Wednesday, August 28, 2002

EXOTIC PET UNDERWORLD

Animal House: The Wild Side of Exotic Pets
By Catherine Donaldson-Evans

NEW YORK — The underbelly of the trading world known as the black market usually conjures up images of diamonds, drugs and guns -- not lions and tigers and bears.

But the exotic pet trade is thriving, with everything from large cats and wild monkeys to prairie dogs and boa constrictors being bought and sold.

"It's a multi-faceted problem," said Alan Green, author of Animal Underworld: Inside America's Black Market for Rare and Exotic Species. "There are public health issues, public safety issues and animal protection issues."...

Not only is it legal to own exotic pets, it's also legal to trade them as long as the buyer or seller has a USDA-issued license. But a number of the animals are laundered -- bought and sold so many times that they vanish on paper -- which makes it impossible to trace their history, according to Green.

Though zoos argue that they sell their surplus animals only to reputable dealers, Green said evidence suggests that they, along with circuses and university labs, help supply the exotic pet black market....