Should Certain Exotic Animals be Kept as Pets?
Throughout history man has domesticated different animals for many purposes. Some were domesticated for mere companionship but mostly for work. Horses, mules and camels have been used for centuries to carry people or cargo from destination to destination. And dogs have been long used for many working conditions such as herding and guarding. But in today’s society the most common reason for owning a domesticated animal in the home is for companionship and entertainment.
People own all types of exotic pets like primates, reptiles and even insects. Some are very large like primates and some are very small like parakeets. But is it fair or even safe to remove these creatures from their natural environment? Animals such as wolves are meant to be in packs and need to socialize with their own species in order to learn how to survive. To domesticate an animal is to remove it from its natural habitat and adapt it to ours. But can all animals adapt to our way of life?
So what makes an animal prime for domestication? Weren’t all animals wild at some point? Are some animals not meant for domestication? Its believed that some animals by nature are more docile and more prone to trust human contact than others. Horses have been domesticated for centuries and seemed to adapt very well into the human world, as well as dogs and cats. Parrots are becoming very popular due to their entertainment value as well.
But what about predatory animals like lions, bears or wolves? Their naturally aggressive nature doesn’t seem to make them good candidates for pets. So, how can we tell which animals are good as pets and which are best left to nature? There are ways to tell but not everyone heeds the warnings involved with owning a wild animal as a pet.
Some people believe that wild animals will always be wild animals and will never lose their natural instinct, especially predatory animals like bears or lions. But there are some who believe through the appropriate process or procedures that these animals can and have been tamed or even domesticated. There are numerous incidents where a once believed tamed or domesticated animal attacked out of instinct injuring or even killing a human owner or trainer. People are often shocked when this happens never expecting a loving animal that they trusted to behave this way. But wild animals still have their wild instincts and they will act out of fear if they feel threatened or scared. This makes taking wild animals into our homes dangerous and unpredictable.
Congress would like to ban all exotic pets in this country. Through a bill they plan to stop the import of all non-native species into the United States, as well as ban sales, breeding and transportation into the country. Congress believes that with the passing of this bill they will prevent ecological upsets of animals being removed from their natural habitats, as well as the spread of exotic diseases that some of the animals have been known to carry. Some people do not realize the care needed for these animals and simply set them free into the ecosystem causing issued that can be detrimental to humans. One such instance are the Quaker parrots in California. These parrots have learned to adapt to the environment and have nested in trees and power lines all over the state causing many issues for residents. It is now illegal to own or breed Quaker parrots in the state of California, as well as Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Wyoming. Georgia has banned the ownership of the birds and now considers them to be part of the ecosystem.
It can be very difficult to know how an animal will adapt to being brought out of its own environment and thrust into one it has never known. Let’s look at some reasons why or why not it is a good idea to take in wild animals as pets.
Domestication of a species takes centuries of careful selection, training and breeding. In the past, certain animals were chosen for specific reasons such as docility. Horses and cows are both docile creatures and have easily been domesticated into our world. Dogs and cats are two very prime examples of domesticated animals that have for centuries been in our lives as companions. But what about animals that are naturally hostile or aggressive? Can we trust an animal in our home that is a known predator?
There are many reasons why we shouldn’t domesticate some species of wild animals but the biggest reason is their unpredictable nature. There have been numerous attacks of wild animals on trainers or owners. One very famous attack was on Roy Horn of Siegfried & Roy, a German-American pair who do live performances with tigers on stage. This duo had worked with tigers for 44 years when one of the tigers unexpectedly attacked Roy Horn on stage at his 59th birthday celebration. Something in the crowd distracted the tiger and the animal acted on instinct refusing to listen to his trainer’s commands. The tiger then turned on Roy clamping down on the man’s neck and dragging him off stage.  Another more recent and horrifying publicized attack happened in February of 2009 when a woman’s pet chimpanzee attacked her friend as she entered her home. The chimp, named Travis, immediately jumped on Charla Nash, 55, and began tearing and biting at the woman’s face. Despite the owner’s efforts to stop the attack, the animal severely maimed the woman’s face and hands, destroying one eyelid, and her lips and nose. 
Wild animals can also carry diseases. Since it is not yet mandatory to have these animals vaccinated they could be carrying dangerous viral or bacterial infectious diseases unknown to us that could be harmful or even fatal to human beings or other domesticated animals. Some wild animals are studied from a distance because we are unsure of where these animals have been and what they have been exposed to. In the past, there have been numerous diseases that animals have passed onto us including swine flu, avian flu, rabies, and even the plague which was spread by fleas on rats in Europe.
In the wild, animals serve a purpose whether they are food for other animals or whether they reseed and germinate the ground like parrots. Removing an animal from the environment can cause problems just as if that animal were going extinct. If we start domesticating wild animals we may cause an upset in the ecological environment and cause ourselves more harm than good. And because some animals refuse to breed in captivity, the idea of causing an animal’s extinction due to domestication is highly likely.
Wild animals can sometimes require special diets that can sometimes be unknown or expensive. By denying an animal what it is required to eat can be detrimental to the species. And some species need to learn from their mother what is needed to catch or obtain their food. If a wild animal is not taught how to get its own food it will not survive on its own. And providing a wild animal with what it does need can be very costly or even unobtainable to humans.
Captivity can sometimes cause a wild animal stress and discomfort. It is the reason some animals were not domesticated in the first place. Domestication requires a certain criteria and some animals are just not suitable for such a process. Doing so can be dangerous for the animal and for the human. The animal may become sick or depressed because it needs something you cannot provide and may even lead to the death of the animal.
It’s very important to understand the dangers and requirements that wild animals have. We may not always be able to provide what is needed.
Despite the above mentioned dangers of taking in exotic animals as pets, there are some smaller less aggressive wild animals that do make good pets. To name a few, people have been known to keep parrots, raccoon, kinkajous, foxes, a wide range of reptiles, wolf-dogs, and even skunks. All these wild animals have proven in some way that they are somehow capable of adapting to our way of life in some way or another.
Some exotic pets are smaller than dogs or cats and therefore more convenient for restricted size homes. For someone who lives in a smaller home or an apartment, a more compact pet might be a good idea for them. Or if a child may want their first pet, something smaller may be a good idea to prepare them for a larger pet later. Smaller animals are more likely to be less expensive to take care of and more ideal for families of lower incomes. Some are also less likely to inflict major damage of they react aggressively out of fear or instinct.
Some people are allergic to pet dander commonly given off by dogs, cats and even birds. There are lots of wild animals that provide dander-free environments. Lizards are good in this case because there is no dander involved with this species. Some lizards are even kept to reduce insect populations in greenhouses and in homes. Hedgehogs are also great pest controllers and are a nice compact size.
One very large controversial issue about taking in wild animals is to reduce the fear of certain animals becoming extinct. There are goodhearted reasons and logical reasons for doing this and some have already begun this process. Several species have already been saved from extinction by being taken into our world and kept safe from whatever was causing it’s endangerment. Dart Frogs have been in trouble now for almost 25 years and due to the support help of outside organizations, the species was saved and removed from the endangered list.
In Australia Mike Archer, a professor at the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of New South Wales, firmly believes that through the domestication of certain species their eminent extinction can be avoided. Zoos all around the world also create artificial habitats to house endangered species preventing extinction. Not everyone believes that this method is viable or even safe, but there are some who believe it is worth trying to protect our wildlife and ecosystem.
What does it all mean?
The idea of owning an exotic pet weighs very heavy on both sides. While some believe it is harmful for both human and animal, other believe that it can save and protect. When choosing an exotic pet a lot of factors must be taken into consideration such as diet, the amount of space the animal will need, the types of vaccinations available, who will provide veterinary care, housing requirements, and safety concerns. A person should consider all this even when taking in a domesticated pet as well. Any animal can prove costly under certain circumstances and all possible scenarios should be investigated.
There are also laws in certain areas of the country that restrict or even forbid the ownership of certain animals. It’s important to know what laws your state or district has concerning the type of exotic pet you want to own. Some states even require special licensing in order to own certain wild animals. It’s important to check before attempting to buy or own an exotic animal.
Wild or exotic animals can sometimes be very dangerous, even to someone who trusts the animal. Wild animals will act on instinct when scared or provoked. When an animal attacks a human being it is usually not out of aggression but instead out of fear. Wild animals are not predators of human beings and most aggressive incidents happen due to stress or confusion. It’s important to understand that these animals are not in their natural environment and will react accordingly. Wild animals live in certain areas because that is what they are adaptable to.
It depends what kind of wild animal is brought into a specific environment. Some wild animals are more adaptable while others will refuse any domestication attempts at all. You should always educate yourself about an animal before bringing it into your home and around other people and animals, even domesticated ones like cats or dogs. Sometimes it isn’t right to upset the natural balance of an animal’s lifecycle.
My Personal Viewpoint
I have and always will believe that certain animals do not belong in homes. When I was a little girl growing up in Louisville, Ohio, I once found a small feral baby rabbit petrified and scared on the ground. I was so worried that a hawk might get it that I picked it up and took it to my Godmother’s house. Understanding of my fear, she took the small rabbit and gave it a home outside in a hutch. The rabbit grew to adulthood and was even tame to the point it allowed humans to touch and pet it. My Godmother would even let it run around her house and play. But one day she came outside to find the poor creature had died. She took the body to the veterinarian’s office and was surprised by what he had said. He had told her that he was surprised the rabbit had lived as long as it did in captivity, that it had probably died because a predatory animal had come upon it in its shelter. Unable to run away, as it’s instincts had told it to, it panicked and fatally injured itself. I was heartbroken but today I realize we had sentenced that rabbit to death by what we thought was protection. I learned a very valuable lesson about nature back then.
Wild animals need to live in the wild. Animals all have a purpose in this world and by removing one and bringing it into our homes, we are depriving not just the animal of its deserved and natural home, we are putting ourselves at risk for disease or harm. I have never been to the circus but I have been to the zoo and I always feel sorry for the animals caged there, no matter how comfortable they may be. Wild animals are meant to be free and I am almost certain they feel the loss of that. Some animals were just not meant to be caged or kept.
A good example is my father’s African Gray Parrot, Dexter. When he was purchased from a bird breeder back in 2002 I had no idea the amount of stress captivity can put on a animal. Dexter has never fully adapted to his captivity-he is moody and he mutilates his own feathers. We have tried just about everything to ease his stress, from moving him to a more trafficked area of the house, and also to a more secluded area. We have also tried different diets, supplements, bathing agents and even lullabies. Dexter refuses to adapt to his captivity even though he was raised from a baby in this environment.
On the other hand, I also own my own African Gray parrot named Beaker. Beaker’s was also raised from a baby in captivity but his adaptation is very different. He is completely content living with humans and is very chatty and friendly with everyone he meets. We have had no trouble with this African Gray and his ability to blend with his new environment.
So what makes the two so different? Both have similar upbringings, both are the same species and even gender, and both are treated with love and understanding. The reason is that parrots have not been domesticated long enough for me to consider them fully domesticated creatures. I have to take our birds to a special avian veterinarian because avian medicine is still not widely practiced in this area. Birds do not require vaccines and they are rarely operated on. They are not neutered or spayed like dogs and cats either. Do I think that certain species of birds should domesticated? No, I don’t. Birds are meant to fly and if they cannot fly you are altering their genetic makeup. What if one day parrots never fly again simply because we took them into our homes where they didn’t need to fly and evolution did it’s magic. A bird’s biggest defense against predator’s is to fly away-take that away and you are endangering their future survival.
I may sound hypocritical for owning an exotic pet myself but my views have changed since I purchased him. It pains me to see my bird unable to fly and do what he was meant to do, but it is too late for my bird now. He would never survive on his own in the wild and I would never leave him to try. It is now my responsibility to provide him with safety, nourishment, shelter and mostly love. But I would never buy another and I would never advocate for anyone else to do so.
Wild animals belong in the wild. They are part of the ecosystem and they all play a vital role. We need to stop taking them away from their own homes for our own personal amusement. I fear for the extinction of so many animals due to this alone.