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Exotic pets and animal trade: do you have a permit for that grizzled tree kangaroo?

From the beginning of human travel and exploration there has been a fascination and fondness for the exotic species that we encounter. This fascination is accompanied with a yearning to take and keep what is found.

As the world has become figuratively smaller, the impact of exotic species trade has become more pronounced. The robust market for rare and exotic pets (and animal parts) has led to concerns over ecosystem health, both in foreign states and at home. From a regulatory standpoint exotic pets raise concerns in at least three ways.

First, the trade in exotic animals puts pressure on local populations of certain species, leading to the need for conservation of species in their natural states. Second, the importation of exotic species, whether pet or plant, brings with it the risk of disease that may adversely affect domestic ecosystems. Third, some species that are imported may be invasive and become pests in their new home if intentionally or accidentally released. It is for these reasons that ownership of certain exotic pets has become a contentious issue and has attracted more regulation and scrutiny than has historically been the case.

The international community first took notice of the effect of exotic species trade on local populations in the 1950s and 60s, when trade was relatively unregulated. It was recognized that if steps were not take to regulate species trade, it was possible that some species might not survive in their natural habitat. These concerns continue to this day with exotic pet trade, both legal and illegal, being big business.

The resulting legal framework includes international, national, and provincial regulations that govern trade and possession of wildlife and exotic pets today. These regulations are explored below.

The International Regulatory Response to Species Trade

The issues surrounding trade in exotic species and exotic pet ownership are, for obvious reasons, international in their scope. The large, mostly western driven in exotic pets relies heavily on the ecological diversity of lower income, developing nations.

In response to this growing international issue the World Conservation Union (IUCN) drafted a resolution regarding the trading in endangered and threatened species in 1963. The broader international community responded a decade later with the creation of the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES or the Convention) in 1973. Canada ratified the Convention in 1975 and is now among 168 member states that are a party to CITES.

The purpose of CITES is to regulate or prohibit trade in species that are at risk of being depleted in their home countries. It alms to achieve these species conservation objectives through market mechanisms. A theory behind the convention is that species with a trade and market value are more likely to be protected as a valuable resource.

The system of regulation is based on requiring a permit for the exporting and importing of particular species. The permits are administered through a designated management authority in each state and the nature of the permits required are determined by the listing of the species in CITES' three appendices.

Appendix I of CITES lists threatened and endangered species that, for conservation purposes, require highly regulated trade systems or outright prohibitions in trade. Appendix II species are those that are at risk of becoming threatened or endangered if regulatory measures are not taken to control their trade and Appendix III contains species for which there are management concerns in the state in which they occur.

Currently the CITES appendices, according to the CITES Secretariat, contain approximately 5,000 animals and 28,000 plants. The appendices include all primates, many reptiles such as boas and pythons, and most tropical birds, including many species of macaws, parrots and cockatoos.

The listing process involves the member states periodically meeting to evaluate and amend the species lists. The regulation of trade in those species, many of which are exotic pet species, is then incorporated into the member states domestic laws.

The Canadian System of Regulating Exotic Species Trade

In Canada, CITES is implemented domestically through the federal Wild Animal and Plan Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (WAPPRIITA) and the Wild Animal and Plant Trade Regulation.

The designated management authority in Canada and the main department involved in administering WAPPRIITA is the Canadian Wildlife Service branch of Environment Canada. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Canadian Forest Service and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency also play roles in implementation of CITES depending on the nature of the species and any potential threats to Canadian ecosystems.

As the primary legal tool for exotic pet trade into and out of Canada, WAPPRIITA dictates permit requirements for those species that appear in the CITES appendices.

Importing species listed in Appendix I of CITES requires import permits in Canada as well as an export permit from the exporting state. To export Appendix I species from Canada requires a valid import permit from the destination state followed by an export permit in Canada.

Importing Appendix II species into Canada requires export permits from the exporting state while exporting these species requires an export permit from Canada. For the importing of Appendix III species into Canada one is required to have an export permit from the exporting nation, if it is a listing nation. If the species is being exported from another, non-listing, nation an export permit, a certificate of origin, or a re-export permit, is required under CITES. To export Appendix III species from Canada requires a CITES export permit.

There are also import and export requirements for certain species not listed in CITES that appear in Schedule II of the Wild Animal and Plant Trade Regulation. (For further information on export and import permit requirements contact the Canadian Wildlife Service or visit the Canadian WAPPRIITA/CITES websites at

WAPPRIITA also provides a general prohibition of possession of an animal or plant that has been imported in contravention of the Act, for the purpose of transportation in contravention of this Act, or for offering to distribute or offer for sale of that animal.

As with CITES, WAPPRIITA and the regulation outlines exceptions to the permitting requirements. Some permit exceptions include

* listed species who are bred in captivity or species that are artificially propagated;

* household and personal items (where certain criteria are met); and,

* in certain instances, species (or animal parts) that were removed from their habitat prior to July 3, 1975.

WAPPRIITA, Provincial Laws and Interprovincial Trade

Regulation of the trade and possession of animals does not end with the federal government, nor does it end at our national border. Interprovincial trade of animals is prohibited by an array of provincial laws. For example, the Alberta Wildlife Act prohibits the importing of live wildlife and the export of wildlife unless authorized by a permit to do so.

These provincial laws receive back up federally, through WAPPRIITA, which prohibits the transport, possession, or distribution of animals in a manner that violates provincial legislation. Failure to have the requisite permits therefore opens one up to both provincial and federal prosecution.

Possible Penalties under WAPPRIITA

If someone is selling or trading pets in violation of WAPPRIITA, the potential punishment can be significant. Some recent cases have involved fines in the tens of thousands of dollars and the legislation allows for accounting for any money made through the illegal trade.

The legislation provides the maximum sentence, in the case of an indictable offence, of up to $150,000 and up to five years imprisonment for an individual and up to $300,000 in fines for a corporation. The fines under the legislation can grow significantly when one considers that subsequent offences may result in the doubling of maximum fines and that fines imposed can be computed per animal, as if each were a separate charge.

Other Laws Relevant to Exotic Pets

Where exotic pet species bring the threat of disease with them or where an accidental or intentional release of the animal could cause significant environmental harm other laws may apply. Noteworthy in this regard are the federal Plant Protection Act and Health of Animals Act, which provide limitations on importing some species and provide for the quarantining of animals and plants that may pose threats to Canadian flora and fauna.


Whether you are importing an exotic pet yourself, or simply buying one in the local specialty pet store, it is important to understand the permitting system that has brought that pet to Canada. The regulatory system governing the trade in exotic pets is essential to preserving biodiversity around the world. Unfortunately; illegal trade continues to undermine the regulatory framework arising from CITES. Regulating trade and combating illegal trade in these pets is essential if future generations are to join in our fascination and wonderment sparked by the diversity of animals in the world.

Jason Unger is Staff Counsel with the Environmental Law Centre in Edmonton, Alberta,
COPYRIGHT 2006 Legal Resource Centre of Alberta Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:SPECIAL REPORT on the law and animals
Author:Unger, Jason
Date:Feb 1, 2006
Previous Article:Common sense behaviour! Common sense laws?
Next Article:Legislated out of existence.

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