In COLD-BLOODED TRADE, the third installment of the Nick Tanner eco-crime thriller series, a notorious wildlife trafficker sources many of her animals via exotic animal auctions. i talked briefly about these in a previous post; but let’s dive a little deeper here. Why do these even exist?
Because there’s a market. Want a camel for your roadside zoo? A chimp as a pet? A pair of zebras to run around your backyard? How about something more jaw-dropping, like a full-grown lion, a lemur, a baby cougar, or a friendly neighborhood timber wolf? Pretty much any kind of exotic critter you can think of can be found at these auctions, which, while illegal in a number of states, are perfectly legal in others.
There’s plenty of video evidence revealing the cramped, inhumane conditions these animals are confined in while awaiting sale and shipment. I won’t include any links here–I’m not interested in helping them get more “views” on YouTube–but picture a dozen or so kangaroos in an eight-by-eight pen. A pair of fennec foxes, (see photo), a favorite of the exotic pet trade, crammed into tiny cages. Camels, penned in like petting zoo goats.
What’s especially striking is the commentary of the folks attending these auctions and shooting the videos. “Are we so very happy?” one lady asks a dozen young emus as they share a feed bowl inside a small corral. “Isn’t it cute?” another says as a spider monkey clings to its seller. There seems to be a blithe indifference to the fact that these are wild animals, caged and sold like commodities. Some of these animals are bred, raised, and sold for profit. Some are being “dumped” by people who thought that baby alligator was really cute, but they’re less enthralled by the nine-footer it’s become. Or that adorable chimpanzee grew into an adult twice as strong as a big man, with formidable teeth and an unpredictable temper.
What is it about humans that make us want to “own” a wild animal? In my view, it all comes down to ego, pure and simple. It’s a way for someone to feel special, and to show others just how special they are. Now, I’m not referring to the legit rescue facilities, such as Tippy Hedron’s famous lion sanctuary in Southern California. These are final stops for animals who survived their tribulations in those horrible roadside zoos, or were destined for canned hunt ranches (see CANNED HUNT, the 2nd Nick Tanner novel, for more on that), or were simply surrendered by previous owners who could no longer care for them. I’m referring to the people who make “pets” out of wild animals. They don’t do it because they care about the animal, no matter how much they may claim that’s the case. They do it because it makes them feel unique, exceptional, someone who isn’t just a regular Joe from some regular town in Kansas, or Tennessee, or Utah, or wherever. They do it so they can say, “Look at me, I’ve got a pet ocelot!” “Hey FB friends, here’s me with my new Ball Python, he’s gonna be twenty-five feet long when he’s grown, guess I’ll have to move him out of my bathtub by then, ha-ha.” “Check out how my six-year-old plays with my tiger cub, isn’t that amazing?”
Exotic animal auctions exist because there are buyers, and there are sellers. It’s a cruel industry based on greed, ego, and cold indifference to the spirit of these wild animals.