CULTURE

Real animal-lovers choose a pet they can keep under the proper conditions

The natural attraction of things exotic can lead to bad decisions, such as that of taking home a pet that is impossible to keep. And sometimes this does not mean an over-boisterous dog that does not fit in a small flat but an animal that has no place in the country at all. But the trade in exotic and non-indigenous pets has truly gone global. In one example, a reader of this column alerted us last week to the fact that wallabies – a smaller breed of kangaroo – were on sale at a local branch of a major pet store chain. The store’s owner, however, insisted that this was a false alarm, that the shop was just looking after the animals until it could re-export them. «We found these animals, which had been bred in captivity, in a warehouse in Menidi, in a poor state and took them to our stores to be cared for pending permission from the Agriculture Ministry to re-export them,» Matzouranis Matzouranakis, the owner of the PetCity stores, told Kathimerini English Edition on Wednesday. Unsuitable as pets So wallabies are not being sold in Greece, but the issue is a good case study of how unsuitable some animals might be when they are presented as «pets» far from their native land. Wallabies are wild animals, not domesticated creatures like cats and dogs, although in the USA and other countries there is a brisk trade in a number of wild animals, including wallabies, as pets. However, instructions given by various international sources for the care of pet wallabies are an indication of the problems owners can expect to encounter. «Some native mammals, particularly wallabies and kangaroos, are very prone to a stress-related disease which can be brought on by contact with humans, domestic pets (cats and dogs) and by human-generated noise or machinery movement; many species need large outdoor enclosures. Some animals, such as male wallabies and kangaroos, become aggressive upon reaching sexual maturity and can become quite dangerous to humans.» (The New South Wales Parks and Wildlife Service) «… people often mean well but usually do not understand the unusual problems they will almost assuredly inherit along with their very unusual animal. Though occasionally a particular individual wild animal will seem to adapt to human companionship, the vast majority of these exotic pet experiences end up tragically for the animal. According to a recent survey, the average life span of exotic pets is just three years.» (R.R. Holster Jr PetStation) According to Jean-Jacques Lesueur, the owner and curator of the Attica Zoological Park in Spata, only if someone has a properly fenced-in large garden where the animal is free to move around should they even think about trying to keep one. Nor is it a good idea to buy one to «save» it, as this only creates the impression of a demand. «The only way to stop the trade in wild animals is for people to stop buying them,» said Lesueur. Most wallabies sold as pets have been bred in captivity, as their export from Australia is prohibited under the Environment Protection and Biological Conservation Act of 1999, which regulates the international movement of all wildlife and wildlife products. Despite the laws, some smuggling does go on, say some sources. Native fauna According to Wildlife Mountain, an association of wildlife carers registered with the Australian National Parks and Wildlife, poaching is a major problem in Australia, and in a paper written for the Australian Institute of Criminology by Boronia Halstead in November 1992, it is stated that «pet shops, zoos and circuses around the world buy wild-caught live animals.» «In Australia, pressures for illegal wildlife trade are driven by high prices on offer in overseas markets. Even for relatively common species, the profits are attractive. Prices for birds range from $1,500 for a sulphur-crested cockatoo to $50,000 for a glossy black cockatoo. Allegations have been made that light aircraft are often used to smuggle wildlife from northern Australia, from one of the estimated 3,000 unsupervised airstrips there. These alleged flights are usually destined for Indonesia, Singapore or Thailand, where forged documents are often used to circumvent customs requirements. The stock, accompanied by fraudulent papers, may then be moved on to buyers in Europe and North America. The USA and European countries, particularly the Netherlands, Denmark and West Germany, appear to be the primary market for Australian reptiles.» The only live animals permitted to leave Australia are some bird species, and limited to departing residents who are permitted to take their pets (provided the birds remain household pets and are not for trade). Home is the great outdoors Small herds of wallabies are, in fact, living in the wild outside the Antipodes. A pair of brush-tailed rock wallabies that escaped captivity in Hawaii in 1916 have over time built up a herd of over 100 head in the Kalihi Valley. Although rarely seen, they are of interest to zoologists because they are almost extinct in their native Australia. There are also isolated herds in the English countryside. Originally from a zoo, a pair were released when World War II bombing began, in the hope of saving them, and they gradually built up a small population. One hopes nothing similar will happen here. There are enough abandoned cats and dogs roaming the country without adding a herd of wallabies to the fauna of Hymettus or Parnitha. If you want to see what an antipodean marsupial looks like, visit the Attica Zoological Park, a member of the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which has established humane standards for keeping animals in captivity. The park, which has a number of kangaroos, might not be the Australian outback, but is infinitely preferable to any courtyard or balcony.