Italian "wet markets": our undercover investigation at major wild animal fairs. Stop this trade now!

Between June and July 2021, LAV’s investigative team documented Italy’s three main exotic animal fairs, revealing an “out of control” reality, with dramatic repercussions on thousands of animals and real health risks for the community. 

Trade and possession of exotic animals in Italy are as widespread as they are little known to the general public. Yet, it is estimated that millions of animals are trafficked every year in our country by “authorized” businesses, fairs, online commerce and exchanges between private individuals. 

Fairs are the “hot spots” of this traffic. In this parallel world, the problem is revealed in all its scope. The Italian equivalent of Asian “wet markets” is a huge crossroads of poorly regulated exchanges, where live animals are handled by farmers, traders and the public, with consequent serious health risks in terms of potential spread of zoonoses.  

LAV’S INVESTIGATION 

For over a month, the investigation followed, the I Love Reptiles events in Fiano Romano (Rome), Reptiles Day in Longarone (Belluno), and Esotika Pet in Arezzo, demonstrating that the evidence collected does not represent isolated cases but constant elements in the major Italian fairs.

The exotic animals exchanged in the fairs are considered As “collectibles.” The images document stressed and suffering animals, stereotyped behaviours, and in some cases even individuals that are visibly ill or dying. The needs of the species traded and their relationship with nature are totally distorted in the markets. Animals that would have never interacted are placed in close contact in overcrowded conditions inside plastic cases or trays. Many travel hundreds of kilometres from countries such as Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary. 

SUFFERING ANIMALS AND RISKS FOR HUMAN HEALTH 

To the suffering inflicted on animals are added the potential risks for human health. There are direct risks linked to the nature of the species exhibited, often venomous, yet marketable and rarely subject to specific controls. Indirect risks include zoonotic hazards. The videos show repeated direct contact of the public with animals, people, even children, who handle, touch, and even kiss the animals. 

LAV’s investigation team shows evidence that Italy’s exotic animal fairs appear to be a huge “grey area” that moves millions of animals, and euros, every year, with doubtful tax profiles and without correct information on the animals sold. 

AN OUT-OF-CONTROL SYSTEM 

The picture depicts an opaque and out-of-control system, in which animal reproduction takes place almost indiscriminately. It is managed by operators regulated as “traders”, sometimes even by private individuals. The sellers’ “guarantees” are based on their word or reputation, especially via the Internet. Some footage even reveals one of the largest reptile breeders in Italy admitting to managing a “recognized but not regulated” breeding farm and inviting a potential breeder to use trickery to breed and sell exotic animals, which also ensures lower taxes to pay.  

“We wanted this investigation to shed light on a very serious and mostly ignored phenomenon that affects our country. It involves the suffering and death of hundreds of thousands of animals, in addition to unacceptable risks for citizens, especially in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic, and lessons learned about our relationship with nature and animals,” says Andrea Casini of LAV’s Exotic Animals Sector. 

“The markets for wildlife and exotic fauna involve disparate risks. They bring together animals from places with extremely doubtful health status, putting them in highly stressful conditions. All this constitutes a perfect breeding ground for diseases and pandemics,” says Clifford Warwick. A researcher at the Emergent Disease Foundation and internationally renowned expert, Warwick warns, On a practical and political level, only a total ban of these markets can prevent the spread of epidemics and pandemics related to the trade in exotic and wild animals.” 

HELP US BANNING WILD ANIMALS TRADE! 

Italy already has a regulation, Delegation Law No. 53 approved by the Parliament last April, which commits the Government to implement the ban on trade, possession and reproduction of exotic and wild animals by May 2022. 

For this reason, LAV has promoted a mobilization to invite citizens to join its call to the Minister of Health Speranza, the Minister of Ecological Transition Cingolani and the Undersecretary for European Affairs Amendola, to implement the ban soon, to protect animals, the environment and public health.