Scientists develop a tool to help address problems with exotic pets
A new assessment tool has been created with the aim of providing guidance on how suitable - or unsuitable - different animals are as pets.
The new tool, called EMODE, classifies animals as Easy, Moderate, Difficult or Extreme, according to how challenging they are to keep.
Developed by a team of 18 vets, scientists and technicians, EMODE is designed to be used by national and local government personnel, as well as anyone looking to acquire a pet of any kind.
Lead author Clifford Warwick explained: "International, national and local government organisations now recognise that serious efforts must be made to control the diverse and frequently major problems associated with pet trading and keeping - in particular, exotic animals.
"There has never been a more appropriate time to introduce EMODE to help prevent animal suffering, protect human health, avert ecological degradation, and help save potentially billions of Euros and dollars annually."
The team behind the tool, which has been published in the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, stress that keeping any animal can be demanding and difficult.
Indoor exotic animals - such as reptiles, amphibians, birds, fish, primates and unusual mammals - are classified from "Moderate" to "Extreme", based on their biological needs and health and safety issues in the home.
Commenting on EMODE, British MEP Catherine Bearder said: "The sheer amount of legal imports of wild pets into the European Union each year is staggering and reflects an increasing demand from the public. I have seen just how difficult it is to care for these unfamiliar, unpredictable and dangerous animals.
"Aside from the risk to European citizens, there is also the impact to consider on the sustainability of these animal populations in their natural habitats. The new EMODE system is a great step in giving the public a simple tool to make informed choices about the pets they buy. I look forward to seeing the system introduced in pet shops across Europe."
EMODE has been welcomed by numerous organisations across the globe, such as International Animal Rescue and World Society for the Protection of Animals. It is hoped that as well as improving animal welfare, EMODE will lead European governments to further limit the types and species of animal that can be traded or kept.
Belgium has already implemented a "positive list" for mammals, which limits the sale and keeping of animals to those that can be scientifically proven not to suffer stress from being sold and kept as pets, not to cause significant diseases to agricultural animals or humans, and not to pose a threat to local wildlife if they escape.
A positive list for mammals is also set to be introduced in the Netherlands in 2014, while the idea is being discussed in Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Norway and Sweden.
Veterinary surgeon and co-author of EMODE, Mike Jessop, said: "The exotic pet trade is out of control with too many species of animal available. The knowledge about their ideal captive care is so sparse which is why I believe the EMODE system is so important to help identify their suitability as pets."
A "ready-to-use" brochure on EMODE, titled "Pets - easy or difficult to keep?" can be found at http://emergentdisease.org/assets/documents/emode-brochure-screen.pdf