What Is Wrong With Exotic Pets?

Clifford WarwickClifford Warwick PGDipMedSci CBiol CSci EurProBiol FSB is a Consultant Biologist & Medical Scientist.  He qualified in biology through research in 1990 and later trained in primary health care at The University of Leeds School of Medicine, graduating in 2004. His professional and academic qualifications have been awarded for non-invasive research work in reptilian biology, biological strategies, and in human medicine — specialising in zoonoses (transmission of disease from animals to humans),
 gastrointestinal disease, fever, and biological strategies in health and disease.  
He was made a Fellow of The Institute of Biology (now Society of Biology) for his ‘distinction in biological research’.  He also became a Member of the European Communities Biologists Association and a Fellow of The Royal Society of Public Health.  In 1992 he won the British Veterinary Association Intervet Animal Welfare Award.  More recently he was awarded Chartered Scientist status by the Science Council and the Society of Biology, and Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.  Clifford has produced around 100 peer-reviewed publications in biology and animal science, and around a dozen peer-reviewed publications in human medicine, as well as innumerable popular articles.

Here Clifford explains to AIA’s Animal Spirit magazine, what is wrong with exotic pets.

  1. What exactly are “exotic animals” and what does the term encompass?

What is ‘exotic’ to one country is often regular wildlife to another.  So, exotic pets can described as any animal species that is non-native to and not normally domesticated in a country or region, and that is produced, sold or kept for amusement or companionship. Of the multi-billion dollar international trade in wildlife and its products, around one-fifth is driven by demand for exotic pets. Many animal traders try to refer to certain exotic species common in the pet trade as ‘domesticated’ simply because they have been bred over several generations.  But true domestication is a phenomenon based on very long-term selection of pre-existing specific traits – such as strong socio-affiliative behaviours to other species – and exotic pets simply don’t figure right in this. The very fact that people ‘need’ to keep their lizard, snake, or bird caged confirms it isn’t fit for captivity. If people were to treat their dog or cat as they do an exotic pet they might face prosecution for cruelty.

  1. Briefly, could you provide our readers with an overview of the most common welfare issues associated with the keeping of reptiles as pets?  Should we be keeping exotic animals as pets as all? 

Reptile keeping is a prime example of what is wrong with the exotic pet sector in general. Vast numbers of reptiles are wild-caught – causing untold degradation of populations and ecological alteration. Handling, transport and storage cycles are often repeated en route through the trade chain and domestic environment, and each stage harbours a disturbing tale of animal abuse, injury, disease and death. A recent study at a major pet dealer found that 72% of invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles and mammals destined for the pet trade die within just six weeks – that is, before they are even sold. Of those reptiles that do make it into the home at least 75% die annually. Whereas most dogs have genuine life-sharing associations with their keepers and achieve natural longevity, reptiles are typically and essentially imprisoned against their will in small unsuitable dried-out fish tanks. Of the minority that survive to grow, many are unwanted and cast into local habitat where they can become invasive species – 51 foreign types of amphibian and reptile now occupy areas around London, UK alone.

  1. You have published some excellent articles that offer a practical guide to local authorities to help them uncover welfare problems in pet shops and animal markets. Could you elaborate on this?   

I do write a lot, but I am merely one among very many scientists and veterinarians reporting on a fast developing field of investigation – i.e. the documentation of the harms inherent to the global trade in animals.  I’m not a campaigner, so all I can do is provide information and trust someone can use it.  Whilst those who sell and buy exotics must take responsibility for the actual harm of that business, it is the civil servants who sit on their hands that are the real obstacle to improving matters.

  1. Besides the major welfare issues associated with the keeping of exotic animals, there are also good public health reasons for not keeping such animals in the home or petting zoos.  Could you elaborate?

Absolutely, humans are also victims of reptile (and other exotic pet) sales, because many (at least 70) diseases of people are now linked to captive wild animals. These animal-linked illnesses are called ‘zoonoses’. Ironically, whilst so many people are aware of protecting their family’s health from tropical bugs and pests when they go abroad, they unwittingly invite a raft of germs into their homes in and on the bodies of innocent ‘carrier’ pet animals, crudely wrenched from their natural homes to become a spectacle in someone’s lounge – it’s what we are calling the ‘zoonotic Trojan horse’.

  1. Many people have negative views of snakes and lizards because of cultural conditioning. Could you give our readers an insight into how you developed such awe and respect for these magnificent creatures?      

I really don’t know why I got so involved with reptile biology as such. Originally, I wanted to become an astrophysicist as I had an innate understanding of that field when I was a kid, but as I’ve never been out of work for even a day I shall not complain about having worked in biology for so many years! To me all animals are equal biologically, but I did find reptiles fascinating. So little was known about them at that time (four decades ago) so I guess the subject was somewhat ‘undiscovered country’ – which I always find intriguing.  As I learned more of their physical and psychological sensitivities, and the accompanying lack of sympathy from most people, I wanted to ‘stand up for them’ against the tide of abusers. Many of their abusers were cold, hard, exploiters of their flesh and skin, but one of the most – if not the most pervasive (although arguably insidious) abusers are those who claim to admire them – pet sellers and keepers. One of the unfortunate things about the situation is that modern science has clearly shown that reptiles, amphibians, fishes and invertebrates (whether squid, bees or any we look at) are way more perceptive and sensitive than previous generations believed. Indeed, there may be not significant differences in key areas of physical and mental perception between all well studied animals now. Therefore, only an out of date ‘fool’ would regard a reptile or other so-thought ‘lower’ animal as not needing all the considerations of those we fully accept as sentient and sensitive. The challenge is trying to get this message to the majority of unsuspecting purchasers along with others such as animal ‘hobbyists’ and civil servants who choose to ignore it.

The Human Brain Project: a very expensive headache

By AIA Science Director, Dr Andre Menache

On Reflection is an occasional column contributed by a reader. The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily shared or supported in any way by Le News.

Le news English Newspaper Switzerland

By now, most of us have heard of the Human Brain Project, whose aim is to simulate the complete human brain using supercomputers. The project is largely funded by the European Union and overseen by the École Polytechnique Federal de Lausanne (EPFL). This roughly ten year project (2013 – 2024) will attempt to better understand the most complex organ in the universe and also simulate drug treatments for human mental diseases. If this sounds too good to be true it’s probably because it is. The human brain contains around 86 billion nerve cells, each capable of creating thousands of interconnections with other nerve cells, with mind boggling permutations. But the brain is much more than the sum of its parts. Although a supercomputer could hypothetically unravel the way in which the brain does maths, how would a two-dimensional supercomputer simulate human emotion or language, for example?

A reductionist approach to attempt to mimic the most complex organ in the universe is destined to face significant challenge from many corners. In fact, the most severe criticism has come from within the neuroscientific community itself, in the form of an open letter addressed to the European Commission in July of this year, in which several hundred researchers complained of the way in which the project was being managed with threats even of a boycott.

Le News English newspaper SwitzerlandIn addition to the internal conflicts, the Human Brain Project is proving a costly headache for the EU taxpayer, with its one billion euro price tag. One of the lesser known facets of the project is the significant amount of resources devoted to the study of the mouse brain. This curiosity driven research (aka “basic research”) is likely to yield interesting data, but its relevance to the human brain is highly questionable. The mouse brain weighs just half a gram compared with the one and a half kilo human brain and is definitely not a scaled down version of the latter. Mouse and man are separated by 70 million years of evolution. The effects of this evolutionary divergence are evident in differences between form and function of body systems, starting at gene level.

The general public is largely unaware of what “basic research” actually entails. However, a large survey funded by the European Commission, published in 2006 showed that a clear majority (68%) of EU citizens were opposed to basic research involving the use of animals.

Even more worrying for the citizens of Europe is the fact that such vast sums of money are spent on “interesting” research while human patients suffer as a result of budget shortages. A case in point is that of Professor Hugues Duffau, a French neurosurgeon and recipient of the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in his field, who has pioneered a technique for removing brain tumours in awake patients. His staggering success rate means that he is highly sought after to train teams of neurosurgeons in his technique. Professor Duffau has told me that resources in the EU are sorely lacking to adequately train neurosurgeons. He also told me that he had not received any funding, nor had he been approached by those responsible for the Human Brain Project.

Andre Menache is with Animal Consultants International and has been an active campaigner for the past 30 years mainly in South Africa, Israel and the UK. He also advises the Geneva government.

AIA Welcomes Institute of Jainology as new member


The Animal Interfaith Alliance is delighted to welcome the Institute of Jainology as its latest member.  Its mission statements states, ‘Compassion and non-violence towards all living beings are the fundamental principles of Jain philosophy. Our mission is to propagate Jainism and its values through art, culture and education’.  More details are given in their website at www.jainology.org.

Existing AIA members include the Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals (ASWA), Catholic Concern for Animals (CCA) and Quaker Concern for Animals (QCA).

Jain Business Ethics Conference

By Dr Atul Shah of Diverse Ethics

Jain Business Ethics Conference
Pictured from left to right: Dr. Nitin Shah, Mr. Vallabh Bhansali, Mr. David Lincoln (Claremont Lincoln Benefactor), Laura Burgis (CLU), Eileen Aranda (CLU President), Prem Jain (President, JAINA), Atul Shah, D.R.Mehta

One of America’s most famous institutions, Claremont College (California), where none other than Professor Peter Drucker taught, was host to an international conference on Jain Business Ethics in early October 2014. The event was organised in cooperation with the Los Angeles Jain community, one of the leading and most dynamic communities in the whole of North America. I was fortunate to be an adviser to the conference and a keynote speaker, and met outstanding luminaries there and was able to have many discussions on this theme for which I am most passionate. I have written a comprehensive research paper on the subject, integrating faith, conduct, social impact and relationship capital.

I would like to share with you my personal perspective on the event and the future direction it provides. One of the most moving statements made was when PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk, one of the most famous women in America, explained that when she was young, her only ambition in life was to ‘become a Jain’.  This one statement demonstrated how important and prescient the Jain culture and heritage is for the world and its potential to realise compassion on this planet.

Business is one of the world’s most powerful institutions – in fact often more powerful than governments. The values by which it thinks and acts therefore has an influence on millions of people. Sadly, most business schools teach about profit-maximisation, and ethics if anything is a side-line. We had a variety of eminent speakers, ranging from Prem Jain, an Executive of CISCO and President of JAINA (the US national Jain federation), to Mr. Vallabh Bhansali, one of India’s top Investment Bankers, Ingrid Newkirk of PETA and Priya Kothari an economist and social entrepreneur.  

The conference was organised by Claremont Lincoln Director Whitny Braun, and incorporated the Ahimsa Award which was presented to Padma Bhushan honoree Mr. D. R. Mehta, one of India’s most senior civil servants and pioneer of the Jaipur Foot Hospital, where nearly two million people have received free treatment for limb injuries. In his acceptance speech, Mr Mehta talked about the joy of selfless service, and the benefits he derives from practicing Ahimsa and compassion for those who have lost their limbs, self-esteem, independence and self-confidence.

Mr. Manu Shah, CEO of MS International, spoke about how he and his wife Rika practically apply ethics in all their business transactions, and cares for their employees as if they were members of their family. MSI is the leading supplier of granite, marble, slate and other natural stone products from 36 different countries. Dr Sulekh Jain, a JAINA past president and founder of the International Summer School for Jain Studies, spoke about the key Jain principles of Aparigraha and Achaurya, which mean respectively non-possessiveness (non-materialism) and not taking that which does not belong to you. He was upset that most business schools in India do not teach any ethics. Priya Kothari spoke of the new millennials generation, born after 1982, for whom values and meaning are very important to their lives, and this generation is not obsessed by money and greed but instead by ethics, compassion and community. She said that a silent revolution is happening, and this generation is going to transform our global future.

Mr. Vallabh Bhansali of Enam Securities gave a keynote address on how he reconciles Jain values in his own life by following the core principles and being focused on self-realisation. It is critical to think for yourself and be able to evaluate your own viewpoints and ethics he argued. Experience was vital to transforming lives, not theory, he explained. Mr. Bhansali also emphasised the importance of corporate transparency. Meditation and mindfulness were key to his business success – he practices Vipassana meditation – where silence helps to stay calm and unruffled by world affairs. Prem Jain of CISCO talked about how Jain values helped him stay humble and focussed in building innovation teams, and working hard in spite of the odds. He also did not give up on his Jain values throughout his career, and has taken an active leadership role in the North American Jain community. Eminent scholar and speaker, Dr Cicovacki drew from global history and politics to show how power and economics were always more important than ethics – and this picture needs to be reversed if we are to build a sustainable future. Dr Manish Mehta spoke of the Triple Bottom Line of Economics, Society and Environment – and why it is central that businesses respect all three bottom lines, instead of focusing on financial profit. Several references were made to the success of the International Summer School for Jain Studies, and its transformative effect on many teachers and students of Jain wisdom – an excellent new joint initiative has now been launched with Loyola Marymount University also based in Los Angeles led by Prof Chris Chapple.

In my speech, I chose to focus on Jain Social Enterprise, drawing on my experience of running Jain Spirit and Diverse Ethics, giving practical examples of how many diverse people want to work with the Jains to advance society and are not motivated by greed. I explained the vision of Jain Spirit magazine and the background work and infrastructure which was created to produce quality articles and images and pro-actively share Jain Values Globally. The closure of Jain Spirit was also the closure of this unique infrastructure and professional institution – a major loss to society. I showed the film by Bhavik Haria of our work with the RSPCA to help leaders embrace diversity and engage with ethical communities. The audience were moved by the film and the breadth of our work and achievements. Through Social Enterprise, Jains have a unique possibility of promoting Jain values AND earning a living. We need to take our culture out of our pockets and into the world. I also charted out a global philanthropic vision through which Jains could pro-actively share their culture and philosophy by setting up a foundation, a media organisation, an arts organisation, educational partnerships with leading institutions, and a think tank and policy consultancy. My vision was of building professional initiatives and institutions, staffed by full-time paid people, something which would last beyond any one lifetime. Institutions are ways by which philanthropists could leave a permanent legacy and put faith in the trust deed to ensure that money is spent along the right objectives, long after they have died. Through social enterprise, there is also great scope for revenue generation, which could make these catalytic investments sustainable.

In her closing address, Ingrid Newkirk, President of PETA, showcased a variety of ways in which compassion and non-violence could be practiced by business to remove the unnecessary cruelty and suffering of animals. She cited recent ventures and corporate initiatives which provide vegan foods and medicines, and developed new ways of creating nutritional food products which would not be based on any form of animal cruelty. To me, the story she painted of animal cruelty showed the impact of extreme human and institutional greed – which always leads to violence and aggressive behaviour. Through the pursuit of greed, business is being violent to animals, nature and society.

My reflections on the conference are that we opened a huge Pandora’s box of a subject, where this event was an important start. The whole field of Business Ethics requires leadership and sustained effort, and the Jains have skill in both these areas, but it requires pro-active drive. Jains should consider such work as a way of repaying the legacy of their cultural heritage from which they have profited. Harvard Business Review, the premiere journal in business, is not leading any paradigm shift in the ethic of business, and even in American business schools, business ethics are taught as a sideline and not integrated into the mainstream.

We did not directly address questions like:

  • Is it paradoxical to be a ‘rich Jain’? What does Aparigraha mean in practice?
  • Are we in control of our wealth, or is our wealth controlling us? 
  • How important is detachment to modern business?
  • What should be a Jain ethical framework for big business?
  • Is tax evasion and avoidance practiced in the Jain community? If so, is this legal, ethical and fair or unfair and illegal? What is the community’s stake in these hidden profits?
  • Do Jains understand and value the political economy which supports their businesses? What obligation do they have to wider government and society?
  • How can we ensure Jain business case studies are featured in Business textbooks and research journals, and taught in business schools all over the world? Is there a media strategy for Jain business ethics?
  • What educational linkages should we nurture with academic institutions?
  • What is the business value of promoting Jain ethics?
  • What value do Jains place on cultural intelligence, and the need for them to share this publicly and creatively?
  • What are the ethics of windfalls like capital gains from stock market booms, property investment and hedge funds? What should we do with ‘unearned’ income, where no sweat or labour is involved?
  • How do we reconcile the profound differences between running a business and running a charity – the goal of business is to make profits and the role of charity is to spend surpluses to uplift society? How can business play a direct role in transforming society – are Jain businesses socially responsible and accountable?
  • The recent booms in the Indian stock market, property market and US hi-tech stocks have created massive windfalls for many Jains. These gains are not transparent, and many are located offshore. What is the community’s stake in these surpluses? Why are they not being used to build unique educational and cultural institutions? Why is it that in the whole of India, there is not a single quality museum explaining the profound Jain culture, wisdom and heritage?
  • What role do Jain businesses play in building an island fortress for the community, where people are not able to engage with or understand Jain culture, in spite of being very hungry to learn?
  • Should we be inventing an annual ‘business pratikraman’ during the Paryushan festival, encouraging entrepreneurs to reflect on their business footprint, evaluating both successes and areas for improvement?
  • How can business skill be applied to community institutions such that they raise revenue, provide a quality and professional service, and remain sustainable?
  • What is our vision for young Jains and the world they will inherit?
  • Have we reflected enough on the impact of leaving all our estates to current and future family members? Are we afraid to face the materiality of death?
  • How can we increase our trust for charitable activities and enterprises?

Are Jain entrepreneurs aware of the unique ways in which their culture and values can be shared and promoted to a global audience, and the skills for doing so which already exist in our community?

Not all of these questions are easy or comfortable. But we must ask them if we are to be a community of integrity, and a people who understand the unique cultural heritage we have been endowed with. We need to rise to the challenge of upholding and sharing this culture, and use our businesses as fund-raising projects for community initiatives. Whilst there are some examples of business leaders with such vision, there is also fragmentation, a lack of vision and various degrees of greed and selfishness. Many Jain entrepreneurs I know do not understand the basics of Jain philosophy and do not see the need to practice it in their own lives.

Among the audience, Dr Manohar Shinde of Dharma Civilisation Foundation found the speakers very inspiring and is keen to develop further a new institutional vision for creating a paradigm shift. Professor Daniel Ostas from the University of Oklahoma found it a very inspiring event, and felt that the Jains are indeed a very knowledgeable and skilled leadership community. 

I very much hope that such conferences are repeated in places like Mumbai, Nairobi and London, as Jains have a powerful voice in business, and need to be reflexive about its social, economic and environmental impact. JITO in India has been active in getting Jain businesses to trade with one another. But of course we need to do much more than meet and talk – we need to act to transform global values and ethics, and set a leading example. Is that asking for much? Not according to the millennial generation, for whom walk is more important than talk.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the Jain entrepreneurs who cooperated with my research on this project, Claremont Lincoln University and the Jain community of Los Angeles for being excellent hosts. 

Nitin Mehta Speaks at CIWF Protest Against Gadhimai Festival At Nepalese Embassy

Nitin Mehta, Johanna Lumley and Anil Bhanot

During the Gadhimai event that takes place every year in Nepal around 25,000 animals are killed to appease the Goddess. On Saturday 11th October Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) organized a protest outside the embassy.

Famous celebrity and a passionate campaigner for animal rights, Joanna Lumley, addressed the rally as did Anil Bhanot of Hindu Council. Over 77,000 signatures urging the Nepalese Government to stop the slaughter were handed over to the embassy representative. It was a heart warming scene to see hundreds of animal rights activists who found the time to turn up for compassion towards animals.

Nitin Mehta addressed the rally and said:

‘Nepal is a beautiful country nestled on the footsteps of the mighty Himalayas. The majority of Nepalese people are Hindus, a religion which is deeply rooted in the idea of Ahimsa- Nonviolence. Hindus are forbidden to harm even an ant and it is due to this reason that most Hindus are vegetarian. The practice of killing animals to please Gods and Goddesses is a complete misrepresentation of Hinduism. Killing of innocent animals results in getting bad Karma. Bad Karma impacts individuals as well as countries. For the people of Nepal to have peace, happiness and prosperity it is vital to stop killing animals in the name of religion. The tens of thousands of animals killed at the Gadhimai event will fill Nepal with an atmosphere of violence, negativity and screams of poor animals. The beautiful country of Nepal does not need this negativity which will hang over it like an unmovable cloud. By showing mercy to animals Nepal will reap good Karma and people from all over the world will have praise and goodwill for the country. So standing here today in front of the Nepalese embassy in London, I urge the government of Nepal to immediately stop the forthcoming killing of animals. There are rare opportunities in life when an individual gets the opportunity to do something really noble which make his or her time on this planet glorious. I urge the people of Nepal and the Prime Minister of Nepal to seize this opportunity and make history. I convey this message also as a patron of Quaker Concern for animals many of whose members are present here. I end with a quote of Mahatma Gandhi: The moral progress of a nation and its greatness should be judged by the way it treats its animals.’

First Vegetarian Indian City

Palitana City

Worldcrunch reports a historic change in Palitana, an Indian city, which has become the first all-vegetarian city in the world.

Behind this revolutionary change are the Jain monks who went on a hunger strike to pressure the state of Gujarat to outlaw animal slaughter in their city. The hunger strike was successful and the Gujarat government imposed a ban on animal slaughter and outlawed the sale of meat and eggs.

About 5 million people in India practice Jainism and agree with the ban.

Virat Sagar Maharaj, a Jain monk, says, “Everyone in this world – whether animal or human being or a very small creature – has all been given the right to live by God.”

As individuals, the best thing you can do to protect animals is to adopt a kind vegan lifestyle.