Pets not Prizes!
*Disclaimer* – some of the images within this article may cause distress
The Animal Welfare Act (2006) was originally set to ban the giving of animals as prizes in England and Wales. However, a late amendment ensured the practice remained legal, the only change being the raising of the minimum age limit of the recipient from 12 to 16 without parental consent.
This means it is still legal to give away Goldfish (Carassius auratus) as prizes to individuals over the age of 16, differing from legislation in many other countries.
Image courtesy of https://ncfishes.com/freshwater-fishes-of-north-carolina/carassius-auratus/
In many US States, legislation states that “No person shall offer or give away any live animal as a prize or an award in a game, contest or tournament involving skill or chance.” (Knox v. MASS. SOCY. FOR PREVENTION OF CRUELTY, 425 N.E.2d 393, 12 Mass. App. Ct. 407, 12 Mass. App. 407 (App. Ct. 1981).
Closer to ‘home’, the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 makes it an offence in almost all circumstances to give animals away as prizes to anybody – regardless of age.
Fairground goldfish are typically displayed and presented in small plastic bags, half-filled with water. With no access to food; replenished oxygen and minerals; or any form of filtration, many die before being ‘won’ or sold. Individuals that do make it to this point may be afflicted with acute or chronic illness or disease.
As parents cave to the pressure of their excited children (many of whom are simply desperate to have their very own ‘Nemo’), there is no guarantee that potential homes have sufficient resources or the knowledge to provide appropriate care.
Image courtesy of getty images: Animal cruelty: RSPCA urges Wales ban on fair prize pets – BBC News
Without pre-existing knowledge, it can be difficult for potential owners to navigate a minefield of misinformation when housing and caring for their new pet.
For example : a quick internet search for “Goldfish Tank” will offer bowl-type enclosures as small as 13 x 13 x 12 cm. Given an adult Goldfish can grow to as long as 35 – 40 cm, the advertisement of such small enclosures is problematic, contributing to the spread of misinformation.
Some of these Goldfish do make it into responsible and knowledgeable hands, with owners keen to provide the best quality of care possible. However, these fish still come with no guarantee of a long life, and underlying conditions may be contagious to potential new tank mates.
It is important to note that Goldfish can live to 25 years old with appropriate care, but without such care most do not live long lives.
As the giving away of Goldfish as prizes continues in the UK, live turtles, fish, salamanders and frogs are sold in similarly unsuitable fashion in some Asian countries – including in small key chains. The animals are suspended in brightly coloured liquid, often along with other decorations, within a small plastic ‘bubble’, so small that the animal is barely able to move.
Image courtesy of Awful Product Idea of the Day: Live Turtle Key Rings – Bloomberg
The attention drawn to turtles by a well-known 1990s TV show caused a surge in the popularity of turtles as pets within the UK. Prospective homes are often under-prepared, both in terms of meeting the housing requirements of a large and active species, and in terms of accounting for the long lives of these charismatic reptiles.
Yellow-Bellied Sliders, one type of turtle seen here at Plantasia Tropical Zoo, have a life expectancy of over 40 years when properly kept in captivity.
Rescue centres and Zoos are often called upon to rehome pets which have outgrown or outstayed their welcome – the novelty of owning such an animal having worn off when faced with the reality of meeting their husbandry requirements.
Plantasia Tropical Zoo are often asked to rehome Goldfish, however the space required and risks associated with the introduction of new fish to the existing population are too great for us to house any more. All of the turtles you see at Plantasia are rescued pets, which were likely purchased when they were just the size of a 50p coin, but as adults require a lot of space!
Animals taken on by Zoos and Rescue Centres are among the fortunate ones. Less fortunate animals may die prematurely as a result of the conditions they have been kept in, existing illness/disease, or during transport.
Others are abandoned into UK waterways, where their survival is limited.
“An invasive species is an organism that is not indigenous, or native, to a particular area. Invasive species can cause great economic and environmental harm to the new area.” – National Geographic
Released ‘invasive pets’ pose a very real threat to UK waterways – native flora and fauna are poorly adapted to cope with predation by non-native species such as Goldfish and Turtles. The competition for resources also has the potential to severely impact native species.
Image courtesy of Canada: Albertans told not to release ‘invasive’ goldfish – BBC News
Invasive species threaten extinction of native plants and animals, which has a knock-on effect on the ecosystem as a whole.
Ornamental fish such as Goldfish and Koi Carp can carry diseases which have the potential to cause devastation to existing fish populations and have major commercial impact on fisheries.
Hybridisation caused by the interbreeding of Koi with species such as the threatened Crucian Carp can also cause complications.
You can find out more about risk factors associated with the introduction of non-native species to a habitat by scanning the QR code on our “Crimes Against The Rainforest : Alien Invasion”, located next to our Burmese Python, ‘Clyde’.
Who is to blame?
Due to the legality of offering “Pets as Prizes” within the UK, it is unreasonable to blame fair/carnival workers as they supply the demand for Goldfish in particular. Similarly, it is simply unproductive to place blame on individuals who accept such a prize, as they cave to the pressure of children, carried away with the excitement of owning their own ‘Nemo’.
Image courtesy of Details | rspca.org.uk
Society as a whole seems still to find it acceptable to treat fish and some other animals as inferior to our favourite mammal companions, contributing to their being underprotected as pets in the UK.
The late amendment made by ministers when passing the Animal Welfare Act (2006) allowed the continuation of “Pets as Prizes”, effectively endorsing the practice along with the issues surrounding it.
It is worth noting that authorities such as the Police and RSPCA can only act on the law as it stands, and are powerless beyond this. Despite hard lobbying by many groups, the practice remained legal under the Animal Welfare Act (2006), and the hands of animal welfare organisations are effectively tied by the laws they must enforce.
What Can You do to Help?
Plantasia Tropical Zoo understands the affection our visitors have for animals. If you do feel moved to prevent suffering to animals given as prizes, there are things you can do.
- Turn down pets as prizes. Avoid games and venues where such animals are displayed as prizes.
- Local authorities must licence fairgrounds and carnivals, inclusive of activities that can and can’t take place there. Lobbying your local authority to make these licences difficult to procure where animals are to be given away will make offering of this attraction less appealing to owners of fairs and carnivals.
- You could also add your name to a petition to the Government to ban the practice of giving away animals as prizes in the UK.
- Lobby your local authority to implement a voluntary code of practice, which in turn accredits participants as ‘animal-friendly’ and thereby improves the reputation of such companies. This could ensure advice is offered with every fish, that small plastic bags make way for appropriate housing while displayed, and equipment is available for purchase.
Please do your Research!
Pets are a commitment, and should not be a spur-of-the-moment decision!
With Goldfish living for up to 25 years, and turtles reaching ages in excess of 40 years, it is crucial to consider the long-term costs and responsibilities involved in taking on such animals. Care guides can provide you with basic information which, when combined with professional advice, can help you to provide the best possible quality of care to your new companion.
If for any reason you find yourself no longer able to care for your animal, then contact animal welfare and rescue organisations such as the RSPCA and specialist rescue organisations and / or seek the advice of professionals such as your veterinarian in order to find a suitable new home for your pet.
Never release your animal into the wild, not only will this likely cause the animal significant suffering / death to your beloved pet, but the native ecosystem may suffer as a result of the introduction of an invasive species.