I can see why people take drugs, despite their illegality. Drugs get you high. But I find it a lot harder to understand the massive illegal trade in live animals. I guess a pet leopard or monitor lizard is a status symbol, but not one that's easy to flaunt, and what kind of a dick wants one in the first place?
That's what I thought when I read the excellent New Yorker piece ($) from April about the havoc being wreaked by escaped exotic pets in Florida.
The answer must be partly because the chances of getting caught are minimal and the punishments footling. That's unlikely to change (and besides, drugs policy shows how ineffective prohibition is). What we need instead is an effort to change norms. The animal rights movement has had some success in demonizing the wearing of fur (this train of thought was prompted when I saw the piece in today's Guardian about PETA's shock tactics, which I haven't read, because life's a bit on the short side), likewise the campaign against conflict diamonds. The conservation movement - so polite, reasonable and ineffectual compared with those who campaign for the welfare of captive animals - needs to do the same for exotic pets.
Of course, you wear a fur coat in public. Which brings me back to pondering the point of a status symbol you need to hide, and makes me wonder and despair at what in human nature (including mine) delights in ownership for its own sake.