Key points

  • There are 98 species in South Australia exempt from permits, making them more attractive as pets
  • Native pets encourage owners to respect natural habitats, one environment spokesman says
  • Making a native species more common could protect it from smugglers

This little central bearded dragon and hundreds of species like him could bethe key to saving Australia’s native fauna and habitats — and combat reptilesmuggling.

Photo: Sonny Smith, of Port Lincoln, with Little Jimmy, who is a centralbearded dragon newly added to the non-permit list. (ABC Eyre Peninsula: JodieHamilton)

South Australia has added 40 animals to its list of species you can keep as apet without a permit from July 1, bringing to 98 the number of species exemptfrom permits in the state.

The aim is to encourage animal lovers to own native species so they willbecome conservationists for the wild populations of birds, reptiles, and otherfauna.

A greater respect for the animals is expected to have benefits for conservinghabitats and it may even reduce the number of Australian reptiles beingsmuggled overseas, according to an academic.

But some animal groups oppose the move.

The Humane Society International said the pet trade was a major threat towildlife.

SA Department for Environment and Water spokesperson, Jason Higham, said the2019 Wildlife Regulations were the result of a four-year review and publicconsultation.

“We, at the department, encourage people to have native animals as pets,” MrHigham said.

“One of the reasons is it helps people connect with native wildlife and inturn care for the environment.

“For those native species that don’t require a permit we’ve deliberately doneso to encourage native animals to be people’s pets rather than a cat or a dog.

“By having them exempt that’s a clear recognition that they have really strongpopulations or aren’t of a conservation concern and are relatively easy fornovices to look after.”

Black market trade

The permit extensions don’t mean people can just go and collect a new bestfriend from the wild.

“It’s actually illegal to take an animal from the wild without permission fromthe department, so all of the species we have on the exempt list arerelatively easy to get in the captive animal trade,” Mr Higham said.

Flinders University associate professor in molecular biology, Mike Gardner,said native animal ownership encouraged conservation habits and could detersmugglers.

“We’ve got such a variety of different animals here that lots of peopleoverseas are very keen to have and look after,” Professor Gardner said.

“There’s often reports in the media about animals that are being taken and re-caught from a seizure at an airport.

“So if we can make it easier for people in Australia to have those animals,and they get very common, they actually become less desirable for peopleoverseas if they’re more commonly held in captivity by people.

“The fact that they have come off a specialist list actually makes them lessdesirable so the ones that are most desirable are the ones that are rare andharder to get in captivity.

“In any situation like that people are going to want to get the most rarething that they are going to get the most money for.”

Professor Gardner said pets had benefits as companions for people.

Mr Higham said allowing people to have natives as pets would protect wildanimals.

“That’s where the other message comes in around looking after the habitat thatthese animals live in and protecting our environment – being water conscious,not polluting the environment, not leaving our rubbish lying around, beingcareful when we’re driving around the countryside, and being aware of fragilehabitats.”

Wild should be wild

Humane Society International (HIS) spokesperson Nicola Beynon said the pettrade was a major threat to wildlife.

“Encouraging a flourishing pet trade in wild animals encourages illegal takefrom the wild which threatens wild conservation,” Ms Beynon said.

“Wild animals belong in the wild with needs and instincts that can only be metin the wild.

“Despite the best intentions of owners, keeping any wild animal in captivitywill always compromise their welfare.”

Pets for life

Mr Higham said potential pet owners needed to be aware that a lot of thenative animals were a life-long commitment.

“We find a lot of people love to get pets when they are young and it’s worthsaying if you get yourself a galah or something as a child then you shouldprobably put it in your will because they often live longer than you do,” MrHigham said.

Little Jimmy is a central bearded dragon, which no longer requires a permit.

He was given to Sonny Smith, of Port Lincoln, for a birthday present inJanuary.

“Sonny just loves him, he watches Hawthorn play footy with him, plays Yahtzeewith us, and plays video games with Sonny too,” mum Lyn Smith said.

“He’s been to school and has his own Instagram page.”

Sonny calls Jimmy his BFF.

Source: ABC News

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