Protecting Exotic Animal Welfare by Regulation & Education

Room: Montreal 6-7

Cass Koenen, Head of Wildlife Campaigns, Exotic Pets, World Animal Protection
Melissa Matlow, Senior Wildlife Campaign Manager, World Animal Protection
Michèle Hamers, Animal Welfare Consultant, Zoocheck Inc.

Every day, thousands of wild animals are captured from their native habitat or bred in captivity and sold into the global multi-billion dollar exotic pet trade. Whether the trade is legal or illegal, high numbers of animals suffer and die from being crudely captured, shipped, handled and kept in conditions that do not meet their complex needs. There are also serious ecological and human health and safety risks associated with the exotic pet trade.

Ten percent of Canadian households have an exotic pet (fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals) and surveys indicate people do very little research before making their purchase. Presenters will share the results of research into the attitudes and behaviours of first-time and potential exotic pet owners in Canada and discuss tactics for implementing a targeted campaign to educate these audiences on the risks and responsibilities.

Besides educating the public, it is important that regulations prevent consumers from purchasing animals that might not be suitable as pets. In Canada, there is a patchwork of federal, provincial and municipal legislation governing the trade and ownership of exotic animals. The problem is typically downloaded to municipalities to address and regulate animal ownership. Most municipalities regulate the keeping of animals by means of a Negative (Prohibited) list. This approach leads to confusing bylaws, enforcement issues and a failure to protect the welfare of individual animals.

For this reason, governments around the world are moving towards adopting Positive (Permitted) lists. The audience will learn about the advantages of this approach using case studies from Belgium and the Netherlands and how to develop and implement a positive list with their local government.


  1. Understand the animal welfare, human health and safety and environmental risks associated with keeping exotic pets.
  2. Learn how to develop an education and behaviour change campaign using first-time exotic pet impulse buyers as a case study.
  3. Understand the role legislation can play in public education and identify the gaps, challenges and solutions for regulating exotic pets

Cassandra Koenen has worked in the non-profit sector for 20 years, helping non-profits with strategic leadership and direction towards the development, integration and implementation of all digital activities, assuring the ongoing generation of effective online campaigns in support of organizational brand identity, fundraising, programmatic and educational goals and priorities. In the fall of 2016, Cassandra left the world of communications and crossed over to the programmatic side, where she is currently the Global Head of Wildlife Campaigns, Exotic Pets for World Animal Protection.

Melissa Matlow has a BSc in Ecology, a Master’s in Environmental Studies and has been leading successful animal welfare and environmental campaigns for more than 15 years. Since 2005, she has worked with World Animal Protection to protect the welfare of animals – wild and domestic – in Canada and around the world. As the Senior Wildlife Campaign Manager, she oversees the organization's Wildlife. Not Entertainers and Exotic Pets campaigns in Canada. Melissa enjoys working with diverse stakeholders to find long-term sustainable solutions to animal welfare problems. She has worked with the travel industry to end the exploitation of wildlife for tourist entertainment and is looking to collaborate with the pet industry, humane societies, veterinarians and local enforcement officers to find solutions to the growing number of wild animals suffering within the exotic pet trade.

Michèle Hamers obtained a BSc and MSc in Animal Welfare in Europe. Her expertise includes the assessment of animal facilities as well as other activities in which exotic animals and captive wildlife are used. She has written numerous reports about the living conditions of captive wildlife and exotic animals in Ontario. Michèle also campaigns for the implementation of the positive list throughout Canada. This legislation is according to her the only way to achieve responsible exotic pet ownership.