Nobody knows what is happening to the long-suffering shark in a Kyiv trade center. Animal rights groups state that the big fish is dying - it often lies down on the bottom of aquarium and looks injured. In turn, owners of the trade center assure that the shark is very much alive and perfectly well. Meanwhile, the Ecology Ministry has been considering this issue for over a month. The given situation excellently demonstrates what happens to wild and exotic animals in Ukraine - they get sold, but nobody knows how they are doing afterwards. 
How I was buying a caracal

Yellow-handed tamarins, skunks, hedgehogs, fennec foxes, ostriches and even crocodiles - all of them can be ordered through internet. However, not everyone can afford these exotic animals. A steppe eagle, for example, costs 2.5 thousand hryvnias, a Yemen chameleon - four thousand hryvnias, a North American raccoon - UAH 5 thousand, a buffy-tufted marmoset - almost UAH 13 thousand. Prices for popular African gray parrots range within UAH 10 thousand, and a bear cub - from 7 to 12 thousand hryvnias.

From personal experience I have learned that to buy an exotic or even red book animal in Ukraine is relatively easy. Having checked some websites, I opted for one selling exotic felines. According to the legend, I want to purchase a caracal - a wild cat also known as the desert lynx. For a pet, this animal is large enough - up to 90 cm in length and up to 20 kg in weight. 

Having called the number mentioned on the website, I asked about the animal of interest. A man, who answered the call, was not very talkative. "A kitten will cost eight thousand euro, but you have to order in advance. Then you may take it in May." In response to the question, if there is necessary documentation, he said only "Yes, there is". Well, I guess I have to take his word for it.

Now I have another problem - to find out how to register the animal and where to find specialists to take care of it. First, I called the Center for animal identification, but learned that they register only "traditional" pets - cats and dogs. They recommended calling the Kyiv Zoo, but local vets also could not help and gave me a phone number of a private epizootologist. "How will you get your caracal? By smuggling, I am sure. I would advise to keep it quietly and go to private vet clinics only. Just remember to vaccinate it against rabies," the specialist recommended.

It turns out that caracals are hot product in Ukraine. They say you can even get it used to a scratching mat and cat litter box. However, caracals will hardly bring your slippers. Do not forget that these animals are predators, and in the wild, they kill twice bigger animals. It is better not to take a caracal, as well as any other exotic animal with hunting instinct, if there are kids in the house. Moreover, wild animals require constant supervision and training from early age. Otherwise, you risk getting a trouble.    

The problem is that many people treat wild cubs as toys. But when these cubs grow up and show teeth, people get scared and try to get rid of them as soon as possible. Internet is full of ads of such sorry pet owners, who sell adult raccoons, serval cat and stoats just because they could not handle them.

To keep an exotic animal you must know all specifics and nuances about its organism, feeding process, diseases and even its character. For example, if you want to keep a bird of prey, you must know that it will get sick in a draft and can die in a frowzy room. If you decided to keep a long-eared hedgehog, you must remember that you can give it only goat milk and feed it with insects, preferably roaches, grasshoppers and flies. Skunks have very tender skin on heels, and after a bath you should moister its paws with Sea buckthorn oil. Not knowing this kind of details, you can easily lose your pet.

Speechless and helpless

Ukrainian legislation stipulates that selling of red book animals is allowed for scientific and line breeding purposes and only with the permission of the Ecology Ministry. Selling for profit is strictly forbidden.

All legally imported animals have origin certificates and passports. If an animal is listed in the Red Book, it must have CITES international certificate. The Ecology Ministry issues about 270 certificates annually, mainly to zoos and research institutes. As ForUm learned in the Ministry, among the most popular animals imported in Ukraine there are reptiles. However, Ukrainian legislation does not provide for in existence of a single registry of wild and rare species of animals, meaning nobody register officially those animals legally important in Ukraine, let alone "illegals". 

President of the international animal rights organization SOS Tamara Tarnavska notes that selling exotic animals is very profitable business. "Rich people buy cubs, but have no idea how to take care of them. As a result, animals die, but who cares.  They can always buy another one. The worst thing is that animal rights groups cannot always help. I've been working in this sphere for 20 years, but I don't see improvements. As before, every day we get cases of animal torturing, poisoning, killing," she says.

To the credit of animal rights activists, we should mention that thanks to initiatives of the animal rights groups in Kyiv and several Crimean cities the local authorities banned using wild animals for taking pictures for tourists. But the ban is observed not everywhere. 

"Once I saw a foreign tourist fighting a Crimean "photographer" on Ai-Petri. In summer, there are plenty of them offering to take a photo with a bird of prey. 'Let him fly' she was shouting to the guy and to make him understand she was waving arms imitating wings. Not understanding a word the guy started to shake the poor bird," animal rights activist and student of a Crimean philology faculty Lidia tells.

Free Willy

Wild animal rights movement becomes more and more popular in the world. Keeping them as pets is prohibited in many countries. In Sweden, for example, if you take home a wounded hedgehog and police learns about it, you risk to appear behind the bars. In Japan, even keeping cats and dogs is limited. Circuses of Austria, Greece and Paraguay are prohibited to use wild animals for performances. And when a scandalous video of a local circus surveillance on which a caretaker was beating up the elephant was published in Great Britain, the country started talking about introducing similar bans as well.

However, it does not mean that the situation with animals in western countries is rosy and trouble-free.  Animal Planet channel, for example, broadcast daily reality show about the work of animal police. Only several episodes are enough to realize that animal cruelty exists everywhere and state bodies cannot do much to stop it. The way out? Only clear understanding of responsibility by every pet owner.

 Alina Yeremeyeva


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