Dec 8, 2009
Should Wild Animals Become Pets to Ward Off Extinction?
C2NN story submitted by Cher
In February 2009, Australia's Environmental
Minister, Peter Garrett made a depressing
announcement. The Christmas Island pipistrelle
bat— an inch-long winged creature no heavier
than five grams — was about to go extinct.
Articles about its imminent demise were accompanied by photos of the bat's miniscule body, barely big enough to embrace the full diameter of a human finger...One was seen fluttering around the island in August, but there have been no sightings since.
If the Christmas Island pipistrelle is truly gone,
it will be the 23rd Australian mammal species
to have become extinct in the past 200 years.
The last to perish was the CRESCENT NAIL-TAIL WALLABY — a miniature wallaby the size of a hare — which disappeared from western and central Australia in 1956. Twenty years earlier, in what was perhaps Australia's most infamous extinction, the TASMANIAN TIGER met its end.
The accumulation of tragedies like these has
given Australia the shameful distinction of
having the worst mammal extinction record
in the world. Half of the mammals that have
vanished from the planet in the last two
centuries have been in Australia.
And though the continent is hardly the only place grappling with die-offs — many biologists have conceded that a mass wave of extinctions is now sweeping the globe — as the list of Australia's endangered species continues to grow longer, scientists here are looking for ways to put an end to the trend.
MIKE ARCHER, a professor at the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), has long been a proponent of domesticating Australia's unique wildlife to keep it from disappearing.
Archer has had SUGAR GLIDERS employ his shoulder as transport, shared a bed with a cucumber-loving QUOLL, and battled a SWAMP WALLABY over a roast chicken. While he concedes that not all native animals make great pets (WOMBATS and KOALAS come to mind), others do, and Archer's hoping that the government will start to legalize ownership of more native pets.
PICTURED BELOW: An Eastern quoll pictured in
Cradle Mountain National Park in Tasmania, Australia
Archer said, "No animal that has ever entered
[humans'] inner circle has become extinct.
When you value something and have an
emotional connection with it... it simply
It's a strategy that has worked before in Australia, albeit on a smaller scale. In 1987, RAINBOW FISH were considered to be forever-gone from the lakes in northern Queensland — their sole habitat. In a move to save them, fish enthusiasts collected the species for their personal aquariums, and when the Queensland fisheries caught on, the pet fish were used to start breeding programs.
Today, most Australians' interactions with the continent's native species are limited to zoos — many wouldn't know a QUOLL from a BANDICOOT, or a NUMBAT from a BILBY.
But Archer's plan seems to be gaining some traction. The Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC), a federal government organization, will release a study next year considering the potential to use threatened EASTERN QUOLLS — native, cat-sized marsupials with white spots and bushy tails — as household pets, on the basis that they are rare, and could be suited to an urban habitat.
ROSALIE CHAPPLE, a professor at the Institute of Environmental Studies at the UNSW a key author of the RIRDC report, cautions about the implications of utilization of wild animals as pets...
"It should be based on a conservation
imperative and not a commercial industry
imperative. The wellbeing of the animal
must be taken into account."
A native mammal pet industry would need guidelines on living and food requirements for quolls, as well as a lot of paperwork for licensing and regulation.
Chapple is also wary about contributing to an overloaded pet industry.
In the Australian state of New South Wales alone, over 63,000 cats and dogs are abandoned every year, and...
...a recent bill brought before NSW state
parliament sought, unsuccessfully, to ban
the sale of cats and dogs from pet shops.
"With cats and dogs, we already see gross welfare issues,"
...says DANIEL RAMPS, a senior research fellow with the Australian Wetlands and River Center at UNSW who is vehemently opposed to keeping quolls as pets.
"Quolls have much more specific requirements… They need a lot of space. By encouraging a pet industry you are essentially opening quolls up to abuse. [The quoll] is a predator. Its instincts aren't able to be maintained in a captive environment," Ramps said.
Archer dismisses the argument.
"When I was given a Western quoll as a kitten, we had a very strong bonding experience. It was so cute, covered in little white spots with these huge eyes," he recalls. And while he feels quolls and people would get along just fine, he is blind to the charms of less exotic housemates while his cause gains more traction.
No Christmas for the Pipistrelle
Dec 8, 2009 10:48pm
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