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Success: CITES commits to protecting otters from the cruel exotic pet trade

August 28, 2019 Responsible Tourism No Comments Email Email

Yesterday at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the proposal to increase protection for the Asian small-clawed and smooth-coated otters, species suffering from the illegal exotic pet trade has been approved.

Both species are considered to be at risk of extinction on the IUCN red list.

Cassandra Koenen, Global Head of Wildlife not Pets says:

“Otters deserve a life worth living and the decision by CITES is a step in the right direction for better protecting otters who suffer at the hands of criminals involved in the illegal trading of wildlife.

“Southeast Asia has seen a massive rise in the popularity of otters as pets. But not only is it cruel and potentially dangerous to keep an otter as a pet, this trend is putting the very future of some otter species at risk.

“A high increase of posts on social media is perpetuating the demand for keeping otters as exotic pets, which is driving the illegal hunting, illegal trafficking, and unregulated captive breeding of otters, including baby otters.

“Listing these species in Appendix I, will raise the profile and priority of these species with enforcement agencies, providing a tool for stronger regulation”             

Earlier this year, an undercover investigation by World Animal Protection revealed the illegal hunting, trafficking, and potential evidence of laundering of wild-caught baby otters through captive-bred facilities across Japan, Thailand and Indonesia to satisfy a growing international demand for the animal.

The investigation also raises the following concerns:

  • Otter cubs are snatched from their parents in the wild. Their parents who are fiercely protective are shot, electrocuted or their nests are smoked out, so poachers can take their cubs

  • Three out of four otters found in Southeast Asia, including the Asian small-clawed otter, are considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN)

  • An organised network of farmers, hunters, collectors, dealers and exporters source otter cubs from the wild and export them through their networks

  • Evidence of laundering through captive breeding facilities, in at least one location. Further sources have indicated similar efforts elsewhere

  • Reported incidents of suggested involvement of law enforcement and government officials in facilitating the cruel trade. One report from Indonesia stated that a government worker requested operations on otters to remove the gland that causes them to smell, to make them more appealing as pets.

The dramatic and troubling surge of the latest “otter craze” across South East Asia is primarily being fueled by social media influencers and interactive otter cafes in Japan, which is driving the cruel demand to keep otters as pets.

At the cafes it was found that the wild animal’s welfare is severely compromised for the entertainment of customers. The otters are heard whimpering, shrieking and making distress calls while customers are interacting with them.

Some are kept in solitary conditions with no natural light, others are seen biting their claws and exhibiting traumatized behavior – some of the worst housing conditions included small cages with no access to water.

With long, sleek, streamlined bodies and webbed feet, otters are born swimmers. They are found in waterways and often seen floating on their backs, pat stones into the air, catching them and rolling them skillfully around their chests and necks. Otters are most charismatic, highly social and live in large family groups of up to 20 individuals. A far cry from their captive existence as pets.

World Animal Protection is also urging people to not buy, own or breed a wild animal as a pet. A life in captivity is a world away from a life in the wild. Wild animals are not pets, they belong in the wild.

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