India's appetite for exotic wildlife pets may be increasing.In 2018, a Giant Aldabra Tortoise Aldabrachelys gigantea was seized in Assam, at the inter-state border with Meghalaya, along with Gaboon Viper Bitis gabonica, African pythons Python spp., Meerkat Suricata suricatta, scorpion, Sugar Glider Petaurus breviceps, and over a dozen snakes. To put it into perspective, the Aldabra Tortoise weighs about seven times more than the largest tortoise native to India, the Asian Giant Tortoise Manouria emys (Kundu, et al., 2013; Stanford, et al., 2015).

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEFCC), the Government of India, issued an advisory on importing exotic live wildlife species in India and for declaration of stock. The advisory pertained to only those species listed in Appendix I, II, and III of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) but not listed under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and aimed to streamline the country's compliance with CITES. An essential part of the advisory was a "Voluntary Disclosure Scheme" for pet owners to declare their exotic pets for registration without requiring to produce any documentation. There was a declaration by 32,645 individuals from 25 states and five Union Territories who claimed to possess exotic animals, including various species of mammals, reptiles and birds, some of which are hardly conceivable as pets, such as kangaroos Macropus spp. and lemurs.

Similarly, in 2020, again in Assam, three Giant Aldabra Tortoises were seized along with a Red Kangaroo Osphranter rufus, capuchin monkeys Cebus spp. and Hyacinth Macaw Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus. While in 2022 alone, six kangaroos were seized in multiple incidents in the Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar districts of West Bengal. Such cases are not limited to these species or a particular location. Enforcement officials of India, stationed at different transit areas and at ports (sea and air), have also frequently encountered bags filled with exotic species like live primates, parrots, snakes, and turtles while scanning passenger baggage or checking vehicles.

© Brent Stirton / Getty Images


‘Exotic species’ is a term used to refer to a species not found in a concerned habitat or georaphical area, hence, non-native. Humans have owned wild animals for as far back as records go. In the past, exotic plants and animals were often transported and introduced into new areas. The purpose included plantations, arboretums, and landscaping in the case of plants, while on the other hand, animals were sought after as trophies, collectables, pets, and livestock.
This tendency continues to date and now involves a range of diverse species across all taxa (Fukushima, et al.,2020), such as reptiles and birds from Africa are in demand in the markets of East and Southeast Asia (Outhwaite & Brown, 2018). Similarly, studies have reported groups of animals such as slow loris Nycticebus spp. (Musing, et al., 2015), otters (Gomez & Bouhuys, 2018), birds (Bush, et al., 2014), parrots (Berkunsky, et al., 2017), raptors (Panter & White, 2020), songbirds (Lees & Yuda, 2022), reptiles (Auliya, et al., 2016; Luiselli, et al., 2016; Leupen 2018; Wakao, et al., 2018; Janssen & de Silva, 2019; Altherr & Lameter, 2020), amphibians (Altherr & Lameter, 2020; Choquette, et al., 2020; Kitade & Wakao, 2022) and freshwater fishes (Raghavan, et al., 2013). Region-wide assessments such as those of Europe (Auliya, 2003), the Middle East, Southeast Asia, or South America (Moorhouse, et al., 2017), Africa (Woolloff et al., 2022) or countrywide assessments such as Malaysia (Krishnasamy & Stoner 2016), Singapore (Chiok & Chng, 2021), Philippines (Sy 2018; Sy et al., 2022), the United Kingdom (Elwin, et al., 2020) have reported exotic pet trade.

In many instances, the trafficking violates national legislation and international conventions, such as the CITES. In addition, it adversely affects the region/area from where the species has been extracted, resulting in a decline in species abundance (Morton, et al., 2021). The trade has driven many species to such low levels of abundance, putting them at elevated risk of extinction, such as the Black-winged Myna Acridotheres melanopterus (BirdLife International, 2021), Ploughshare Tortoise Astrochelys yniphora (Leuteritz & Pedrono, 2008; Mandimbihasina, et al., 2020), and the endemics bird species from the Sundiac islands (Eaton, et al., 2015).

Loss of biodiversity (Bush, et al., 2014), and impact on ecosystem services and public health have also been identified as effects of the unsustainable and unregulated trade. Many exotic species have been identified as carriers of zoonotic diseases (Bernard & Anderson, 2006), carrying a risk of exposure to both humans and wildlife (Chomel, et al., 2007) and causing disease outbreaks in destination countries (Karesh, et al., 2005). There have been reported incidents of Crested Hawk-eagle Nisaetus cirrhatus (H5N1 virus) (van Borm, et al., 2005), Prairie Dog Cynomys spp. (Monkeypox) (Guarner, et al., 2004), and turtles (Salmonella) (Back, et al., 2016) carrying diseases, and thereby threatening the native species and humans.

© Martin Harvey / WWF


Social media has emerged as a window to the world, allowing people to get insight into global trends. However, a darker aspect of this convenient connection to the world is the growing popularity of exotic pets on social media platforms. The prevalence of species such as otters (Harrington, et al., 2019), slow loris (Musing, et al., 2015), snakes (Jensen, et al., 2019), turtles (Liu, et al., 2021) and parrot (Martin, et al., 2018) on social media has reportedly driven their demand as pets. Such trends have been observed all over the world, including social media and e-commerce platforms in Hong Kong (Sung & Fong, 2018), the Middle East (Spee, et al., 2019), Thailand (Siriwat & Nijman, 2018; Siriwat, et al., 2019), and China (Ye, et al., 2020).


The trade of exotic species occurs globally, with a growing market for the species (Lockwood et al., 2019). Countries with rich biodiversity or unique wildlife species are often exploited to supply the species (Robinson, et al.,2015); the demand for the unique species fuels the unregulated and illegal trade of wild species. While the trade negatively impacts habitat, the targeted species are often extracted from their natural habitats in the wild (Moorhouse, et al., 2017) and introduced to unprecedented habitats, and/or used for captive breeding of the species. Reports indicate that exotic species have escaped into the wild or been deliberately released, thus becoming invasive (Lockwood, et al., 2019) and gravely impacting native flora and fauna. Species in the pet trade, such as the Common Green Iguana Iguana iguana (van den Burg, et al., 2020) and ornamental fish (Liang, et al., 2006), have emerged as invasive species in destination countries.

The illegal trade also has an inhumane aspect to its execution. Trafficked in miserable conditions, cramped in boxes and improvised baggage, often tied or in an insentient state, many animals suffer gravely and do not make it to the end of their journey.


According to the CITES Trade Database, India imported 20 parrot species from 2017 to 2021, including 16 species listed in Appendix II of the CITES and four species listed in Appendix I (Golden Parakeet Guaruba guarouba, Grey Parrot, Military Macaw Ara militaris and Scarlet Macaw Ara macao).During this period, India also imported nine exotic reptile species of these; one was listed in Appendix I of the CITES and eight in Appendix II. They were assessed as Near Threatened, Vulnerable and Endangered by the IUCN Red List. These species were imported for breeding in captivity or artificial propagation, commercial and personal purposes, and for zoos. Thereby alluring to the growing demand for exotic species as pets (Pragatheesh, et al., 2021), scientific breeding and commercial purposes.

To highlight the exotic wildlife trade in India, TRAFFIC collated data from open media sources for 2022, on the trafficking and illegal trade of exotic wildlife, with an assumption that the reported incidences are correct. TRAFFIC takes no responsibility for the liability of these open-source reports of the incidences. These are assumed to be accurate. Species in the trade may also be hybrid species or those bred in captivity.

© R.Isotti, A.Cambone / Homo Ambiens / WWF


Reports of 56 seizure incidents of exotic wildlife in India were found in open media sources for 2022. These incidents were reported in 10 states: Assam, Jharkhand, Kerala, Maharashtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, and West Bengal; and one in Union Territory, Delhi. Of these, six states, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura and West Bengal, share international borders, indicating the possibility of exploiting these borders for the trafficking of wildlife species. According to the information in the open-source reports, seizures were reported at airports, air cargo stations, railway stations, international post offices, and areas near international borders. Most seizure incidents were reported from West Bengal (14 incidences), followed by Tamil Nadu (12 incidences) and Mizoram (10 incidences).

About 4,000 (3951) exotic animals were recorded in the 56 seizure incidents. These included the broad groups of mammals, birds, reptiles, fish species, and insects.

More than 100 primate individuals were reported in 22 seizure incidents in 2022. In most cases, the species of seized primates were reported, and these included Moor Macaque Macaca maura, grey monkey Semnopithecus spp., Siamang Symphalangus syndactylus, pygmy marmoset Cebuella spp., marmoset, Spot-nosed Monkey Cercopithecus petaurista, potto Perodicticus spp., Myanmar Snub-nosed Monkey Rhinopithecus strykeri, Red-chested Mustached Tamarin Saguinus labiatus, spider monkey Ateles spp., Panamanian White-throated Capuchin Cebus imitator, Black-capped Capuchin Sapajus apella, orangutan Pongo spp., guereza Colobus spp., Golden-headed Lion Tamarin Leontopithecus chrysomelas, tamarin monkey Saguinus spp., Dusky Langur Trachypithecus obscurus, De Brazza's Monkey Cercopithecus neglectus, Chimpanzee Pan troglodytes, and Indri Indri indri. In two incidents, the number of seized species was not reported. The species were not mentioned in one reported incident involving seven seized primate individuals.

Other mammals reported included kangaroo, otter, beaver Castor spp., wallaby Wallabia spp, mongoose Herpestes spp., meerkat, Serval Leptailurus serval, porcupine, Sugar Glider Petaurus breviceps, sloth Bradypus spp., fox Canis spp., and capybara Hydrochoerus spp..

In seizures involving the Common Spotted Cuscus Spilocuscus maculatus, Common Dwarf Mongoose Helogale parvula and porcupine, seizures did not report the number of individuals seized.

Parrots were the most seized species, with over 1000 individuals reported in seizure incidents. The seized parrots included parakeets (600+), Grey Parrot, budgerigars, lovebirds, cockatiels, macaws, white cockatoos, and black cockatoos. The other bird groups represented include starlings Sturnus spp., hornbills, pigeons, bower birds Ptilonorhynchus spp., and songbirds.


Ball Python © Mokele via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Snakes were the most reported group in seizure incidents (15) among reptiles and included 157 animals. Over half of the snakes seized were python, including species such as Ball Python Python regius, and Burmese Python Python bivittatus. Other species seized were kingsnake Lampropeltis spp., cobra, Mangrove Cat Snake Boiga dendrophila, Egyptian or Kenyan Sand Boa Eryx colubrinus and Red Cornsnake Pantherophis guttatus. The seizure incidents also included species of turtles, tortoises, alligators, and crocodiles.

Lizards were most seized in terms of numbers among reptiles and included over 835 animals. The species was not mentioned for over 50% of the seized individuals (mentioned as lizards). Where reported, the species include tegu lizard, iguana species, monitor lizard Varanus spp., chameleons, and bearded dragon Pogona spp.

Other seized species include frogs and arthropods such as spiders (tarantulas) and beetles.

In India, the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 prohibits the trade in wild animals (and their articles) specified in its various Schedules. In its latest amendment in 2022, the Act enlisted CITES-listed species in Schedule IV. Similarly, the export and import policy of the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) regulates, restricts or prohibits the trade of wildlife (and their article) through its guidelines.

Under the authority of the Foreign Trade (Development & Regulations) Act, 1992, trade in wild animals as defined under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 is prohibited, while trade in CITES-listed species is subjected to the provisions of the Convention. Trade in species not listed in the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 is permitted only against a license on the recommendation of the Chief Wildlife Warden subject to the provision of CITES.


1. The advisory issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEFCC), the Government of India, on importing exotic live wildlife species in India and for declaration of stock can be crucial to regulating and monitoring the ownership of exotic wildlife species in India. Since it includes registering and declaring the progenies of the imported exotic live species, the advisory provided an opportunity to estimate the status of exotic pet species in India.

2. In December 2022, amendments were made to the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. The amended Act introduced regulation on CITES-listed species under the Schedule IV of the Act. Prior to this, the EXIM policy regulated the trade of exotic species in India. However, this presented a gap in intervening in the possession and trade of CITES-listed species beyond the trade points. Now, the inclusion of the species in the national legislation can help take enforcement actions on violation of the provisions of CITES. The amendment will support the purpose of the CITES to ensure that the trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the species' survival.

3. Many individuals interested in possessing wildlife as exotic pets need to be made aware of the conservation and legal status of the species, the risk of zoonotic diseases from exposure or the inhumane conditions the species endure before reaching them. Campaigns designed around disseminating this information to the public would significantly discourage people from purchasing threatened wildlife or violate national and international legislation.

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