It is no surprise that people enjoy the simple pleasures of owning a pet and for some, dogs and cats just are not enough. Prominent and exotic celebrity pets such as the Kardashians’ monkey, Paris Hilton’s kinkajou, Michael Jackson’s chimpanzee and Mike Tyson’s pet tiger all contribute to the public’s perspective that exotic pet ownership is to next to normal.
The prospect of owning exotic animals as pets is glorified in the media. Wildlife heroes such as Jane Goodall and Steve Erwin further strengthened the fascination with exotic animals by making them more visible to the public. While these humanitarians set out to simply educate the public, many people were moved to want exotic pets of their own.
Owning any creature that is not normally domesticated poses a threat to both the owner and the animal. Change of habitat, risk of disease and the dangers of an animal’s natural instincts all serve as dangerous factors that limit the capabilities of these animals to serve as pets.
Last year a stampede of approximately fifty exotic “pets” (including lions, Bengal tigers, bears and other endangered animals) were released from a private residence in the small town of Zanesville, Ohio. Upon the animals’ release the owner, Terry Thompson ,committed suicide, leaving town officials to deal with the mess. Of the released animals, forty-eight were shot and killed on the scene.
According to Born Free USA, an organization dedicated to bettering and saving the lives of wild animals, each state has its own stand on the issue of exotic pet ownership. While some states have strict regulations on which animals are allowed to be kept in private residences, other states have minimal policies set in place. Texas, for example, has little regulation on the types of animals its citizen’s keep as pets. The states’ legislation simply requires the owner to have a permit to keep
animals deemed as dangerous, including wild cats of any kind and large members of the primate family.
However, the term “dangerous” is vaguely defined. The legislation states that other animals such as monkeys and wolves, which are not listed as threatening, are able to be kept without permits. Which aspects of animal behavior lead government officials to deem one wild animal safer than another? Certainly some animals are more aggressive than others, but ultimately, who is to say that an animal deemed safe for ownership will not turn on its owner when placed in a domestic environment?
What some people fail to understand about exotic animals is that they are still animals with natural instincts. Wild animals often do not cope well when placed in a captive environment and even if they are raised in the “domesticated” lifestyle, there is no certainty that the animal will not digress to its natural instincts and become a threat to the owner.
In two instances in particular, animals that had been trained, raised, and nurtured by their owners acted out and attacked either them or their loved ones. Although the animals may have had no ill intent, they were acting out on their natural born instincts as they are, by all accounts, wild animals.
In 2003, Roy Horn of Seigfried and Roy, a Las Vegas entertainment act, was clawed in the neck by one of the tigers from his magic act. Although the show was practiced and performed over 5,000 times without mishap, one outburst from his feline co-star brought the performer to his knees.
In the chimp mauling of Carla Nash an incident in which a trusted pet turned on its owner, Sandra Herold’s pet chimpanzee attacked Nash when the pair tried to move him back into his cage. Herold was the owner of a chimp that appeared in several TV commercials such as Coca-Cola and Old Navy. Both Nash’s hands and her face were ripped off as a result.
The topic hit home for UTSA students and faculty when a graduate student was attacked by an exotic animal. Twenty-six year-old anthropology-major Andrew Oberle was conducting research at the Jane Goodall Institute in South Africa when two chimpanzees grabbed Oberle, pulled him underneath a damaged fence and attacked him. Oberle in no way taunted or antagonized the chimps, and was knowledgable on his subjects. Yet they still acted violently, bit off parts of his ears, fingers and toes, and left large lacerations on his body. These attacks are scarcely provoked; they simply occur.
Not only are wild animals dangerous, but people also fail to understand the amount of special care an exotic pet requires in comparison to the average house pet. Often these exotic pets become neglected or mistreated because the owner simply underestimates the burden they are taking into their lives. This is harmful to both the animal and the owner.
Despite the risks, approximately 20.3 million people in the Unites States privately own exotic pets. Several animal protection organizations such as PETA, Eco Defense and Born Free USA work toward bettering the lives of these animals.
For the good of the public and the animal, exotic pet ownership needs to end. These animals either belong in conservations and zoos where they can be cared for by trained professionals or in the wild. Although celebrities may make these exotic pets look glamorous, it is much safer for both humans and exotic animals to live their lives separately.