Photo Source: National Park Service
Have you ever thought of owning an exotic pet? Not just one you get at a pet store such as an iguana or a chinchilla. I’m talking about the ultra-exotic animals such as alligators, kangaroos, and even the occasional hippopotamus. While some states do allow them, there is a lot of conversation going on over the ethics and ecological effects having a normally wild animal in captivity as a pet.
The exact lawful definition of an exotic pet is different between states. For some states, that means any animal that’s supposed to be wildlife being being kept in someone’s house. For other states, it simply means any non-typical pet (National Geographic). Currently, 7 states don’t have any restrictions on exotic pets, and a couple more do have permit processes to gain ownership (Governing). However, it is relatively common for people to break the law. A lot of the exotic pets that one would get aren’t actually captured from the wild; they’re often the products of breeding in captivity. This allows the animals to be at least a little more used to their surroundings, though owners can still be vulnerable to attack. For instance, a man who finally turned his pet bear over to a sanctuary in Ohio got his finger bit off after having it for a couple years (National Geographic).
Sometimes, exotic animals can escape from captivity and can become an invasive species. Florida has been notoriously hit hard by escaped pets. For instance, green iguanas were a popular pet in the exotic pet trade in South Florida, but over time they started to escape into the wild (One Green Planet). While iguanas are vegetarian, they started to eat the Florida landscape way faster than anticipated, munching on people’s lawns and trees. While winters in Florida killed off some of the population at first, those who survived and stayed on in the landscape grew to be up to 6 feet long. Another pet that escaped and invaded the ecosystem was the Burmese python (Smithsonian). What happened is that a small amount of those pets were released into the wild in the 80s, but overtime they completely overpowered the landscape. They are responsible for the reduction of 99% of the furry animals in the Everglades, and they even prey on birds and sometimes alligators. They seem to be adapting to their habitat, as scientists have found that these snakes have the DNA of native pythons, showing that they’ve been hybridizing and creating stronger, spookier pythons. There has been a time where sanctuaries have been able to make unleashed exotic pets into a good thing. When drug lord Pablo Escobar was shot and killed in the early nineties, the Columbian government stepped in and took his property, including his private zoo (National Geographic). While most of his animals were shipped away, his hippopotamuses were left to fend for themselves. However, they ended up flourishing from 4 to dozens. It’s now kicked off a decades-long rewinding experiment where both the government and ecologists are monitoring the current status of these hippos and their effects on the environment.
I can sort of understand the initial draw of keeping ultra-exotic pets. They’re something unlike what one normally sees in mundane life. However, especially due to that fact, a lot of these animals aren’t exactly fit for living in captivity. They are still given to aggressive behavior, and sometimes an owner can only do so much so recreate the original habitat and diet of the animal in question. Sometimes, the animals can escape and alter the ecosystem of the area. Before delving into the exotic animal world, it’s important to consult your local veterinarian to make sure that an exotic is right for you. There are plenty of exotic pets such as chameleons and snakes that can be a great alternative to your normal dog or cat (especially since it doesn’t need to be walked), but taking in more wild animals such as a tiger or kangaroo may be a bit extreme.