Internet is normalising exotic pets and it's not ok

When you were a child you probably watched a lot of wildlife documentaries. Maybe at some point you even wished to own a tiger or some other exoctic animal as a pet. Now, while most adults understand that owning an exotic animal is wrong, the internet is normalising these kinds of pets. And scientists at the University of Adelaide are concerned about that.

Exotic animals are not pets and their trade is restricted or banned almost everywhere. Image credit: Aakashawasthy via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Tiger cubs may be very cute and fluffy, but those are juvenile wild animals. And the same could be said about chimps, some reptiles and other animals that are not traditional pets. In fact, in many countries trade of wild animals and owning them as pets is either restricted or completely forbidden. And yet if you went on Youtube you would see hundreds of videos of people petting and cuddling their very own exotic pets

Scientists analysed the reactions in comments posted on 346 popular videos with exotic animals as pets (mostly cats and primates in people's hands). Some of these videos showed exotic animals interact with humans only, while others showed them playing around with domestic cats and dogs. These videos on Youtube are very popular, receiving millions of views. And scientists were concerned to see that reactions in the comments were mostly positive ('Isn't that cute'). In fact, many people expressed their desires to be that close to an exotic animal. And that is what concerns scientists – it seems like those videos are normalizing owning exotic pets, some of which belong to endangered species. Not only people view those situations and interactions as normal, but they also see them as desirable.

Youtube has many rules and policies regarding the content of the videos on the platform. Animal torture, for example, would never be tolerated on this site. However, understanding distress signals of exotic pets requires a lot of specific education that Youtube doesn't have. Also, these videos may have a negative impact on conservation efforts and encourage illegal trade.

Dr Anne-Lise Chaber, lead author of the study, said: "Current policies rely on the public to identify what is harmful or distressing to the animal, and yet people may not have the knowledge to do that. A slow loris which appears to be smiling when tickled in a video is neither violent nor graphic content and therefore it's left to the viewer to identify this sign of distress and report the video."

Owning an exotic pet is not normal or desirable. It is not a sign of wealth or courage. Exotic animals should live in the wild or at least in facilities with trained professionals. Your dream should be a nice cute dog or a cat – animals that were bred to live with people. And not a tiger, slow loris or a monkey. Hopefully, Youtube will eventually see the problem with those videos.


Source: University of Adelaide