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Welfare, Invasives and Health Issues related to Exotic Animals and Plants

2.1 Adequate care for live specimens
2.2 Finding information
2.3 Species manuals, books and care sheets
2.4 Animal welfare legislation at national level
3.1 International Air Transport Association (IATA) Regulations
6.1 Relevant regulations with regard to invasive species
7.1 Keeping dangerous or poisonous animals
7.2 Transmission of diseases from animals to animals or humans


1. Overview

People involved in wildlife trade and in the keeping of live animals and plants are legally obliged to take adequate care of the specimen they possess, in order to prevent:

  • unnecessary mortality and suffering among live animals;
  • damage to indigenous flora and fauna from the invasion of exotic species;
  • potential health risks through the escape of dangerous and/or poisonous specimens, or
  • the transmission of diseases from animals to animals to humans.

This applies particularly to live animals and plants, and to other kind of vectors that may carry diseases or pests (e.g. meat, seeds or raw timber). The aim of this page is to provide a brief introduction to some of the requirements that have to be met and regulations that may apply.

Legislation on animal welfare, invasive species and human safety exists at international, European and national levels (Table 1). The legislation is often complex, varies from country to country, from species to species and disease to disease. It is essential to consult the actual legislation that applies and the appropriate authority that is responsible in each particular circumstance. The relevant authority may not necessarily be in the same Ministry as the CITES Management or Scientific Authority.

Table 1. Main legislation and measures relevant to animal welfare, invasive species and animal and human health

Animal Welfare

Invasive Species

Human and Health

EU Legislation

Art 4.1 (c), 4.2 (b), 4.6 (c) and 9.4 of Council Regulation (EC) No 338/97
Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2005 of 22 December 2004 (amending Directives 64/432/EEC and 93/119/EC and Regulation (EC) No 1255/97)
Council Directive 99/22/EC of 29 March 1999

Art 4.6 (d) of Council Regulation (EC) No 338/97
Art 11 of the EC Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds (2009/147/EC) codified version
Art 22 of the EC Directive on the Conservation of Habitats and Wild Fauna and Flora (92/43/EEC)

Protection against animal disease transmission:
Council Directive 89/662/EEC of 11 December 1989
Council Directive 90/425/EEC of 26 June 1990
Council Directive 91/496/EEC of 15 July 1991

Council Directive 92/65/EEC of 13 July 1992

Regulation (EC) No 998/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 May 2003
on the animal health requirements applicable to the non-commercial movement of pet animals and amending Council Directive 92/65/EEC
Council Directive 97/78/EC of 18 December 1997

Council Directive 2002/99/EC of 16 December 2002
Regulation (EC) No 1069/2009 of 21 October 2009
Regulation (EC) No 882/2004 of 29 April 2004

Compiled information on import and transit rules for live animals and animal products from third countries available here (pdf 875KB)
Information on veterinary border control on live animals and products of animal origin available here
Protection against plant disease transmission:
Commission Directive 93/50/EEC of 24 June 1993
Commission Directive 95/44/EC of 26 July 1995
Council Directive 2000/29/EC of 8 May 2000
Regulation (EC) No 882/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004

Corrigendum to Regulation (EC) No 882/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004
Council Directive 2005/15/EC of 28 February 2005
(amending Annex IV to Directive 2000/29/EC)
Commission Directive 2005/16/EC of 2 March 2005
(amending Annexes I to V to Council Directive 2000/29/EC)

Council of Europe

European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals (1992)
European Convention for the Protection of Animals during International Transport (revised) (2004)

Recommendation No. R(84)14 (1984) of the Committee of Ministers to the Council of Europe
Art. 11.2.b of the Bern Convention
Recommendations No.57 (1997) and 77 (1999) of the Bern Convention Standing Committee

Other International Regulations/ Measures

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
International Animal Health Code, Chapter 1.4. (OIE)
International Air Transport Association Regulations (IATA)

IUCN Guidelines for the Prevention of Biodiversity Loss caused by Alien Invasive Species
Decisions 11.64, 11.100 and 11.115 of CITES
Art. 8(h) and Decision VI/23 of the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD)

International Animal Health Code and International Aquatic Animal Health Code (OIE)

National Legislation

In most Member States:
Anti-cruelty and/or welfare codes

In most Member States:
National legislation regarding release of invasive alien species

In each Member State:
National health, safety, veterinary and phytosanitary legislation

2. Keeping and caring for animals and plants

2.1 Adequate care for live specimens is essential and a responsibility of traders and keepers alike

Although the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations deal primarily with the regulation of wildlife trade to, from and inside the EU, they also contain provisions for the keeping of and caring for live specimens listed in Annexes A, B, C and D (Art. 9.4 of Council Regulation No 338/97). For example, persons selling live specimens of species listed in the Annexes to Council Regulation (EC) No 338/97 must ensure that the recipient is made aware of the biological and behavioural requirements of the species, and will be able to properly care for the specimen concerned. The above provisions are designed mainly to provide for the welfare of animals, but are also based on conservation considerations, contributing to the long-term survival of live animals and plants in captivity, thereby reducing demand for and pressure on wild specimens.

2.2 Finding information

Over the last decade a vast range of specialised literature regarding the physiological and behavioural requirements of animals in terms of food, space, temperature, humidity and many other factors has become available. Governmental institutions, commercial associations, hobbyist groups etc. have produced specialised books and magazines and “care sheets” for certain groups (e.g. snakes) or selected species (e.g. the Common Iguana Iguana iguana). Generally, these materials provide background information about the species’ biology (species distribution and natural habitat, ecology, behaviour etc.), and include information and advice with regard to caring for the specimens in captivity (e.g. space and decoration requirements, soil for plants, food and nutrients, temperature, lighting and humidity, behaviour, diseases etc.).

2.3 Species manuals, books and care sheets

On this website you can find a number of important internet links to relevant information available on the Internet and on the websites of other organisations. Below is a selection of information and targeted publications that are available to traders and keepers:

  • In Germany, the Federal Ministry for consumer protection, food and agriculture has published guidelines for the keeping of and caring for several animal groups for example, reptiles, amphibians, parrots and birds of prey. The German Herpetological Society (DGHT) and the German Association for Aquaria (VDA) have produced additional guidelines for newts and salamanders, other amphibians and fish species.
  • The International Herpetological Society gives advice on snake keeping as well as specific advice on the Leopard Gecko Eublepharis macularius (accommodation, food, breeding, rearing juveniles and cage cleaning).
  • The British Cactus and Succulent Society explains how cacti and succulents should be grown and addresses subjects such as cultivation, potting and re-potting, watering, pests and diseases and where to grow these plants. Specific advice is given for people who want to grow these plants from seeds (including containers, composts, sowing the seed, propagators, germination and post-germination treatment, pricking out, winter care of seedlings and pests).
  • The Dutch Aquariumhobby website has a database providing species-specific background information and information on care requirements for a range of fish species and other animals kept in marine aquaria.
  • Similarly, the Dutch Pakara website has such a database for a number of parrot species.

2.4 Animal welfare legislation at national level

Most EU Member States have established national legislation covering animal welfare and the keeping of and caring for live animals and plant species. In several Member States, commercial breeders and traders have to prove their knowledge and expertise on the keeping of and caring for the animals and/or plants concerned before they are allowed to breed or trade in these specimens.

3. Transport of live animals and plants

Trade in wildlife usually involves the transport of wildlife. There are many related welfare concerns, mostly concerning the mortality of specimens during long distance travel, waiting periods or intensive handling. Several laws address this issue and set minimum requirements that have to be met during the transport of animals and plants.

Article 9(5) of Council Regulation (EC) No 338/97 (pdf 1,4MB) states that any live specimens that are transported into, from, or within the EU, or are held during any period of transit or transhipment have to be prepared, moved and cared for in a manner such as to minimise the risk of injury, damage to health or cruel treatment and, in the case of animals, transported in conformity with EU legislation on the protection of animals during transport.

The relevant EU legislation is:

Transport of live specimens has been an issue among CITES Parties since the Convention entered into force. The CITES Parties have adopted several CITES Resolutions and Decisions dealing with the transport of live animal and plant species. Among these, the most relevant is CITES Resolution Conf. 10.21 (Rev. CoP16) on the Transport of Live Specimens (pdf 26KB).

3.1 International Air Transport Association (IATA) Regulations

CITES Resolution Conf. 10.21 (Rev. CoP16) on the Transport of Live Specimens  (pdf 26KB) recommends that the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Live Animals Regulations (for animals), the IATA Perishable Cargo Regulations (for plants) and the CITES guidelines for the non-air transport of live wild animals and plantsbe deemed to meet CITES transport requirements, and should be followed by all CITES Parties and incorporated into national legislation or policies. The IATA website  provides useful information, including how to order a copy of the IATA Live Animals Regulations and the IATA Perishable Cargo Regulations. CITES documents for import, export or movement of live animals and plants are not valid if the specimen has not been transported in accordance with IATA guidelines.

Other relevant associations and sources of information are the Animal Transportation Association (AATA) and the Independent Pet and Animal Transportation Association (IPATA). The AATA has developed a ‘Manual for the Transportation of Live Animals’ which relates primarily to domestic animals but also contains a chapter on wild species and gives basic information on CITES and its requirements concerning documents.

4. Permanent exhibitions of live animals and plants

There are many permanent exhibitions of animals and plants worldwide, generally in the form of zoos, safari parks, aquaria, botanical gardens and orangeries. All permanent exhibitions of animals and plants have to comply with wildlife trade regulations, as well as with nature conservation, animal welfare, animal transport, veterinary, phytosanitary and Customs laws. In addition, the keeping of wild animals in zoos has been regulated at the EU level since 1999 through the:

Several umbrella associations for zoos have been established in recent decades in order to co-ordinate activities relating to e.g. breeding programmes, conservation of species in the wild and education of the public:

5. Temporary exhibitions of live animals and plants at fairs and exhibitions

Several EU Member States have regulations that address welfare and animal and human health and safety requirements at pet fairs or plant exhibitions. In Germany, for example, organisers of animal trade fairs have to obtain a special permit from the local authorities before such fairs can be convened and there are also a number of additional provisions under the Federal Law on Animal welfare (Tierschutzgesetz). In addition, the Gutachten über die Mindestanforderungen an die Haltung von Reptilien (pdf 768KB) (‘Minimum requirements for the keeping of reptiles’) lays out the conditions for the organization of reptile fairs (“Bedingungen für die Durchführung von Reptilienbörsen”), which includes provisions on the labelling of the animal with German and scientific name, its origin (captive-bred or wild), gender and conservation status. There are also requirements with regard to housing, handling and exhibiting of poisonous animals.

A number of fair organizers have developed their own rules, based on the national law and/or on existing rules of other fairs. Some are very detailed and address subjects such as labelling, housing, handling, human safety and poisonous animals, while others are rather short and simple.

6. Invasive animal and plant species

Another important responsibility of pet owners in the EU concerns exotic species that may, if they escape or are voluntarily released into the wild, represent a threat to European species and habitats. If exotic species are able to adapt and breed in their new environment, they become “invasive” or “alien” species. Such animals and plants, even of very small sizes, can pose significant threats to global biodiversity and economies, a fact that is receiving increased attention from nature conservation fora and governments.

6.1 Relevant regulations with regard to invasive species

Information on the EU policy and measures with regard to invasive alien species can be found here.

In addition, EU Member States have their own national laws that contain provisions on invasive species. Some Member States have laws that prohibit the deliberate release of any captive species to the wild, while others make it an offence to contribute to the spread of certain listed invasive species. Therefore, differences in the rules on e.g. import, possession and commercial activities between the Member States regarding such species do exist.

Further, the Birds Directive (Directive 2009/147/EC – codified version of Directive 79/409/EEC as amended) and the Habitats Directive (Directive 92/43/EEC) contain articles that address the subject (e.g. Article 11 and 22 respectively).

The Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (the Bern Convention) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) also contain provisions with regard to invasive species.

Beyond the legislative provisions, there are simple measures that represent sound practice. In particular, accidental release of (or deliberate dumping of surplus) live animals and viable plant material should always be avoided. Special care should be taken with aquatic species as these can spread extremely rapidly (the green alga, Caulerpa taxiflora, an aquatic species which has become a pest in the Mediterranean is an example).

The IUCN / SSC / Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG) aims to reduce threats to natural ecosystems and the native species they contain by increasing awareness of invasive alien species, and of ways to prevent, control or eradicate them. They have designed the IUCN Guidelines for the Prevention of Biodiversity Loss caused by Alien Invasive Species (pdf 84KB) in collaboration with other experts on alien invasive species and the IUCN Commission on Environmental Law. The ISSG has also developed the Global Invasive Species Database, which focuses on invasive species that threaten biodiversity and which covers all taxonomic groups from micro-organisms to animals and plants.

7. Animals and human safety

7.1 Keeping dangerous or poisonous animals

When keeping exotic animals, it is not only important to prevent the animals moving into the natural habitat, but also to prevent potential threats to human safety. Relevant legal provisions are often included in national animal welfare legislation, stating that escape of animals should be prevented. In addition, several Member States have specific regulations regarding the exhibition of dangerous and/or poisonous animals to the public for example at fairs and in many instances fair organizers even choose either to prohibit the exhibition of or allocate and prepare a special room for dangerous or poisonous animals.

7.2 Transmission of diseases from animals to animals or humans

When importing exotic animals or plants, there is always a risk that the specimen is carrying germs or parasites that are not necessarily pathological to the specimen, but could be highly infectious to animals or humans, and there are some cases in which urgent measures have to be taken to prevent serious consequences.

Salmonellosis is a zoonosis (disease that can be transmitted from animals to people) that can be associated with reptiles. Over 200 types of salmonella (bacteria), all of which are considered to be dangerous to people, have been isolated from reptiles, such as freshwater turtles, land tortoises, lizards, snakes and crocodilians. Hobbyist organizations provide useful information on the subject, e.g. the Californian Turtle and Tortoise Club prepared Guidelines for Salmonella Prevention for Reptile Owners.

Another famous example is the transmission of rabies by bats. Many institutions can give additional information on this subject, e.g. Bat Conservation International provides Answers and Questions about Bats and Rabies (pdf 1,5MB).

Primates can also carry various diseases that are transmissible to humans, e.g. Hepatitis A, Tuberculosis, Herpes B, etc. The Wisconsin Primate Research Centre has published a detailed analysis of the Zoonoses Acquired from Pet Primates.

The ANSES (French agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety) website (in French and English) provides general information about animal diseases including numerous documents related to avian influenza

The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) is recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the most relevant organization for standards of animal health and zoonoses. For the purpose of wildlife trade, interested parties may consult the OIE Code and Aquatic Code chapters that deal with those diseases of economic or zoonotic importance to which wildlife species are susceptible or for which they may act as vectors.