Exotic Animals As Pets: A Potentially Deadly Gamble
Among the many dangers that children face on a daily basis, there is one that parents seldom think about: the threat of potentially deadly diseases carried by exotic animals kept as "pets" or in classrooms. Although this may not be common in Singapore, there are cases of exotic animals being kept as pets.
"Zoonosis" is a disease or infection that primarily afflicts animals but is transmissible to humans. According to a recent study of captive exotic animal–linked zoonosis, which appeared in the Journal of Environmental Health Research, a staggering 75 per cent of emerging human diseases worldwide have a link to wild animals and 61 per cent of all known human diseases are possibly zoonotic-related.
Exotic animals commonly kept as "pets", in particular, carry a large number of various harmful parasites and microbes. Zoonotic diseases include rabies and ringworm and many others that pose a potentially deadly threat to human health, such as West Nile virus, tuberculosis, hepatitis A, measles, gastroenteritis, monkey pox, candidiasis and avian influenza.
As with most other diseases, infants, children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems are most susceptible to zoonotic diseases and infections, but virtually anyone who comes into contact with an infected animal – directly or indirectly – is at risk. Moreover, animals who carry these diseases often show no noticeable signs of infection.
In addition to the threat to human health, many parents would be upset to learn of the dangerous and cruel manner in which exotic animals are transported from far-flung places around the globe to dealers. Different species of animals are often shipped and housed together, giving rise to the transmission of diseases among the animals before they even reach their destination. The animals are often drugged and stuffed into suitcases so that they can be illegally smuggled across borders. Many do not survive the journey, and those who do usually arrive in very poor condition.
No level of personal hygiene can offer total protection against the bacteria and viruses of an animal infected with a zoonotic disease. The chance of infection increases dramatically if a person has open lesions or is bitten or scratched by an animal. As an example of how insidious zoonosis can be, after a 4-month-old infant was diagnosed with salmonella, investigation revealed that the source of the disease was a boa snake that the infant's father had handled while teaching a biology class at his school.
The best way to stop the spread of zoonotic illnesses from exotic pets is for parents to boycott the exotic-animal trade. In addition to protecting children and other animals in the household, a boycott would save countless exotic animals from this cruel and dangerous enterprise.
By Jason Baker
Jason Baker is the vice president of international operations for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Asia-Pacific.
For more information about PETA, please visit www.petaasiapacific.com
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