Positive List of Exotic Animals

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AFC's proposed text: in Article 48, paragraph 2, we propose that the following paragraph be added: As companion animals may be kept only those species listed on A Positive list, a list detailing which animal species are suitable to be kept as pets.

Accordingly, we also propose that paragraph 8 be added to Article 48: A Positive List, that is a list of animals suitable to be kept as pets from the paragraph 2 of this Article, shall be prescribed by the Minister.


There are more than 200 million pets in Europe, including mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and amphibians. However, many species, especially exotic animals, have complex needs and require specialised and often long-term care, diet, and housing. Those needs are not easy to meet, which means that exotic animals are unsuited to a life in captivity (tortoises and parrots, for example, can live at least 40-50 years). This may result in severe animal welfare problems, such as neglect, difficult rehoming efforts, suffering due to inadequate keeping conditions (inadequate nutrition, misuse of artificial heating/lights, behavioural problems), lack of veterinarians specialised in diseases affecting exotic animals, such as zoonosis which can be transmitted to humans and other animals. In consequence, animals suffer and die prematurely.

Also, the capture of wild animals for the pet trade, the destruction of their natural habitat, and the introduction of invasive species are significant factors impacting global biodiversity.

The Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) regulates the trade in vulnerable wildlife species through permitting or outright bans based on conservation status. Despite these trade restrictions, there is increasing evidence that the import of exotic animals for the pet trade threatens the survival of some wild populations. Breeding animals in captivity is not an ideal solution either: the actual source can be difficult to verify and can be a loophole for illegal trade.

Some species may have an impact on local biodiversity when they are released by their owners or when they escape into the wild. Some animals may not survive in a foreign climate, and may die from starvation or road traffic. But some non-native species can survive and become invasive, spreading disease, disrupting habitats, and hybridising or competing with indigenous species for food or nests, and therefore threatening them with extinction.

The keeping of exotic animals as pets may pose a danger to public health and safety. Around 72% of emerging zoonotic diseases originate in wildlife. Some of the most serious zoonoses are those associated with non-domesticated, exotic, or imported animals. The legal and illegal wild bird trade is known to have played a significant role in the global spread of avian influenzama, and, as a result, imports of wild-caught birds into the EU were banned in 2007.

Certain exotic species may present a safety risk to humans from their predatory, aggressive, or poisonous nature. Species such as venomous snakes, pythons, crocodilians, large cats, and primates can injure humans through poisoning, biting, or clawing. Adult animals can be quite strong and present a risk, particularly to small children.

The exotic pet trade may have a serious negative impact due to the spreading of diseases to other animals. The cost of catching and eradicating invasive alien species, treating people because of zoonotic diseases, the fight against illegal trade, and the slaughtering of thousands of farm animals in order to prevent the spreading of diseases should also be considered. The European Commission estimates the costs of controls and damage from invasive alien species in the EU at 12 billion euros per year (a conservative estimate). Additional costs derive from illegal trade and treating wildlife-originated diseases.

There are several ways to regulate the keeping and sale of exotic pets, but a Positive List (a list of allowed species) is the most effective, concise, transparent, enforceable and economically feasible way. A Positive List is the single most effective and efficient measure to reduce the suffering of exotic animals being kept unsuitably as pets in Europe, which is extremely important because of the open market of exotic animal trade in the EU countries.

The Positive List was initiated on scientific foundations by the AAP Rescue Center for Exotic Animals from the Netherlands and Eurogroup for Animals, in collaboration with partners throughout Europe. They are working together to inform policymakers and the public about the advantages of a Positive List in the legislative systems of the EU Member States by offering practical solutions and advice on its design and implementation.

Within the European Union the competence to legislate on the subject of exotic pets belongs to Member States. As documented in Eurogroup's "Analysis of national legislation related to the keeping and sale of exotic pets in Europe" (2013), where such legislation exists, it is very diverse. Legal provisions may ban the keeping of some species of animals (Negative or black list), or allow only some species to be kept (Positive or white list).

A Positive List is preferable to a negative format due to its simplicity: a concise list of animals that may be kept provides clarity to owners and enforcement agencies and creates less regulatory bureaucracy for governments. This reduces administrative costs and lowers the judicial backlog currently generated by deciding matters of animal welfare when there is an appeal by the pet owners. Additionally, the Positive List approach has already received support from the European Court of Justice.

Negative lists need to be continually updated in a slow and burdensome process as new species are observed being kept as pets, the conservation status of a species becomes critical or incidents occur with species threatening human and animal health and the environment. For these reason, negative lists will always lag behind new trends in exotic pet keeping and shifts in the trade, and create a false sense of acceptability regarding the safety and welfare of keeping certain species.

In Belgium, A Positive List for mammals had been under discussion since 1989 and was introduced by Royal Decree in 2001. The regulation was challenged in court as hindering trade between EU Member States. In June 2008 the European Court of Justice ruled that the Belgian Positive List was not in violation of EU free trade regulations as long as it was based on objective and non-discriminatory criteria and a procedure was in place for parties to request the inclusion of species on the list (Andibel ruling). The final Royal Decree of 2009 maintains the same 42 species on the list and includes an Annex of criteria according to which species can be evaluated for their inclusion on the list.

Laurette Onkelinx, Belgium's Minister of Public Health, gives a very positive opinion on the introduction of A Positive List: "The Belgian experience has shown that the introduction of a positive list leads to a clear diminishing of the number of animals of non listed species ending up in shelters or rescue centers. There is a very strong support of the general public for this legislation, leading to a strict social control. This in turn guarantees efficient enforcement without a need for extra investments on the part of the public services."

Sirpa Pietikäinen, Member of European Parliament from Finland, says: "Not every animal is suited to life as a household pet. In order to prevent unnecessary suffering of wild animals European countries should create positive lists of species which are allowed to be kept based on criteria considering animal welfare, human health and safety, invasive species risks, species conservation, and available knowledge on the care and needs of the species."

In the Netherlands, a Positive List for mammals came into force in February of 2015, and Positive Lists for fish, birds, and reptiles should follow. Since experts from AAP, the Dutch Centre for the care of exotic animals, and from the Eurogroupe for Animals have already presented A Positive List to the Ministry of Agriculture and offered to help design and implement it, we suggest it be included in the Animal Welfare Act.

Related Topics

Exotic companion animals [ 17.67 Kb ]



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