Article image

Most popular exotic pets are most likely to be dumped in the wild

A new study from Rutgers University has found that the most popular exotic pets are also the most likely to be released into the wild. The research sheds new light on how the exotic pet trade has become a primary contributor to the introduction of reptiles and amphibians into non-native areas, where they can do a lot of damage.

The team identified 1,722 reptile and amphibians that were traded as pets in the United States from 1999 to 2016. This information was compared with data from a citizen science project that documents sightings of non-native species across the country.

The study revealed that popular pets, which are imported in high numbers and sold at low prices, are the most likely to be dumped out into the wild later on.

Oliver Stringham is a Rutgers doctoral student and the study’s lead author.

“The owners may underestimate the space and costs needed to keep such animals as they grow into adults,” said Stringham. “Boa constrictors and reticulated pythons grow over 8 feet long. African clawed frogs and Russian tortoises live 30 years or more  Not wanting to euthanize, owners may resort to releasing them instead.”

Once exotic pets are released into the wild, they threaten wildlife through disease transmission, competition for food, and predation. For example, Burmese pythons invaded the Everglades National Park in the 1990s. These massive snakes, which grow up to 18 feet in length, have caused notable declines in native mammal and bird populations.

According to the study authors, providing prospective exotic pet owners with information about the potential growth and lifespan of the animals may help to prevent future releases. In addition, pet owners should be informed of the ecological damage that results from introducing non-native species, and should be given access to a list of safe places to surrender them.

Study co-author Julie Lockwood is a professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources at Rutgers-New Brunswick.

“While it might not be possible to fully prevent the release of exotic pets, reducing the number can be an effective way to prevent new species from becoming established and potentially invasive,” said Lockwood.

The study is published in the journal Journal of Applied Ecology.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

Image Credit: Matthew Sileo

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day