Exotic “Pets”

One of Michael Jackson's "pet" tigers, abandoned at a small, struggling start up refuge in TX.  Even celebrities can't make exotic pets work.

One of Michael Jackson’s “pet” tigers, abandoned at a small, struggling start up refuge in TX. Even celebrities can’t make exotic pets work.

Many of us are familiar with exotic pets in the form of reptiles, chinchillas, sugar gliders and even tropical fish.   For the most part, these animals have all been kept as pets for decades and they are relatively safe and easy to keep.  But there is another class of exotic “pet”–the wild animal raised in captivity.   It seems unbelievable to me that a bearded dragon(lizard) and a Siberian tiger share the same title of  “exotic”.

Yes, people (try to)  keep tigers and other big cats as pets, as well as a host of other wild animals, large and small.   The only semi-successful exotic pets in my opinion are birds.  Parrots are not domesticated animals like cats or dogs and if humans do a good job of raising, caring for and training their parrots, the birds can be delightful and happy pets.  (I will write more about keeping parrots in a separate blog).

But when people try to keep raccoons,  bobcats, monkeys and large animals like bears or lions as pets there usually is no happy ending–but there is always an end.  These animals were never meant to live in houses as companions to humans.  All exotic mammals (and birds) have the capability to destroy your home and yard, injure, maim or kill children or adults and cause a lot of heartache.  Almost all of these animals reach maturity relatively quickly and when that happens, these animals most often find themselves being wrenched from the only home they have ever known and being put into either a worse situation, put in a cage in a zoo, or even being euthanized because they had the audacity to grow up!

Now, for people who just have that burning desire to be close to exotic and wild animals there are many other options for fulfilling that desire.   Across the country, many sanctuaries, zoos and other exotic animal facilities offer internships for people to learn about and sometimes even interact with these animals.  This will be done safely, with proper training and knowledge of the animals and with professional staff on-hand for guidance.

I should mention that good exotic pet owners DO exist, even in the case of big cats.  Typically these are people with plenty of money who have spent time researching the needs of the animal they have and learning how to handle them properly and keep them safely.  Unfortunately, these people are few and far between.  The vast majority of people who bring an exotic animal into their home, especially a dangerous one, either get rid of the animal before it’s a year old, or have terrifying incidents involving their own children or neighbors.

For more information about exotic pets, animal encounters and internships:

http://www.tigercreek.org/

http://www.elephantsanctuary.org/experience/

http://www.bigcat.org/education/pages/intern_program

There are many places that offer animal encounters, some reputable, some not, but all are a better option than keeping one of these animals as a pet.  Many zoos have volunteer education programs where, after training, you will be able to handle and take different species of animals out for educational programs.  In these programs I have seen volunteers handle birds of prey, small mammals like hedgehogs or even raccoons, large reptiles, parrots, penguins, wallaby, etc.

Please think twice or three times, before deciding to bring hom an exotic pet.  Do your research, talk to professionals, talk to your state licensing organizations and talk to the local police about the law.