Owning an exotic animal has become a status symbol of the rich and famous. But the cost of having an unconventional pet goes far beyond the bank.
In the latest episode of our Complex News Presents docuseries, we take a look at the multi-billion dollar exotic animal trade and explore the harm caused by this illegal operation and the organizations trying to combat it. To get a better grasp of the situation, Complex News' Speedy Mormon visited Southern California's Animal Tracks Inc., an animal sanctuary that houses exotic pets.
"What we do is we get the animals that cannot be rehabilitated and we give them a forever home [...] and we educate the public with these animals," said sanctuary director Stacy Gunderson, before explaining the trend of exotic pet ownership. "Most of the time it's an impulse buy. For a celebrity, it's kind of easy to do. They have the money. It's very expensive, so you can afford to get that exotic animal, you can afford the housing for it. But there's not always the education behind [the purchase]."
Experts say the majority of exotic pets are either bred in captivity or captured directly from the wild. Because the trade is illegal in the U.S., traffickers go to extreme measures to smuggle these animals into the country. This often involves drugging the animal and then concealing it in containers or strapping it to a human body. Unsurprisingly, these tactics often result in the animal's death.
"Behind these funny picture of you on Instagram with a monkey here, sometimes there's a very, very tragic story," said Andrea Crosta, the director of operations of Wildlife Crime. "By buying these animals, you're actually giving money to very bad people. And sometimes these people reinvest the money from wildlife into human smuggling."
Watch the full episode up top.