Advising report on proper use of an exotic companion animal

Table 2. Categories of animal .species classified according to their degree ofsuitability as companion animals.Category ASpecies whose use for companionship is generally positive for the animal and the owner, whose needs are easily met, whose procurement and transportation raise no appreciable problems, and whose use involves no apparent risks to the community or the environment.Category BSpecies that require significant commitment of time and/or resources inorder that their use be positive for the animal and the owner, but where ownership is unproblematic with regard to procurement, transportation and effects on the community and the environment. Substantial owner education may be needed for such species.Category CSpecies that have complex or demanding requirements needing skilful and knowledgeable owners who are prepared to commit significant time and/orresources to animal ownership, but where ownership is unproblematic with regard to procurement, transportation and effects on the community and the environment. Control of ownership (eg ownership only by qualified persons) may be appropriate for such species.Category DSpecies where there is insufficient knowledge (eg regarding procurement, transportation, environmental impact or the animal’s needs) to allow a confident assessment of its suitability as a companion animal. Use of these species might be acceptable in the future if knowledge becomes adequate and any necessary safeguards are in place.Category ESpecies that are unsuitable as companion animals because of undue harm or risk of harm to one or more of: the animal, the owner, the community, or the environment.An assessment framework As a guide for assessing the suitability of different species as companion animals, we attempted to capture the above issues in the form of a checklist of questions (Table 1).Three features of the checklist require comment to clarify its use. First, use of the checklist requires substantial knowledge of the species. Thus, while the questions provide a uniform process whereby a knowledgeable person can assess a species in a systematic way, the questions do not reduce or eliminate the need for such knowledge. Second, some of the questions inherently require ethical or value-related judgements, for example, to decide whether enforcement of trade regulations is ‘adequate’, or whether risk of injury is ‘acceptably’ low. Whether to use a particular animal for purposes of companionship is inherently an ethical issue. The checklist helps to structure the empirical knowledge and normative judgements that are needed to arrive at a decision, but cannot tum the decision into a purely empirical or objective one. For example, some individuals may attach particular importance to certain concerns; some users, for instance, may consider that the risk of ecological damage or inhumane procurement is sufficiently high to rule out all use of wild-caught species. Finally, the suitability of a species depends partly on the owner and circumstances as well as on the characteristics of the species; hence, the assessment process often does not lead to a universal ‘yes or no’ decision. Rather, we suggest that the assessment leads most logically to classifying species into one of five possible descriptions (Table 2), reflecting in part the degree of owner commitment and expertise required.The following examples illustrate how we see the framework being used, but these are not intended as final evaluations of the species in question.Domestic mice, Mus musculus, and golden hamsters, Mesocricetus auratus, are examples of animals that might be assigned to category A. These animals are readily procured (by captive breeding) and transported without risk to themselves or the environment; there is substantial experience of and research into their care, nutrition and behaviour (Baumans 1999; Whittaker 1999); and their welfare needs appear

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