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World Animal Welfare Day: Are We Treating Our Pets Ethically?

Hi everyone! This is Thia from the research/engineering team. This post was meant to be published on the 4th of October, but I got caught up with things, so here we are.


The 4th of October marks World Animal Welfare Day and World Habitat Day. This day aims to raise awareness about the importance of animals in the ecosystem and improve their welfare standards. Naturally, I am reminded of all my family's pets and started to think of how I could’ve given them a better living condition.


Our first pets were fishes bought for cheap from the market. We tried to give them a decent living condition by cleaning the water every weekend and only purchase compatible species to prevent fights. It was all fun and games until my grandmother introduced a fish who proceeded to kill every single fish in the aquarium. Flash forward a decade, we bought pet turtles. We had them for a pretty long time, but they were primarily ornamental. We did not develop a strong bond with them both. They passed away a few years later and were buried in our garden.


Earlier this year, my father decided to fill our lives once again with pets. On the 2nd of January 2021, two tiny budgies came to our house. Honestly speaking, I was never interested in having pets, and I’ve told my family that I will have nothing to do with the birds. That changed when we let the birds out of their cage that night to feed them. I fell head over heels for them the moment Skye, my female budgie, landed on my shoulder and curiously pecked my neck. Since then, I’ve spent countless hours researching and a considerable amount of money for vet check-ups. Furthermore, our whole house has also been modified to accommodate these tiny birds. And because our birds are free to roam the house, my dad and I would have to spend at least 30 minutes tidying the mess they made every night.



I remember asking my parents one time if they expected the birds would significantly change their lives. Both of them said, “no, we would probably just lock them in their cage. We did all these because you did your research.” This made me think of all the pets that have been bought without proper research. In the US, pet ownership has tripled since the 1970s (Walden, 2017). This comes with a hefty price tag to the ecosystem. Every year, 800,000 wild-caught birds are imported into the US to be sold as pets, excluding those who died during capture and transport (Animal Welfare Institute, n.d.). Most parrots are exported from Argentina, Indonesia, Tanzania, and Senegal. In 2018, 1,135 Maluku parrots were illegally traded (Setiyani and Ahmadi, 2020). As a result, roughly 30% of parrot species are on the brink of extinction (Animal Welfare Institute, n.d.).


Parrots are a highly intelligent species. This is undeniable in larger parrots such as macaws and African greys. Alex the African Grey, for instance, was correctly answering questions designed for six years old when he was only two (Pitzer, 2008). However, smaller birds like budgies and caiques are not less smart. My birds are a testament to this. Ocha is going through a heavy moult, hindering his ability to fly far. He understands that we can help transport him to out-of-reach spots and approach us if he needs help. He refuses to step down if we don't bring him to his desired place. Similarly, Jade has developed a game where she drops her toy, wait for us to pick it up, and drops it again. Additionally, I notice I've developed an emotional bond with Dupdup unlike other birds. He would sit on my finger, and we'd take naps together (please do NOT sleep with your bird unsupervised as you may crush them). Without proper mental and emotional enrichment, parrots may be depressed and often resort to self-plucking. In extreme cases, these feathers won't grow back despite proper care and adequate nutrition.



An unofficial report states that 85% of parrots are resold, given away, or abandoned within two years of being purchased. This isn’t surprising, considering parrots do not behave as they are often claimed to be. They can be noisy, destructive, and messy. Furthermore, regular vets are not qualified to handle exotic pets as they present different behaviours and require special treatment. As a result, vet visits can cost as much as, if not more, a new bird. When one of my birds fell sick and was admitted to inpatient care, the cost was IDR 225.000 per night, thrice the price of a baby budgie. Owning parrots, as with other pets, will require patience, understanding, and money. Considering that illegal parrot trade from Maluku in 2018 was valued at IDR 1.4 billion, it is unlikely this practice will cease (Setiyani and Ahmadi, 2020).

However, not all pet owners are ill-informed. In fact, 9 in 10 Americans consider their pets as part of their family (Walden, 2017). With more education for both sellers and buyers, pets welfare can improve. If you ever find yourself wanting a pet, I suggest you to adopt, research, and commit. Fundamental researches to be done include endangered status, diets, behaviour, lifespan, and exotic vets near you. I’d like to end this blog with some of my favourite YouTube channels: Disco the Parakeet, Mikey the Macaw & Friends, Peekaboo Parrots, and Mr. Max T.V. I'd love to hear your opinions on owning exotic pets!


References

Pitzer, A. (2008). Einstein of Parrots was a Feather in Researcher's Cap. ABC News. Retrieved 18 November 2020.


Animal Welfare Institute. (n.d.). Bird Trade. Animal Welfare Institute. [online]. Available at: <https://awionline.org/content/bird-trade> [Accessed 5 October 2021]

Setiyani, A. and Ahmadi, M. (2020). An Overview of Illegal Parrot Trade in Maluku and North Maluku Provinces. Forest and Society, 4(1), p.48-60.


Walden, L. (2017). Most Common Pets Around the World. PetSecure. [online]. Available at: <https://www.petsecure.com.au/pet-care/a-guide-to-worldwide-pet-ownership/#comments> [Accessed 5 October 2021]


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cynthiaismail
cynthiaismail
Oct 10, 2021

I am not a pet lover as you said it requires commitment (and cost). So, as long as you are able to maintain their nature and prevent any disease (sometimes I found people pay less attention to the hygienic), I do not mind.

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