Environment

10 Reasons Why Keeping Exotic Pets Can Be Very Dangerous

Wild animals belong to their native habitat and not in people's homes. Exotic pet industry fuels illegal wildlife trade and fosters animal cruelty.

Exotic animals refer to rare and unusual wild animals that are kept as pets in households. The allure to stand out in society by owning an exotic pet has enticed people for many years, and there is no sign that the trend will change any time soon. Conventional pets usually include the already domesticated animals that are used to being in contact with human beings. Keeping wild animals as pets is a contentious issue that borders on the illegality as it has been fueling animal trafficking, an industry estimated to be worth $7billion. The practice of rearing exotic pets date back to 2500 BC when Sumerians started rearing fish, although in their case, it was for food. Ancient Egyptians and Romans were the first humans to keep fishes solely for their aesthetics. The obsession to possess rare animals later grew from only ornamental fishes to more dangerous animals like reptiles, big cats, and even elephants. However, keeping exotic pets in homes is not a good idea, and there are a host of dangers that come with sharing the same space with a wild animal. The reasons why keeping exotic animals as pets is considered dangerous include the following.

Threat Of Zoonotic Diseases

The reason why ordinary pets never have many issues with diseases is that they have evolved to accustom themselves with healthy living, and in exchange, humans have put their time and resources in developing medication for most of their diseases. Exotic pets cannot afford this luxury, they are unknown entities, and many, like bats, harbor dangerous infections that can infect humans, leading to a pandemic. Diseases that could be carried by exotic animals and have the potential of affecting humans include salmonella, rabies, herpes B virus, Ebola, monkeypox, and many others.

Possessing Such Pets Translates To Public Safety Risk

A wild animal will always be a wild animal. The greatest misconception that exotic pet owners love to hide behind is that a wild animal reared as a pet from a young age forgets its wild side. Wild animals operate on instinct, and they eventually attack, posing a risk to their owners, neighbors, and the whole residential community. Cases of dangerous exotic pets escaping and roaming residential areas and attacking people have been documented several times in the US.

Exotic Animals Are A Threat To Other Wild Animals

There have been cases where exotic pet owners, unable to handle their overgrown pets, release them into the wild to absolve themselves of the responsibility in the hope that they turn independent. Many times, these exotic animals end up becoming invasive species by multiplying quickly and driving out native animals. Such was the case with the Burmese python that took over the Floridian wild after they were released by their owners once they became too big.

The Exotic Pet Often Suffers

When an animal that is used to life in the wild gets confined in a small cage, it gets depressing. Exotic animals do not merely feed on anything they are given, and it takes a unique type of diet to keep them healthy and robust, this has to be accompanied by exercise, which cannot be achieved in restricted spaces. Without these necessities, most become weak, sick, or they succumb to depression which in turn increases the risk of going berserk one day and attacking everyone around them

It Disrupts The Gene Flow

It is estimated that there are more than 5,000 tigers kept in American homes as pets. The staggering number is way more than the number of actual tigers in the wild. These tigers would be better off flourishing in the wild and passing on their genes to the next generation, but instead, they are kept in captivity in less ideal conditions. Tigers in the wild are facing the threat of extinction, which makes the situation even more absurd when many tigers are wasting away in residential homes.

It Fuels The Illegal Pet Trade

The exotic pet trade is a huge industry worth $7b, and it fuels poaching and smuggling of endangered animals from around the world. These activities are banned in many countries, and being caught with an exotic pet can land one in serious trouble. In the US, the minimum penalty for keeping an exotic pet is a $3,000 fine for the first violation, a $13,000 fine for the 2nd violation, and $500,000 plus a 5-year jail term for subsequent violations. Getting that pet tiger may look like a cool thing to do, but it may not be worth the risk of being locked away.

Animal Cruelty Is Often Involved

How these animals are snatched from the wild is usually cruel. When it comes to choosing an exotic pet, potential owners prefer newborn babies in the hope that they get used to being near people before growing up. For this reason, poachers and smugglers usually snatch babies from their mothers with force, and in the process, they hurt the animals. The conditions under which the animals are transported are inhuman. Some even die on the way for lack of food, water, and suffocation. 

It Creates An Ecological Imbalance

There is a misconception that keeping an exotic pet is akin to providing a home for it and saving it from unfavorable conditions in its natural habitat. It is wrong. Snatching animals from their natural ecosystems creates an imbalance that ends up disrupting everything else since each animal plays a role in their natural habitats. The same imbalance also occurs in the form of invasive species. A disruption to the ecosystem is bad for everyone that depends on it for sustenance, and that includes humans.

The Risk Of Habituation Is There

Habituation is a state where an exotic animal gradually gets used to a situation that they would rather avoid to survive. Sometimes when an animal that has undergone habituation is discarded by the owner, it finds it difficult to integrate back into the wild as its natural traits, instincts, and skills have become dulled and stunted. The animal becomes vulnerable to attacks from other wild animals leading to death at times. Many animals that are unable to cope with life in the wild could turn to attack humans and other easy target prey like livestock.

Native Animals Could Get New Diseases

When animals are transferred from one end of the planet to another without being adequately tested, they end up introducing new bugs to places that have never encountered them. Many wild animals are resistant to diseases from their natural habitats, an inherent trait that takes species ages to develop. But when they are transferred to a new habitat with different conditions, they bring the diseases with them and spread them to other animals, both wild and domestic, and this could create an animal disease pandemic that can wipe out native species that do not possess the same resistance.

Common Exotic Pets In America

Americans have an insatiable hunger for keeping exotic pets, and the animals that top their list include the capybara, the largest rodent on earth that weighs about 140 pounds. It is legal to own a capybara in Texas and Pennsylvania. The bearded dragon, a native of Australia, is loved by kids because of their calm nature and ease of maintenance. The serval, an exotic cat from Africa, is a big hit with many due to their beautiful appearance. The Fennec fox, with its large ears, is a native of the African continent, and it is legal to own them in the whole of America except the states of Minnesota, Washington, and Nevada. Others include the chimpanzee, the common hedgehog, the Hyacinth Macaw, the destructive Chinchilla, and the Ball Python. 

Quick Exotic Animal Facts

Although most exotic pets are taken from the wild, there exist breeding farms where popular wild animals are bred in large numbers for the black market. Tarantulas, despite their scary appearance, is the most popular arachnid kept as a pet, it surprisingly lives for up to 25 years in captivity. The Loris, a small primate from Asia, usually dies after being separated from its offspring by traffickers. It is now a critically endangered animal.

Exotic Animal Attacks

Wild animals end up acting out their true natures eventually, regardless of the amount of training they are put through. Mark Voegel, a 30yr old German male, was found rotting in his house with his body wrapped in spider’s webs after he was bitten by his pet, a black widow spider. In 2009, a 37-year-old woman from Pennsylvania was attacked and killed by her pet, a black bear, as she was cleaning the cage. In an ironic twist of fate, Norman Buwalda, a 66-year-old man from Canada, was attacked and killed by his pet tiger. Norman had entered the cage of his tiger pet when he met his death. He was the chairman of the Canadian Exotic Animal Owner’s Association, a vocal advocate for exotic pets. A married couple Jaren Hare and Charles Darnell were handed 12 years in prison because their 2-year old daughter was strangled to death by their pet python. Gerald Rushton, a Texas resident, was instantly killed when he was kicked by their pet deer that weighed 550-pound when he tried to move the animal. In 2011, Marius Els, a farmer from South Africa, was killed by his pet hippo called Humphrey. The most bizarre case of exotic pet attacks is that of Alexandria Hall, who, against conventional wisdom, kept a pit viper, one of the most poisonous snakes on earth, as a pet. Hall was able to drive herself to the hospital, but she later succumbed to the snake bite after a week.

About the Author

Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor. 

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