|By Eliza McGraw|
People long have been enchanted by the idea that even the wildest animals can befriend the right person. In reality, keeping a wild animal as a pet often has disastrous results — usually for the animal, but sometimes for the owner as well.
Yet wild and exotic animals continue to be imported into the US and to be bred here. If you’re thinking a wildcat, alligator or other exotic animal would be a cool pet, reconsider. Here’s why.
Unlike cats, dogs and other domesticated animals whose wildness has been bred out of them, wild animals aren’t suited to life as pets. Although cute as babies, wild animals quickly become too difficult for most people to care for. When that happens, both the animal and owner are at risk.
The Humane Society of the United States strongly opposes keeping wild animals as pets — whether caught in the wild or bred in captivity — because few people can provide the care they require. As a result, wild animals often suffer from malnutrition or live in inhumane conditions.
Case in point isSabrina, a Bengal tiger who was left without water or food for more than 10 days after the death of her owner, a Florida drug dealer. When wildlife rescue organizations finally were called in, she was 100 pounds underweight and lying on a bare concrete floor in a cage in the summer heat. She was transported to The Wildcat Sanctuary in Minnesota, where she’s recovering from her physical and emotional trauma.
Keeping wildlife in a house or on a small farm is illegal in most areas. Laws vary widely within states and counties, but local ordinances usually prevent residents from housing wild animals. Also, the animals themselves are often protected under federal, local, or park law, so even the act of removing them from a natural habitat is illegal.
Far more common yet no less sad are the cases of exotic lizards, birds, rodents and other animals imported into the US, which is one of the few countries that has not yet banned such importation. Many of the animals die in transit. Those that survive face uncertain futures with owners unprepared to cope with wild behaviors in a domestic setting. Wild animals require expert care by professional handlers who know their specific social, nutritional and behavioral needs.
Beyond the headline-grabbing stories of people mauled or killed by wild pets, wild animals pose many health risks to humans and domestic pets. In 2003, prairie dogs sold as pets made people sick with monkeypox. The Centers for Disease Control see so many cases of salmonella from pet amphibians and reptiles that they recommend that no one with children under the age 5 own these pets. Other diseases animals can transfer to humans (called zoonoticdiseases) include rabies, raccoon roundworm and herpes B virus.
Animal-lovers are often swayed into owning a wild animal by encountering it as a baby. A little alligator seems like a fun addition to the family pool, but American alligators can become over 14 feet long and kill animals as big as cows. People have adopted bears upon finding cuddly cubs, but bears can top 1500 pounds and become uncontrollable as they grow.
None of these facts, however, means that you are powerless when you find orphaned or hurt wildlife. Contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitators — you can search for them by zip code at wildliferehaber.org. They’re trained to deal with the special needs of wildlife, and return them to their natural habitat or, if necessary, a wildlife sanctuary.
Consider supporting a sanctuary or wildlife rescue organization. You can do hands-on volunteering at a local sanctuary or donate cash or supplies. You can even sponsor a specific animal and receive report about its progress.
You can read more about animal welfare and adopting homeless animals in these articles:
Eliza McGraw lives in Washington, D.C. with her family, some fish, and a perfectly tame Welsh Corgi.