Endangered Sunday: Aussie natives need to be pets to survive?

An eastern quoll

Eastern quoll in a sanctuary

ABC Online: Pet market tipped to save endangered wildlife

Our native animals are so vulnerable to feral species in the wild that a major rethink of long-standing policy (that many native animals are illegal to keep as pets) is in the wind. Sanctuaries simply aren’t keeping the threat of extinction at bay. So would captive breeding programs in people’s backyards be a better protection?

baby sugar glider hangs upside down to a human hand

pet sugar glider in Malaysia

The Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation has completed a feasibility study into the pros and cons of encouraging people to have native mammals as pets, the sale of which might fund captive breeding programs to help future re-release of some species in the wild.

One of the report’s investigators, Rosie Cooney, says having more native mammals as pets will raise their profile and make sure more people care about their plight in the wild.

“The vast majority of Australians know very little about the vast majority of our species, so there’s no possible way they can value them,” she said.

“The better we know our species, the more chance we’ve got that people are going to care about their long-term conservation.”

Categories: arts & entertainment, environment

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17 replies

  1. Oh this just strikes me as a horrible, horrible idea. People forget how much domestication has gone into dogs and cats to make them pleasant and enjoyable companions. The minute you get more exotic than that, there’s all kinds of requirements an animal has to be happy and healthy, and the higher the odds they aren’t going to be a pleasant pet. Like sugar gliders, which are totally adorable little buggers who cannot be potty trained (that I know of, they are not my area of expertise) and will leave excrement and urine all over your house.

  2. Yes, terrible idea. Next stop: native animal mills, complete with the neglect and misery that’s de rigeur in those industries! :-/

  3. Slave2TehTink: Pardon me, but do you own a cat? ‘Felis Domesticus’ is a lie, trust me.
    Seconded on it being a horrible idea, though.

  4. I know a fair few people who are volunteer carers with wildlife rescue services, and I doubt that most of them would think this was a good idea either. Keeping native animals happy and healthy in one’s home is not something to be undertaken on a whim, the way many people buy small cute pets for an apartment lifestyle.
    Political guineapig: I’ve owned cats all my life and I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make. Cats are easily housetrained for a start.

  5. When it comes to wild animals as pets, people who hope it will save the gene pool of an endangered species need to be aware of Dmitri Belyaev’s experiments with domesticating foxes:
    In a remarkably short time (less than 40 years), foxes ceased to look or behave like wild foxes. They lost their foxy smell, began to wag their tails, learned to bark, flattened their ears like dogs, became loving, friendly and playful, and grew parti-coloured coats. They became, in effect, a dog-fox. A lovely pet, to be sure, but not one that could ever be released into the wild in order to beef up silver fox numbers.
    I don’t have a problem with it, but it is very much a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’.
    .-= skepticlawyer´s last blog ..10 most bizarre legal defences =-.

  6. Tigtog: Er, I thought they box-trained themselves. My point is that cats really haven’t changed that much from their days as wild animals. Yes, humans have altered their genome a little, but they’re still pretty independent and have much of their instincts intact.

  7. Perhaps someone could come explain to my cat that he’s an independent, solitary hunter rather than a big sook who wants to sit on me 24 hours a day and cries for food every time I get up, and who climbs up me for cuddles when I get home.
    Cats have been domesticated for around 10,000 years – that’s a lot of cat generations for selective breeding to turn wild kitteh into big sooky domestic kitteh.
    Clearly cats can still survive in the wild, but there is no question that a lot of selective breeding has gone on since they were domesticated, and their personalities as a consequence are quite different. Same with dogs – I’m quite happy to live in an apartment with my pug, but I wouldn’t be so happy to live in an apartment with a wolf.

  8. While I do think this is a dreadful plan…
    … I’ve wanted a pet spotted quoll for so many years 😦

  9. Rebekka: It depends on the cat. I know one cat that totally packed up shop when his owners had kids, and my pair hunt mice and birds. And present us with the trophies, argh. (They also hunt ice cream and dairy products so I suspect the foraging instinct is quite intact.)

  10. Are we having a cats-as-wild-untamed-spirits argument? Then I have anecdata to share!
    A while ago my kitty Roast Beef found a baby bird flapping helplessly on the ground. He had no clue what to do with it. It was hilarious. “What is this strange new feeling? Why are my paws urging me to pounce? Why won’t this thing stop squeaking?” He decided the best course of action was to run away from the terrifying bird and hide in his box.
    I’ve taught my cats to sit, shake paws, come when called, walk on a lead, fetch and carry. And apparently, to be carnivorous pacifists.
    Sure, some cats are introverted or badly socialised and so appear aloof. But so do some dogs and people. You still have to train them to use litter, sleep at appropriate times, eat at scheduled times, play with this and not that, use this scratching post and not the furniture, not be afraid of certain things… in short, there’s a lot of socialisation that goes into kittens. It’s just that most people socialise them into being a typical cat.
    On the native animal thing, I think one of the suggestions would be to give the profits from the sale of native pets to conservation and rehab efforts. I’d support something like that, though I’d want the industry highly incredibly regulated.

  11. I think the value varies too heavily with the animal, to be honest. Parrots that come from a long line of pets can potentially be reared to be released in only one generation, which is part of why native parrots can be kept as pets (providing you’re willing to get the permits and outlay the cash, depending on the particular bird) but mammals become domesticated so damn easily. :/ Being able to obtain permits to breed them if one really wants to could be a good idea, providing the permits involved something more than “fill out a form and send us a money order every 12 months”, which is what most permits consist of at the moment.

  12. Considering how much work the SPCA in the US has to do dealing with owners who cannot take proper care of their dogs and cats (scary data: with the downturn in the economy, some owners are saving money by not taking their animals to the vet!! Argh! Of course, the US is not Aus), adding wild animals to the mix doesn’t seem like a good idea.
    Of course, I’ve always wanted a wombat, but even I know they are not snorgles and cuteness, no matter how they’re photographed.

  13. Sure, some cats are introverted or badly socialised and so appear aloof.
    Aww, my kitty isn’t badly socialised. She just prefers feet to hands.
    And I second many people here – it’s a baaad, bad idea. All you have to do is watch RSPCA Animal Rescue and you’d see what a horrible, terrible, bad no-good idea this is.

  14. What about when people want to go on holidays? Who would care for these animals then? I’m betting that you can’t just pop them in the cattery.

  15. @mindy Same thing people already do with birds, reptiles and unusual mammals that are already legal to own -find people through local vets who are willing to pet-sit small scale, or leave them with friends.

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