The unknown danger of bringing an exotic species into your home

“People buy pets without any control, they don’t know what they are buying, they get bored of them and in the end the issue does go a little further, because when they bother at home they let them go”, explain technicians from the Ministry of the Environment from Cantabria.

A Florida tortoise swims in the Parque de las Llamas in Santander.

The fashion of exotic pets in Spain can turn into disgust if responsible ownership is not exercised, because there are specimens that require great care, gain a lot of size or behave differently when they grow, which causes a growing problem: it is released into the natural environment with the threatens native species and biodiversity.

There are many examples, but typical cases are usually the Florida tortoises, the red capper, theargentine parrot or even, raccoons. They are species originating from other latitudes, but which enter Spain artificially and manage to adapt, some of which have become exotic pets.

Even though possession is prohibited and also the traffic and trade with the species included in the Spanish Catalog of Invasive Alien Species, there is a turning point: on August 2, 2013, when the royal decree that regulates that list was published.

According to what the Ministry establishes, whoever had one of these animals as a pet before that date and wants to keep it must register it with the Ministry authority in your region, put a chip on it and make you a passport, in addition to signing a responsible declaration.

And first of all the premise is never release these specimens in the natural environment because the damage they cause is significant: they displace native species, cause loss of biodiversity and also alter the landscape and ecosystems.

The Department of the Environment of Cantabria explains to the Efe news agency that invasive species can be immune to some diseases that they do transmit to the local fauna and that “annihilate” the native ones. It happens for example with the American crab and the crayfish, but it is not a unique case.

Furthermore, these species they reproduce easilythey intersect with the autochthonous ones and come to colonize the spaces.

But there are not only problems with the native fauna, they also generate heavy crop losses and in forest production, they can transmit parasites and diseases to humans and have high eradication costs. Added to this are the inconveniences that they generate in urban environments, in the form of noise, bad smells or allergies, and which are often the trigger for the release.

“People buy pets without any control, they don’t know what they are buying, he gets bored of them and in the end the issue does go a bit to the elderly, because when they bother at home they are released in parks or natural spaces, ”said technicians from the Cantabria Ministry of the Environment.

In this region, for example, have been detected raccoons in the river Asonalthough the most frequent in terms of invasive species in natural spaces are the red crucian carp in ponds or Florida sliders in water areas or parks. In Las Llamas de Santander, a large urban wetland recovered 15 years ago in the capital, it is difficult not to see these Florida tortoises when taking a walk.

Nacho Fernández, a biologist from SEO/BirdLife who conducts bird censuses in this park, points out that “there are a lot” and also domestic ducks that people have released.

It seems strange but there people who buy a duckling to keep it in a flat. They see it cute but they don’t realize that it grows and smells bad. And what do we do with the duck afterwards? Well, to release it to the park, and it is a problem because it crosses with mallards and they generate hybrids, ”he points out.

Another case is that of the Argentine parrot, which was introduced in Spain through legal trade in the 1980s. The noise in the houses has caused their release and today they can be considered a plague and a danger for agriculture.

To the environmental authorities They are concerned about this issue. Not only the Ministry of Ecological Transition, but also the regional governments. To try to stop the problem, they promote awareness campaigns, implement strategies, carry out regular checks or traps, and also in some cases Invasive pet census.

In addition, the message conveyed by the authorities and experts is clear: do not release your exotic pet into the natural environment, because these animals often die of starvation or predation on the other and, if not, harm the environment, competing with native species, transmitting diseases and causing biodiversity loss.

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