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Should We Have Wild & Exotic Pets?

April 17th, 2014

A llama for your very own? Photo credit: HTE Kids News

While most of us have dogs and cats as pets, more people than you’d think have lions, tigers, and bears (oh, my) as their furry friend. And it’s a growing trend — one that many find disturbing.

There are more tigers in private owners’ backyards in the U.S. (not including zoos) than there are in the wild in Asia , according to the World Wildlife Fund and reported in National Geographic’s cover story on this topic this month.

And it’s not just those animals … some people own deer, kangaroos, venomous snakes, chimpanzees, dolphins, you name it.

Some people just don’t want your “ho-hum” everyday dog.

Others say they do it to help protect the animals, many species of which are threatened or endangered. In many cases there are no laws against owning these kinds of animals. And it’s not as hard as it used to be to buy exotic pets thanks to the Internet.

The owners often truly love these animals but it’s very hard to care properly for them. It’s also expensive. They can carry diseases. And it’s often dangerous  — not just for the owner but neighbors and the public as well.

Those who are against owning wild and exotic animals, like the ASPCA  (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) says that, “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.”

They believe wild animals need to remain wild. That means in their natural habitats which is often on vast amounts of land, eating specific kinds of food, behaving how they’re supposed to, and being with animals of their own kind. Owning them privately actually harms them the ASPCA says. They have needs that are very different than dogs and cats. They aren’t tame. And the more they’re bred with other captive animals, the more they change genetically over time, becoming different from the species they once were.

So what exactly counts as a wild and exotic animal?

It’s pretty obvious when we’re talking about tigers and kangaroos. But what about that lizard you own? Your guinea pig? Or a hedgehog, a big trend in pets recently.

There’s actually no one definition of what makes a pet an “exotic” pet. Some people say it’s when it’s not a cat or dog. But for many others it’s a huge gray area.

Kate Dylewsky at the wild animal advocacy group  Born Free USA , tells HTE, that a good rule of thumb is if the animals’ natural behaviors can pose certain risks (turtles and other reptiles often carry salmonella for example, and other animals can bite or scratch in fear).

Another consideration, she says, is if they have a desire to be with other members of their species. If they’re in a cage all by themselves then they can’t do that.

Why’s a dog okay then?

Dogs and cats have been domesticated over thousands of years. “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,” writes the ASPCA on their website.

Kate Dylwesky at Born Free USA points out that, “through selective breeding they have become a distinct species. If humans hadn’t intervened, you wouldn’t find a chihuahua in the wild.”

But the pet stores sell these pets. I’m just buying what they’re selling.

In many cases, the pet stores are selling them because the demand is there.

I’m a kid, what can I do about this?

Kate Dylewsky at Born Free USA says to make sure your family doesn’t acquire these pets. If kids are aware of this issue, they’re less likely to want an exotic pet “and there will be one fewer animal kept in captivity.”

The focus is on large, endangered animals with safety concerns. But smaller animals are still animals, and they are wild at heart, too. Something, activists say, we should all keep in mind.

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