One day when I was yet again endlessly scrolling on YouTube, I discovered a new side of the popular site: exotic bird owners. After becomming infatuated with the cute animals, watching videos of birds for hours and hours, I myself had researched what owning a bird would mean, and quickly decided it was not for me. While doing research I ran into a problem in the bird-owner world: people buying exotic birds while not knowing how to care for them. Common mistakes include people who have never owned a bird before buying huge macaws, living up to 80 years with the intelligence comparable to a human toddler. Consequently, these birds often move from one family to the other, waiting untill someone is finally capable of taking good care of them.
The second time coming into contact with exotic pets was when I watched the (in)famous docu-series Tiger King (2020). This TV documentary also touches upon this subject of owning exotic pets and ‘free handling’: exotic animals interacting with humans or other exotic animals. If you have not watched it, the docu-series it about giant cat collector named “Joe Exotic”. His money-making ventures include using tiger cubs as props in shows and petting dates. The series also examens the exotic animals business. In here, I first found out about the dangers and the (sometimes) illegality of the exoctic animal business.
I pretty much forgot about about the situations examened in Tiger King until I finally created a TikTok page this september. I quickly ran into ‘cute’ videos of people owning and playing with exotic animals. Remembering the hype around Tiger King I wondered how it is not problematic for all of these people to own such animals. When started looking into it I found out that it very much is.
The first problem with videos on social media including exotic pets is that these videos send the misleading message that exotic animals make good pets. These images usually depict small cute cubs, neat and clean monkeys, or wellbehaving kangaroos. What is not being shown are the huge disadvantages of owning huge, dangerous, messy and loud animals as pets. It also contributes to the animals getting abused: the animals in the videos are usually being shown in improper living conditions. If you go to TikTok searching for the tag ‘exotic pets’ or anything along those lines, you will run into a plethora of videos involving exotic animals as pets. The creators of these videos frequenly add comments like “I am very good with exotic animals” or “any negative comments will get deleted” to justify their own actions. A while ago, videos of a slow loris being tickled went viral because people thought it was cute. However, the loris did nog enjoy being tickeld and instead was demontrating a defensive behavior. The slow loris, like many other exotic animals kept as pets, has suffered drastically due to social media fueling the desire to own one as a pet.
In addition, by sharing or liking these posts, people are mostly unintentionally supporting harmful and illegal practices, and there has been found a direct link between the rise of ‘cute’ exotic pet videos on social media and the rise in illegal pet trade. The animals suffer tremendously in the exotic pet trade, from being poached in the wild or being bred in captivity on a farm, and they are usually not shipped in the best of conditions either. Up to 66% of poached African Grey parrots die before starting their life as a pet. By taking these animals from the wild, populations of animals are being endangered by poaching and habitat loss.
You and me can help a small bit by not liking or sharing these videos, even if it is for awareness or showing how it should not be done. Instead, share videos or photos that show animals in the wild or in properly designed habitats, or posts from organizations working to save species in the world. When it comes to the actual harmfull video itself: do not comment or like, report the post or page and try to spend not a lot of time on the video to help the algorithm to not pick it up.
Le Gallou, S. (2021, may 28). How are ‘cute’ social media videos encouraging the exotic pet trade? https://sciences.adelaide.edu.au/news/list/2021/05/28/social-media-videos-encouraging-exotic-pet-trade
R., K. (2021, june 29). The power of sharing (on social media). https://zooatlanta.org/the-power-of-sharing-on-social-media/
Szpargala, K. (2021, august 30). Animal welfare and social media – Is the internet an ally of animals? https://cjdproject.web.nctu.edu.tw/2021/08/30/animal-welfare-and-social-media-is-the-internet-an-ally-of-animals/
Valla, D. (2019, february 20). 5 reasons not to buy an exotic pet. https://www.worldanimalprotection.org.uk/blogs/5-reasons-not-buy-exotic-pet
As someone who also used to watch “funny pet videos” I feel very disappointed in myself… As consumers, we often forget the impact that our personal algorithm can have on the external environment- like the illegal animal trade. Very insightful article! I wonder how YouTube and TikTok are going to deal with backlash concerning their promotion of animal abuse…