I live in one of those hipster suburbs in inner Sydney (are there any other?) where everyone, including my little family, has a designer pet. And I am not just talking about pure-breed cats and dogs either. I have seen people in the streets around us out walking ferrets and rabbits (not together). My wife and I once walked by a gentleman riding a unicycle with a parrot on his shoulder. I have met a homeless man with a pet rat on a card table in front of him, which performs for coins from passing pedestrians, the poor thing.
Our desire to get more exotic, expensive, and dangerous pets and brag about them on social media (because, otherwise, what was the point in getting them?) has led to a very active black market all over the world for animals like lions and tigers and bears. Oh my.
Yes, getting these sorts of animals into Australia is pretty hard, but there is certainly a local black market for smaller, easy to smuggle animals that are rare, exotic, and incredibly expensive. To take an example, researchers at the University of Adelaide prepared a report in 2016 on the ‘alien reptile’ market in Australia. The report found that Australia has a very large, growing, and lucrative market for illegally imported snakes and other reptiles, most of which are highly venomous and really fucking dangerous.
This report also found that one of the most commonly imported reptiles sold on the black market in Australia is the delightful puff adder. This fun-loving creature is responsible for the most number of deaths from snakebites in its native home of Africa. The puff adder is also, according to the same report, fully capable of acclimatising and happily and vigorously reproducing in all parts of Australia, making the puff adder the English backpacker of the snake world.
All of this means that our laws on animal importation are very strict, and the consequences for those who are caught importing or owning banned animals in Australia are harsh. The penalty for illegally importing or owning any animal that is not permitted under our laws is jail of up to five years and a fine of up to $110,000.
Let’s quickly compare our laws to those of other countries, so we can see just how strict our animal importation laws are in a global sense. In the good old U. S. of A, it is completely legal to own a chimpanzee, despite the fact they are on the endangered species list. Pay enough money, and you can have one with very few questions asked. I am not even talking about buying one on the US black market either. There are legitimate businesses set up in the US that supply monkeys to those who can afford them, in full compliance of US law.
This seems like a really stupid idea to me. Excessive level of gun ownership + inquisitive monkey with opposable thumbs that is very capable of holding and using a firearm = only in America.
Back to Australia. Importing live, or dead, animals into Australia requires all sorts of approvals, and most animal importation is completely banned. Both our environmental protection laws and our quarantine laws make good and sure of this. Even if you apply for the necessary approvals, the animal you want to import must still be on the list of ‘approved specimens.’ This is a really short list and puff adders are most definitely not on it.
In case you were wondering, the list of ‘permitted specimens’ is limited to:
⁃ certain ‘normal’ domesticated exotic mammals such as dogs, cats, pigs, cattle, goats, horses, mules, asses (hehe), sheep, rabbits, hares, mice, rats, deer, and camels;
⁃ some exotic fish species;
⁃ some exotic bird species;
⁃ a really small number of amphibians such as salamanders, frogs, toads and newts;
⁃ a couple of breeds of llamas and alpacas;
⁃ some breeds of ferrets; and
⁃ some types of hamsters and guinea pigs.
If the animal you want to import or buy is not on the list above, it is almost certain that it is illegal to import, sell, or own it in Australia.
So what does this all mean for hipster pet owners such as myself? If I ever feel the need to own a monkey, I guess I will just have to move to America and get one from the local pet store. And if I want a puff adder, apparently all I need to do is visit a local park anywhere in Australia with a bag and a long stick and wait around until an army of the bastards show up.