Since the days of Noah some people have been particularly drawn to owning exotic animals. While Noah was ordered to amass his collection to save animals from a flood, these days people obtain unusual pets for different reasons. Some are attracted to the animals’ appearances, others to the novelty and attention they receive for having them as pets.
While some “exotic” animals like bearded dragons, small boas, and some birds can live safely and happily with responsible pet owners, other species have greater difficulties making the adjustment.
Early in my career I learned about an exotic animal auction in southeast Missouri. The term, “exotic animal” generally refers to wild animals that are not native to that area, relatively rare, or unusual to keep. I had never seen an exotic animal auction before and decided to go to see first-hand what it was about.
I was amazed by the number and variety of animals – hundreds of animals of varying species were there for sale to the highest bidder. Some were innocuous, just rare breeds of domestic cattle and other livestock. Some were a little more unusual, such as camels and water buffalo. The zebras were interesting and, although they didn’t have any at the time I was there, I saw corrals for giraffes. I chose to skip the reptile barn!
It was unsettling to see animals that would live on the African savannah housed cheek by jowl with domestic livestock. When I went into the exotic bird building with hundreds of birds of varying species, I saw an African lion cub hidden in a dog crate beneath one of the bird tables. I wasn’t there in an enforcement capacity but was very troubled about how this cub was being marketed. It was terrified, and I suspected it was there illegally.
There is a lucrative trade in exotic animals, and many of the animals suffer as a result. Endangered species may be captured in the wild to be sold through underground channels, further endangering that species’ ability to survive and thrive in its natural environment. Many die during capture or transit before they can even be sold. Others may not be endangered but are purchased by people who do not have the knowledge nor means to provide proper care. The animals can suffer and even die as a result.
Many times the animals become unmanageable for the owners. The lucky ones are surrendered to an accredited and well-managed sanctuary where they will receive the care they need by knowledgeable professionals. Others aren’t so fortunate and are abandoned to their fate. Reggie the American Alligator was abandoned by his owners into Machado Lake in Los Angeles around 2005. This is an urban park where children and pets play. After a lengthy series of attempts, Reggie was safely captured in 2007 and transferred to his current habitat at the Los Angeles Zoo. Thank goodness no people or pets were harmed or killed by Reggie while he was in the lake.
However, other animals aren’t so lucky and die painful deaths because they are not able to survive in the wild, either because it’s not their natural habitat or there are predators or lack of resources to sustain them. On the other hand, many irresponsible and thoughtless snake owners have released their pythons and other constrictors in the Florida Everglades. These snakes flourish in the rich environment, but with few predators they have wreaked havoc on the native ecosystem and many native species have become endangered due to their presence.
There are about a dozen species of non-native parrots living wild in southern California. Flocks of several hundred can be seen flying together, filling the skies with their calls. They are either escaped or released pets or were released by illegal bird smugglers to avoid being caught. The mild climate and abundance of fruit trees make this area appealing for them, and the parrots have thrived here for decades. However, one must wonder about the impact on native birds and the environment.
Animals of all species should be admired, treasured, and respected. Turning exotic animals into pets without having the ability, knowledge, and resources to provide good care for them causes pain, suffering, and threats to people and other animals. A better way to show one’s admiration for these animals would be through donations to trustworthy animal charities that care for and protect the animals in the wild, or in accredited sanctuaries. By thinking of these animals as creatures to be protected instead of personal property we can ensure better care and outcomes for them all.
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