Exotic Animals as Pets
Would you keep a cat in a fish bowl? Or a hamster in a horse stable? Would you feed rabbit food to your dog, or try to train a snake to sit? Yes, these are silly—even dangerous—things to do. Unfortunately, people do something similar when they keep exotic animals as pets.
Green iguanas, black panthers, rosy boas, flying squirrels, veiled chameleons, spotted pythons—these are just some of the exotic animals people sell as pets. It may be easy to buy an exotic animal, but it is not a good idea. It is bad for the animals, bad for us and bad for the environment. And although it may be illegal to sell and buy some of these animals in many places .
Despite what animal sellers may say, appropriate care for wild animals requires considerable expertise, specialized facilities, and lifelong dedication to the animals. Their nutritional and social needs are demanding to meet and, in many cases, are unknown. They often grow to be larger, stronger, and more dangerous than owners expect or can manage. Even small monkeys and small cats such as ocelots can inflict serious injuries, especially on children. Wild animals also pose a danger to human health and safety through disease and parasites.
It’s Bad for the Animals
Experts believe that it took at least five thousand years, and perhaps longer than ten thousand years, for wolves to evolve into dogs. So, there are thousands of years of difference between a wild and a domestic animal. Domesticated animals like dogs and cats don’t do well without people, and wild and exotic animals don’t do well with people.
In addition, sometimes we simply cannot meet their needs in captivity. Many monkeys, birds, and wild cats, for example, all can travel several miles in a single day. A walk on a leash through the park won’t make it. Since the vast majority of people who keep exotic animals cannot meet their needs, the animals may be caged, chained, or even beaten . Sometimes, people will have an animal’s teeth or claws removed, so that the animal cannot harm the owner even when he does struggle.
Malnutrition, stress, trauma, and behavioral disorders are common in exotics kept as pets. Unfortunately, getting medical care is extremely difficult—and not just because it may be illegal to have them. For one, many exotic animals hide symptoms of illness. And even when illness is suspected, finding a proper vet could require a visit to the zoo. It’s not easy to find a vet to treat your sugar glider’s salmonella or your lemur’s herpes!
It’s Bad for Us
Experts agree that at least one in three reptiles has such a dangerous desease as salmonella . Primates and birds can also transmit illnesses to people. Although some of these diseases are not life-threatening, some are very serious, even fatal.
If the bugs don’t hurt us, the bites will. Exotic animals, by definition, are not domesticated. Exotic animals are unpredictable. Their behavior may change with seasons or life cycles in ways we don’t understand. They rarely bond with their owners. Pet primates, big cats and reptiles have attacked and seriously injured their owners, unsuspecting neighbors and bystanders.
It’s Bad for the Environment
Where do exotic animals come from? It is very hard to breed most exotic pets in captivity. To meet the demands of those who keep exotic animals as pets, dealers often have to take the animals from their native lands. This disrupts the ecosystems from which they are stolen, and can disrupt the ecosystems to which they are taken if they escape or are set loose.
Most people who buy exotic animals have no idea what they’re getting into. Eventually, the owner may realize it is impossible to meet the animal’s needs, and come to understand the cruelty of keeping the animal captive. Most shelters aren’t equipped to handle exotic animals. In the face of so few options, some people will set the animal loose—which is dangerous and illegal. The animal can spread diseases to native species, or could kill native animals and pets. Setting the animal loose is also cruel to the animal, since he or she is not adapted for the habitat.
The government responds to the problems posed by exotic animals kept as pets, but the laws often are inadequate. Some countries and local laws prohibit the sale or keeping of exotic animals. Other countries require that a person obtain a license. Still other ones have no laws.
Even though the government does try to help, we have to rely on our own common sense and ethics to prevent the cruelty and damage that owning an exotic animal causes. Exotic animals are not good pets. Let’s concentrate on saving these animals’ natural homes—not removing the animals from them!