Native animals as pets
Ratification Date: 23 Jul 2015
Native Australian animals should only be kept as pets when the following criteria can be satisfied:
- Keeping the particular species is allowed by law (this may vary with state), and the keepers are appropriately licensed
- The keeper can demonstrate capacity for successful captive keeping, and knowledge of the species’ husbandry, health, welfare and behavioural requirements
- The keeper can demonstrate capacity for successful captive propagation of the species
- The animal is ethically and sustainably sourced from existing captive populations.
The health, welfare and conservation of the 'kept' species are the key concerns.
Currently there is state and territory legislation that stipulates which native species can be kept as pets and their licensing requirements. Native animals can be sourced from licensed breeders and societies, and licensed keepers or pet shops with appropriate dealer licences. A licence is not required for unprotected native species e.g. budgerigar.
Legislation must protect the welfare of individual animals and wild populations. Such legislation should specify the requirement for wildlife licences, the degree of competency and facilities required by wildlife permit holders relevant for the species. Legislation should include a code of practice and penalties for non-compliance.
Legislation to prohibit the keeping of native animals as pets must also include provision for penalties for undisclosed keeping practices and poaching. Poaching has already caused local extinctions of some species.
Effective regulation of the keeping of native animals by unlicensed members of the public would be prohibitively expensive.
Care and education
Individuals and organisations looking to obtain a native animal as a pet should seek qualified veterinary opinion on the husbandry requirements of the species.
The veterinary profession has a role in educating and training at point of sale to ensure that owners are given the correct information. It is essential that the animal receive ongoing regular veterinary care and advice. Microchipping should be implemented where possible and practical.
Orphaned, rehabilitated animals
Veterinarians must be consulted on decisions of care or euthanasia for native animals with injuries or conditions that render them unsuitable for release after treatment or being reared as an orphaned animal. The keeping of an orphaned or unsuccessfully rehabilitated native animal as a pet may not be in the animal’s best interest.
For short term care of injured or orphaned native animals, the existing state-regulated permit must be held by any person who has a native animal in their possession. It is essential that the animal is taken to a veterinarian for an examination, and referral to a wildlife carer.
Injured native animals must undergo a welfare assessment which includes:
- An assessment of pain and suffering from the initial injury or disease
- The general capacity of that species to adapt to captivity; and the specific capacity of that individual to adapt to captivity
- The importance of conspecific companionship for that animal, and
- The capacity of the 'owner' to provide appropriate feeding and husbandry.
In all states, there are permits addressing the rehabilitation of any sick, injured or orphaned native animals. Volunteer wildlife carers are trained to care for these animals under a specific rehabilitation permit. Many veterinarians donate time and services to assess and treat these animals.
However, a member of the public may potentially rescue a native animal and (illegally) keep it as a long term pet. The public should be strongly encouraged to seek veterinary attention for assessment, treatment, advice and/or euthanasia, and to adhere to appropriate legislation.
Removal of healthy animals from the wild
The removal of healthy animals from the wild is not condoned unless the program complies with government legislation and permits, is ethically justifiable and unlikely to cause harm to the environment or the individual animal.
Transfer, release and disposal
Any transfer, release or disposal of captive native animals, regardless of origin, needs to be scientifically-based using known best practice due to the potential for causing harm to the individual animals and species.
Release of captive native animals back into the wild is not acceptable without the appropriate permit from a statutory environmental organisation, and a positive, case-specific assessment from a qualified person including consideration of:
- Welfare – captive animals may not know how to avoid predators, find or identify appropriate food sources or find refuge in the environment. The result is death from predation, starvation or exposure.
- Disease – introduction of diseases mainly seen in captive animals into a naïve native population. Examples could include snake mite in juvenile blue tongue lizards, resulting in high morbidity and thus less recruitment into the adult population, or spillover of Sunshine virus into the wild population of pythons where the likely outcome is extinction of naïve native species.
- Genetic issues – where release of animals not suited to the environment may over generations result in dilution of adaptive genes to the environment.
- Cooney, R, Chapple, R, Doornbos, S and Jackson, S, 2010, Australian Native Mammals as Pets: A feasibility study into conservation, welfare and industry aspects, Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC). Available from https://www.agrifutures.com.au/wp-content/uploads/publications/10-072.pdf
- Isaacs, J. (2011). Can keeping native mammals as pets help conserve wild populations? Ecos: 21.
- NSW http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/wildlifelicences/KeepingNativeAnimals.htm
- QLD http://www.ehp.qld.gov.au/wildlife/permits-licences/
- VIC http://www.dse.vic.gov.au/plants-and-animals/native-plants-and-animals/k...
- SA https://www.environment.sa.gov.au/licences-and-permits/wildlife-permits/permit-types/keep-sell-display-native-animals/native-animals-pet
- WA https://www.dpaw.wa.gov.au/plants-and-animals/animals/living-with-wildlife
- NT https://nt.gov.au/environment/animals/wildlife-permits
- Pérez, J. M. (2009). "Parasites, Pests, and Pets in a Global World: New Perspectives and Challenges." Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine 18(4): 248-253.
- Smith, K. M., K. F. Smith, et al. (2012). "Exotic Pets: Health and Safety Issues for Children and Parents." Journal of Pediatric Health Care 26(2): e2-e6.
- Toland, E., C. Warwick, et al. (2012). "Pet hate: Exotic pet-keeping is on the rise despite decades of initiatives aimed at reducing the trade of exotic and rare animals. Three experts argue that urgent action is needed to protect both animals and ecosystems." Biologist 59(3): 14-18.
Other relevant policies and position statements
Date of ratification by AVA Board 23 July 2015