”, speculates the consultant to TSKA.
No matter if it is considered dangerous or not, the fact is that the idea of wild animals as pets raises many questions. What about the primary suffering of the animal out of his natural habitat? And if the owner is not able to cope with the exotic pet and wants to give it up, what happens to the animal? And what about the risk of illegal trade growing and even irrational breeding of wild animals in captivity?
“I wonder how the non-licenced ownership of wild animals will be policed. Responsible keepers care for the animals in the first place, but we are living in a disposable society. People get what they want, with no serious reflection, and after a while just discharge it. This can easily happen with wild animals as pets. People would lose interest in the animal after some weeks, giving it only basic needs as food and water and keeping it locked in a room or a cage”, points out Matier.
“No amount of human love can compensate for a primate not having companionship of its own species”, declares Hevesi about the monkeys, although the idea can be applied to every wild animal. “Our link with primate sanctuaries in South America enabled us to gather evidence to show that the UK primate trade did have an impact on the wild population in the native countries”, says Hevesi.
The origin of the animals – Brazil case study
Coming back to the beginning of this article, one can also establish a link between the recent changes in the DWA Act in the UK with the delicate question of the origin of the exotic pets. The black lion tamarin bought by Suzanne and Bill in my opening scenario is a primate which is critically endangered; and its natural habitat is the tropical rainforests of Brazil.
Brazil is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of biodiversity, but faces huge problems with poaching and trafficking in wild animals, mainly for export. Nearly half the animals illegally caught, mostly parrots and other birds, go to Europe and United States, according to the National Network Against Wild Animal Trade (Renctas, in Portuguese). It is also estimated that the country accounts for about 15% of the world’s illegal trade of wild animals.
Young blue macaws illegaly caught from the wild in Brazil (photo by Neiva Guedes/Fiocruz)“The recent change in the DWA law in the UK is likely to trigger an increase in poaching here, as sloths, tamarins and other monkeys, for instance, are from Brazil. More demand can lead to more animals being caught from the forests. This won’t help our work on protection of fauna and will make the control procedures even harder to be apllied”, speculates Vincent Kurt Lo, environmental analyst of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama, in Portuguese).
In a brief analysis of the de-listed animals of the DWA Act, it is possible to check that 36% of the 120 species are originated from South America, including Brazil. There is no doubt that this is a significant number (see box at the end of this article for graphic of the origin of the de-listed animals from DWA Act).
At the same time as changes in the DWA Act in the UK took place, the National Council for Environment (Conama) in Brazil approved a resolution to define the criteria for a list of native wild animals that will be allowed to be bred and traded as pets in the country. Presently Brazilian law allows for the keeping of wild animals as pets, but there is no list that defines which species can be kept. Now a list is being prepared by Ibama to be released for public consultation in six months.
The question is: will this list slow down the trade of wild animals or will it end up leading to a rise in the trade in Brazil? There are two answers for this question: both situations can happen.
Since 1967 there has been a national law (5197 Law) that encourages the breeding of wild animals for economic and industrial purposes, more related to leather activities. However no clause specifies clearly the breed and trade of wild animals to be kept as pets. This list aims to bridge this gap and there’s no doubt that regulation incorporating a list of wild animals to be kept as pets can help to control the trade. This would be the “slow down” scenario.
On the other hand, the (depressing) Brazilian reality related to control procedures can lead to a situation that the list could be a kind of “excuse” to raise the trade and the illegal activities behind it.
The fact is that even with the 40-year old Law and the two amendments brought under control in 1997 and 1998, poaching and trafficking of wild animals has been increasing in Brazil in the last decades.
According to the First National Report of Illegal Trade of Wild Animals in Brazil, released in 2001 by Renctas and the country’s Ministry of Environment, about 38 million animals are illegally caught from the Brazilian ecosystems every year.
For every ten animals caught, only one arrives at the planned final destination: the other nine die during transportation. Also, the report estimated that around 400 gangs are responsible for the poaching in Brazil and 40% of them have connections with other illegal activities.
Another negative implication is the fact that the animals illegally caught are cheaper for the poachers, because there are no expenses with veterinarians, biologists or other specialists to care for the animals. This increases the poachers’ profits and reinforces the trafficking industry.
“The trade of wild species has not been working as a solution for the trafficking in Brazil. On the contrary, most of times the official breeders can hide illegal activities and help to raise the non-official trade”, says the environmental analyst from Ibama.
Apart from that, the institute faces problems of lack of people and resources to do all the proper monitoring work in the field. The animals which come from the licenced breeders are marked with microchips or rings and Ibama issues a document attesting its origin. But the documents, microchips and rings can be easily faked by the “trafficking industry”. The solution would be a database of the genes of the animals, so that the inspection of the origin could be made by DNA test.
According to Vincent, the list of wild animals to be pets is worth having only if the number of species is extremely limited. Instead of encouraging people to have exotic animals at home, the government should stimulate people to go to Nature to watch them, in ecotourism activities.
Vincent’s views are not unique. The Fauna Inspection Division of the institute, which is elaborating the list and coordinates the control of the trade in the country, warns about the disadvantages of the encouragement of owning wild animals as pets.
Among the disadvantages are the diseases that can be transmitted to humans and other animals, lack of technical knowledge by Brazilian vets to treat wild animals, all the problems of welfare and stress in captivity, lack of ready-balanced food for a proper diet and the abandonment of the animal after getting aware of the hard work that the breeding demands.
It is also worth remembering that the release of a wild animal in an ecosystem which is not its natural habitat can cause serious ecological problems. The Brazilian law defines that “the breeder or the supplier must give the buyers a text with all the basic orientation to a proper care of the wild animal and should recommend that no animal is allowed to be release without Ibama’s consent.” But again, the rule is not followed because of problems on inspection. So yes, there are people who release animals without any criteria.
Born to be wild, definitely
It is not difficult to realize all the complex implications and problems that lay behind the subject “trade of wild animals”. The recent change in the DWA Act in the UK (which can represent the role of “consumer countries”) and the current situation of poaching and difficulties of the trade inspection in Brazil (which can represent the role of “origin countries”) are a demonstration of how humankind are dealing, not so properly, with wild animals.
Wild animals are not ours to be pets, pieces of decoration or collection. Anything that goes against this idea is unsustainable and therefore leads to a lot of problems, from the social and economical ones related to trafficking and poaching, to ethical and moral ones, related to animal welfare, conservation and ecological issues. Wild animals were definitely born to be wild. And that’s it.
Woolly lemurs (Avahi laniger)
Tamarins (species of the genus Leontopithecus and Saguinus)
Wild cat (Felis silvestris)
Pallas cat (Otocolobus manul)
Bay cat (Catopuma badia)
Vicugna (Vicugna vicugna)
* Total of species related to the 33 animals quoted as taken away of the list which requires license to be kept as pets: 120
* % of the species listed which are considered threatened, according to the IUCN Red List 2007 (including Conservation Dependent*): 30%
* Conservation Dependent: Taxa which are the focus of a continuing taxon-specific or habitat-specific conservation programme targeted towards the taxon in question, the cessation of which would result in the taxon qualifying for one of the threatened categories above within a period of five years.
* % - Origin of the animals (natural habitat per continent/region)
III – Brief Animal Welfare analysis
What’s Animal Welfare
Animal Welfare is a science, with objective research approaches to understand the needs of animals.
To accomplish its objectives, Animal Welfare Science has three main approaches:
1 - Animal Feelings: quality of life is measured by the emotional state of the animal, or its feelings. This mean that conditions for acceptable level of welfare are experiencing of comfort, contentment and normal pleasures of life and non-experience of intense pain, fear, stress, hunger, thirsty and other unpleasant sensations.
2 – Biological Functioning: attention on the biological functioning of the animals, avoiding behavioural and physiological abnormalities derived from diseases, injuries, malnutrition, problems on normal growth and reproduction etc.
3 – Natural Life: animals should be allowed, as much as possible, to have a natural living, which means using natural capabilities in reasonably natural environments.
On the 90’s, the Farm Animal Welfare Committee (UK) revised the recommendation on Animal Welfare that the Brambell Committee had reported 25 years before about the basic needs of freedom that every animal should have respected. The result of this revision was the rise of the most important concept in Animal Welfare Science, known as The Five Freedoms:
Freedom from fear and distress
Freedom from hunger and thirst
Freedom from discomfort
Freedom from pain injury and disease
Freedom to express normal behaviour
The 5 Freedoms on the de-listed animals from DWA Act
In a brief analysis of welfare problems that can be faced by the 120 species of wild animals that now can be easily bought as pets, the first question to point out is the lack of the 5th freedom (to express normal behaviour). Wild animals in humanized environments are not allowed to use their natural capabilities. In other words, the concept of natural living is compromised.
Every wild animal which is not in the wild suffer from lack of freedom to express normal behaviour. But we can take the example of tamarins and the other primates to understand it better. In their natural habitats these animals always live in groups. They are very social animals and the offsprings stay with the parents/group for a significant period of time. When these animals become pets, they don’t have the companion of others (and sometimes they are still an offspring, as long as with some species they reach full maturity in their second year).
Problems to express normal behaviour result in stress and this leads to problems of freedom from fear and distress and freedom from discomfort. The Wild cat (Felis silvestris), for instance, is extremely timid. In the wild it avoids approaching human settlements, lives
One can say that the freedom from hunger and thirst and the freedom from pain injury and disease would be fulfilled by cautious owners who care for their exotic pet. To a certain extend this can be true in the case of people who respect animals. But the question is that no specific information on main feed needs and on other biological characteristics of each wild animal is provided for the owners, neither by the suppliers nor by the government. The result is a non-intentional inappropriate care that can lead to malnutrition, injuries or physiological abnormalities. In this case the biological functioning concept is compromised.
Taking care of a sloth, for instance, can be very difficult and no specialist care can result in biological dysfunctions for the animal. The sloths are omnivores and leaves consist on their main food source. These animals made extraordinary adaptations to an arboreal browsing lifestyle and leaves provide very little energy or nutrition and do not digest easily.
As much as two-thirds of a well-fed sloth's body-weight consists of the contents of its stomach and the digestive process can take as long as a month or more to complete. Sloths deal with this by a range of economy measures: they have very low metabolic rates. How someone who is not an expert on these animals, and without the proper information, would be successful to accompany and understand such complex biological system without causing any harm for the sloth?