As stated in a 2006 report, approximately 69 million households presently possess at least one domestic pet, constituting 63 percent of all households (“How Many Pets”, par. 1). The surge in popularity of domestic pets has led to a rise in the quantity of exotic pets. It is crucial to comprehend what classifies as an exotic pet and the hazards they present. Should these risks justify a total ban on owning exotic pets? Additionally, is it justifiable to assume that all exotic pets are inherently perilous and hence should be prohibited?
Exotic pets are uncommon animals that are not typically kept as pets and are considered to be rare or unusual. These can include a variety of creatures like ferrets, rabbits, rodents, reptiles, amphibians (such as salamanders and newts), snakes, turtles, hermit crabs, insects (including millipedes and scorpions), and tarantulas. Additionally, big cats (that are non-domesticated), monkeys,
pigs primates raccoons
and wolf dogs are also classified as exotic pets (McLeod par. 2).
Exotic animals, which are non-native animals, can pose a biological threat to the public by transmitting bacteria, pathogens, and viruses that have the potential to cause illness. Uncommon or exotic pets often have associations with pet-related illnesses. Zoonotic diseases refer to infectious diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans and are a source of controversy surrounding exotic pets. Some argue for banning exotic pets due to their perceived role in spreading diseases, while considering non-exotic pets as “clean and safe” (Smith, “Exotic Pets Zoonotic Disease”, par. 6).
Approximately 70 percent of emerging diseases originate from wildlife, but it is important to distinguish that these animals exist in the wild. On the other hand, most commonly kept exotic pets are bred in captivity (Smith, Exotic Pets Zoonotic Disease, par. 9). Various diseases often associated with exotic pets include salmonella in reptiles and amphibians, tuberculosis in non-human primates, herpes in monkeys, rabies in all mammals, hepatitis B and hantavirus in rodents, and ebola in primates (Smith, Exotic Pets Zoonotic Disease, par. 18). However, it should be noted that some groups opposing the ownership of exotic animals incorrectly portray these diseases as always or commonly spread by exotic pets. It is important to clarify that this is not true. While salmonella can be a severe infection for young children and the elderly, it does not significantly affect healthy individuals.
In her article “Exotic Pets Zoonotic Diseases,” Melissa Smith states that mishandling raw meat and eggs is the primary way infections are transmitted. Reptiles, which only account for 0.2 percent of salmonellosis cases each year, are responsible for a small portion of these infections. Additionally, while cats often carry rabies, exotic pets rarely do. In fact, there has never been a case in the US where someone contracted rabies from an exotic pet (par. 20). Thus, although captive exotic animals have the potential to spread diseases and pose a biological threat to humans, they generally do not present the same level or quantity of dangers as their wild counterparts.
The text emphasizes the risks associated with owning exotic pets and the potential danger they pose to public safety. “Exotic Animal Incidents” reports that there have been 75 human fatalities and 543 human injuries caused by exotic pets from 1990 to 2012 (par. 1). In Allentown, Pennsylvania, Kelly Ann Walz, aged 37, was fatally attacked by her pet black bear (Murano, par. 2). Additionally, Sandra Piovesan, aged 50, died from excessive bleeding after being attacked by a pack of nine wolf dogs she owned as pets (Murano, par. 7). Another tragic occurrence happened on July 1st ,2009 in Sumter County, Florida when a toddler was strangled by a pet Burmese python (“Exotic Animals…”, par.20).
In 2011, Terry Thompson was discovered dead in Zanesville, Ohio, having shot himself, and numerous cages containing exotic animals such as lions, tigers, wolves, and bears were discovered open. As a result, 48 animals were identified as a significant danger to public safety, with 39 of them being big cats, and were subsequently killed by law enforcement agents (Kendall, par. 1-2). Both humans and these animals pose a risk to each other to some degree, as evidenced by 200 animal deaths and 55 injuries caused by direct human action between 1990 and 2012 (“Exotic Animal Incidents,” par. 2).
While some exotic pets can be extremely dangerous, others are no more dangerous than domestic animals. Numerous exotic animals pose little threat to the public. For example, Fennec foxes are a popular choice and thrive with responsible owners. They are harmless, weigh similar to a Chihuahua, and make great house pets (Smith, “10 Exotic Pets”, par. 12). African servals also make fantastic pets, although they are often wrongly grouped with lions, tigers, and other large cats. However, a pet serval is unlikely to pose a threat to a child even if it were to escape from its owner’s home. Moreover, servals have never caused any human deaths in the United States (Smith, “10 Exotic Pets”, par. 17).
The presence of exotic animals in the nation’s environment, regardless of their level of danger, can have a significant impact. When non-native animals thrive and reproduce in new surroundings, they become invasive and pose a threat to native plants and animals, potentially leading to their extinction. While some species brought to the United States, such as cattle, are beneficial rather than invasive, issues arise when exotic animals escape or are released into the wild without any natural predators. This issue is particularly evident in Florida, which is considered the center of this invasion. Florida consistently receives an influx of exotic pets, putting more protected species at risk compared to anywhere else except Hawaii. For instance,
there are currently an estimated 100,000 pythons freely roaming in the Everglades along with numerous other reptiles and amphibians that are not native to the state but thrive in its temperate and subtropical climates.
The presence of exotic armored catfish near the Everglades National Park is considered a threat due to their habit of digging burrows in river banks. These catfish, originally from fish farms, dig burrows as a way to attract and protect female fish and their eggs. The high number of burrows can potentially destabilize the banks and lead to increased erosion (“Exotic Animals…”, par. 14). In Florida, the damage caused by invasive exotic animals costs property owners and agencies more than 600 million dollars annually. Additionally, containment efforts for these animals cost the United States over 137 billion dollars each year, which is almost twice as much as what the nation spends on cancer treatment (“Exotic Animals…”, par. 15). Furthermore, diseases like citrus canker have had a significant economic impact due to the loss of citrus trees. Imported insects or animals can spread diseases, compete with or eliminate other species, and have negative effects on agriculture, commodities, and the environment (“Exotic Animals…”, par. 30).
There is an ongoing debate about whether or not to ban exotic pets, with organizations like PETA and Born Free USA supporting the ban due to witnessing cases of mistreatment and overwhelmed owners who were uninformed or rushed into owning these pets. Consequently, sanctuaries have emerged to care for neglected and aggressive animals, despite limited donations and funding. These reasons support the organizations’ stance on banning exotic pet ownership. However, it should be acknowledged that there are responsible exotic pet owners who provide excellent care and oppose a ban on ownership.
REXANO (Responsible Exotic Animal Ownership) is an organization that seeks to educate the public about owning exotic animals and show how animals and people can peacefully coexist. This makes the debate on banning exotic pets complex, with state regulations falling into five categories: 1. A complete ban on private ownership of exotic animals, including non-domestic felines, wolves, bears, reptiles, and non-human primates; 2. A partial ban excluding these species; 3. Owners needing a license or permit from local and state authorities to register their animal; 4. No license or permit required for registration but other transportation or veterinary-related regulations may apply; or 5. No specific statutes or regulations in place (Dow, par. 2).
According to Dow (par. 2), 20 out of the 50 states have a complete ban on owning exotic animals, while 8 states have a partial ban. Additionally, ownership of exotic animals in 12 states requires a license or permit, while regulations without licensing requirements exist in 9 states. Exotic animal ownership is not regulated by law in West Virginia and Wisconsin.
In relation to these facts, Dow (par.3) reveals that there are currently over 13 million reptiles residing in private homes. This includes both venomous and non-venomous snakes, crocodilians, and lizards. Furthermore, there are approximately 15,000 big cats kept as pets across the country along with around 2,000 bears and 1,000 wild candids. An estimated number of about 15,000 non-human primates also live as exotic pets.
Exotic animals, both dangerous and non-dangerous, have a significant impact on our country in terms of their potential dangers to humans or the environment. While some negative effects arise from owning exotic pets, not all are substantial or cause major issues. If these animals can be properly cared for by humans without jeopardizing their safety or the environment’s well-being, there is no reason to ban them. Differentiating between harmful and harmless species and addressing them accordingly necessitates extensive knowledge and thorough research. Rather than implementing a blanket prohibition on exotic pets, it is better to enforce stricter laws and regulations concerning these animals. This would involve establishing criteria for determining ownership eligibility for specific types of animals, fulfilling requirements for owning an exotic pet, and identifying which exotic animals are suitable as pets.