Australia’s most iconic native animals are being traded in huge numbers by US breeders who are selling them as pets and curiosities for thousands of dollars.
The scale of the native animal trade has emerged after Australians were shocked by a kookaburra called ‘Thunder’ being sold in a cage at a Virginia Beach pet store for $1200.
The story prompted demands for the bird, which was bizarrely dressed in a collar and tie, to be immediately rescued and dozens of angry calls from outraged Australians to the pet store owners.
But Thunder’s plight is just the tip of a booming trade in Australian native animals across the US.
A quick search through pet websites in the US reveals kangaroos, wallabies, sugar gliders and emus are all available – for a price.
News of a kookaburra living in a pet store in Virginia Beach in the United States shocked Australians – but nobody in America was surprised
One breeder advertised online a mob of six albino kangaroos for $45,000 US dollars.
Jeff, who lives in upstate New York and breeds emus, told Daily Mail Australia on Thursday he completely understood the popularity of Australia’s native animals – especially kangaroos.
‘Who wouldn’t want one?’ he said.
‘They’re cute and cuddly when they’re babies – there’s nothing like having a little kangaroo, people go nuts when they see it.’
Advertisements online show Americans can get all sorts of Australian native animals as pets
Thunder the kookaburra, who is on sale for $1200, will never be able to return to Australia, the Department of Agriculture confirmed, as nobody would be able to prove its health history
He said he’d seen a person pushing their pet kangaroo around a store in a shopping trolley on at least one occasion, to the delight of other shoppers.
Chris, who breeds lorikeets, told Daily Mail Australia she was also confused as to why Australians were so outraged to learn a kookaburra was up for sale.
She claims native Aussie animals were legally sent to zoos in the United States in the 1970s, and those zoos passed on any surplus to breeders – meaning it is not illegal for US breeders to sell on the animals.
Under Australian law, native animals cannot be taken out of the country.
Chris said she does not believe the kookaburra, who is named Thunder, could have been obtained illegally as she knows his breeder – an elderly man who has been in business for decades.
The pet store has also denied Thunder was smuggled into the country.
Advertisements in online pet stores show Australian animals are for sale all around the US, with prices reaching well over a few thousand dollars.
One kangaroo was seen on sale for $5,000, while a mob of about six was up for $45,000
Sugar gliders were another popular pet with Americans, who can purchase the marsupials online
A five-year-old wallaby previously used for ‘hands-on shows’ was going for $1,500, while a baby from Texas was on sale for $2,500 – cash only
A mob of albino kangaroos was up for sale for $45,000, with seller Bob King from Florida explaining they were the ‘perfect starter mob for anyone looking to get into kangaroos’.
In New York, baby ‘bottle raised’ kangaroos were being sold online
A male and female pair of baby emus will sell online from $500-$979, with one site even offering to ship the native Australian birds anywhere in the US via airplane.
Sugar gliders were another hit with Americans, with the marsupials being bred for domestic use for more than a decade in the United States.
The creatures retail from about $230-500, but are understood to live in distress as captive animals.
If Chris’s account of how the native Australian animals came to be in the United States is true, nobody has broken the law.
But, multiple calls to the pet store housing Thunder have received no response, with a staff member telling Daily Mail Australia managers were not available to speak, or that they were too busy because it was ‘feeding time’.
Bottle fed kangaroos were sold for $1800 each in upstate New York (pictured)
A pair of two baby emus, born for breeding, was on sale for $980 – but similar pairs could be found cheaper online
A statement posted to their Facebook account on Friday morning denied any wrongdoing on their part, but the owners have not been very forthcoming with details as to where the kookaburra came from.
Attempts to contact many of the sellers on exoticanimalsforsale.net also went unanswered.
Thunder the kookaburra was bought from a local breeder, the pet store has claimed
But Jeff, who once posted an advertisement for baby kangaroos on the site for a friend, was happy to chat about the differences in laws surrounding the animals, and his personal love for emus.
Jeff breeds emus and currently has about 30 living on his property.
Last month, he said he was able to sell 15 of the birds for about $300-400 each.
‘We raise them from babies,’ he said. ‘They’re pretty popular anyway because they can handle the weather, they can handle about -10 Fahrenheit.’
He said with the assistance of an incubator, the birds could ‘multiply really quickly’, though their egg-laying habits could pose a challenge to breeders.
‘They lay their eggs in the middle of the winter, you’ve gotta run out and get ’em before they freeze,’ he said.
Jeff said it was ‘not common’ to keep emus, but he personally knew ‘a lot’ of people who did.
‘Anyone can have them here, there’s no laws against it or anything,’ he said.
The New York man said he had bought his first emus as babies, but was unable to recall exactly where they had come from.
In Australia, it is illegal to kill, harm or take an emu from the wild without a licence or authorisation.
ANIMAL SMUGGLING OUT OF AUSTRALIA FOR ‘SIGNIFICANT PROFIT’
In the last two years, Australian Border Force officials have arrested multiple people who have tried to smuggle native animals – primarily lizards – out of the country.
ABF Acting Regional Commander WA, Martin Davies said in 2017 that native Australian wildlife was ‘highly sought after overseas’ and could be ‘sold for profit by people who have little regard for their welfare’.
Animals including shingleback lizards, eastern spiny tailed skinks, geckos, blue tongue lizards and bobtail lizards have been seized from luggage at airports packages as well as pulled from the mail disguised as toys, school bags and even bags of chips.
Reptiles are often sent to Asia, where criminal syndicates are believed to make ‘significant profits’.