Examples of non-native small mammal species being sold as pets in South Africa.
Examples of non-native small mammal species being sold as pets in South Africa.

SA’s pet trade in non-native small mammals is growing

By Brandstories Time of article published Apr 1, 2021

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By Sally Frost

A variety of small, non-native mammals are being sold in South Africa, with some becoming invasive after escaping or being released from captivity.

This is according to researchers at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology and Centre for Functional Biodiversity, situated in the School of Life Sciences.

PhD candidate in Zoology, Ndivhuwo Shivambu, said small mammals were among the most charismatic animals being sold as pets around the world. “Increasing trade in them has resulted in releases and escapes from captivity. Consequently, several small mammal pets have become invasive, with a significant impact on crops of agricultural importance, biodiversity, human social wellbeing and the economy,” said Shivambu.

Some threatened species had become invasive in their introduced ranges, for example, the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus).

Pygmy hedgehog

“In South Africa, this pet trade is growing, and most of the species are sold online and in pet shops,” said Shivambu.

Together with Tinyiko Shivambu and UKZN’s renowned researcher Professor Colleen Downs, she surveyed activities in the online trade and at pet shops across South Africa to get an idea of the degree of trade in non-native small mammals.

In total, 122 pet shops selling 19 391 animals representing 16 species were documented by the researchers. Online, seven websites offering for sale 2 681 animals representing 24 species were recorded. Of the 24 species on sale, seven had become invasive through escapes and releases in other countries.

The most dominant species in both online and pet stores were the Norwegian rat (Rattus norvegicus), guinea pig (Cavia porcellus), European rabbit and the house mouse (Mus musculus).

Caphucin monkey

“About 46% of the species are listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) and this includes most of the primate species,” added Shivambu.

Prices ranged from R9 000 to R12 000, with primate species sold at relatively higher prices than other groups.

“Species found to be most popular, cheaper, not listed on Cites, of least concern and invasive elsewhere, pose a particular invasion risk to South Africa,” said Shivambu. “Given this, the study recommends that the sale of these species should be regulated to prevent future invasions and possible impacts.

“The potential impacts of non-native small mammals can be mitigated through monitoring the trade, including engagement with the public, the pet industry, researchers and policy developers.

“Appropriate management strategies can also be implemented through such engagements,” she said.

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