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From controversial trophy hunting to bushmeat markets spreading ‪animal-transmitted diseases, to endangered species used in traditional medicine, today the wildlife trade gets more and more attention. The exotic pet trade is less well-studied despite being a known driver of extinction.

We have conducted the first study on the motivations for exotic pet ownership in Russia. We interviewed 27 exotic pet owners, responsible for over 90 exotic animal pets including the vulnerable Bengal slow loris (Nycticebus bengalensis), the alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii), the endangered tiger (Panthera tigris), and the critically endangered axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum).

‪We classified the owners we interviewed into four groups according to their motivations and reasons for exotic pet ‪ownership: life-savers, accidental owners, new experience seekers and collectors. Driven by pity towards particular animals, life-savers buy their future pets from fur farms, bad pet stores and zoos, take in unwanted pets and those destined to be euthanized otherwise. Accidental owners are those who got their pets by chance, as gifts, ‪inheritance or taking care of someone else’s animals. New experience seekers obtain their animals when looking for a new or less common pet. Collectors have a large number of animals and each pet is chosen and purchased due to its specific characteristics. The reasons for pet acquisition, choice of species and provenance, level of husbandry knowledge, understanding of the relevant legislation vary between the four types of owner.

Our findings provide a typology and baseline information for various stakeholders, including policymakers and law enforcement agencies, aiming to address the exotic pet trade in Russia and to predict policy implications. It also creates a background for further investigations into the exotic pet trade in Russia.