There are a number of species of wild animals which are found in reasonable abundance and are hardy and adapted to captivity. These make admirable pets it they are properly housed and fed. Parakeets or love-birds, hamsters and many species of tropical fish are examples. However, with the recent booming interest in wild animals, very large numbers of much less suitable species are being captured and shipped to meet the ever increasing demand. Many of the most sought after species are rare and their wild populations cannot withstand the rate of depletion brought about by the thriving market for the pet trade. The scarcer the species is, the higher the price it brings, and the search becomes more intense.
Most wild animals have very specific requirements for habitat, food, and social environments. In captivity they require special care, diets, and conditions of temperature and humidity which are beyond the ability of the casual buyer and most dealers to provide. Most animals that are taken from the wild and sold as pets are condemned to a short life, the torture of unnatural confinement, and inadequate care.
The main centres of the pet trade in Jakarta, Singapore and Bangkok. From these locations most animals enter the global pet trade, while a proportion of the animals are sold in the local Southeast Asian pet trade.
In the UK in 1988, of the 200,000 wild birds imported as pets, 13% died in transit. Investigations show flagrant disregard by suppliers, airlines and government officials worldwide of international regulations designed to protect animals during transportation. Trade in the opposite direction is of thousands of wild songbirds annually trapped in the British countryside and exported to European pet shops and street markets. Many of these birds end up in Malta, where nearly every family has a caged song bird or a bird room. Trappers and dealers ring the wild birds to disguise them as captive bred. They use a variety of methods to catch the birds, including cage traps, nets and bird lime - a glue like substance. They take mainly finches, such as the common greenfinch and the goldfinch, but also rare birds like the linnet and the endangered bullfinch. The trade is said to be as profitable as drug smuggling.
The most innocent intentions can also have severe consequences. The Maltese freshwater crab, a distinct endemic subspecies of Mediterranean populations, is very rare and threatened with extinction by children who collect the crabs in glass jars and take them home as pets.
In Indonesia, while it is against the law to own an orangutan, many young couples, especially childless couples, adopt an illegally caught orangutan as a member of their family. The young orangutans are utterly charming, wide eyed, playful and trusting. They are often dressed as humans, given pillows and bed to sleep in and taught to perform simple tasks as servants like opening doors and fetching food. However, when fully grown, some reaching 1.7 metres in height, weighing 68 kilograms, orangutans can be unruly leading their owners to dispose of them either to illegal traders or zoos. By this point the orangutans are incapable of returning to the wild.
In recent years, there has been a high-profile trade in turtles of very rare and new species. Such animals, usually known only from very few individuals, fetch prices of several hundred to several thousand US dollars per animal. It had formerly been assumed that this exclusive pet trade was a matter of traders' agents picking out unusual animals from large shipments of food turtles. There is, however, evidence that traders also send agents to remote source areas to purchase rare turtles from the local villagers. This not only causes the depletion of the target species, but also other chelonian species as the locals often cannot tell the turtle species apart. Once the trade link is established, the trade continues until the source area has been cleaned of its turtles. Data on the trade in native and unusual turtle species is hidden within the mass of trade in Red-eared sliders farmed in North America.