Understanding drivers of demand for exotic pets may help inform adequate conservation strategies to address unsustainable trade. Here, we used a best-worst scaling approach to understand the variety of preferences and motivations for owning exotic pets. Respondents (316 from 33 countries) preferred exotic pets that were captive-bred, had rare aesthetic features, and were common in the wild and abundant in the market. Species that were at risk of extinction, in short supply, sourced from the wild, and under trade restrictions were the least favoured by respondents. Feelings of care, such as attachment, affection, nurture, as well as curiosity and being passionate about the species, were dominant motivations for pet keepers. Respondents were willing to support the conservation of species in the wild. Our findings highlight that relational dimensions are among the most important aspects influencing decisions to own exotic pets. Certification systems of origin that supports animal welfare and conservation may help consumers support sustainable trade in exotic pet species. However, attention should be paid to challenges throughout the supply chain and not to incentivize consumers' preferences for rare genetic features as this may pose a risk to the conservation of species in the wild. When planning conservation initiatives and policies, considering relational dimensions may provide novel insights to better foster meaningful expressions of care with animals in the wild, as opposed to animals as exotic pets. Fostering care, as a normative human sense of kinship with non-humans, could help channeling “demand for ownership” towards “stewardship relations” with nature.
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