Lots of us see exotic animals on TV or at the zoo and think, “Oh! I want one of those!” Tigers are powerful, awe-inspiring animals. Sugar gliders and hedgehogs are cute-and-cuddly playthings. Some people find these creatures fascinating and want to own them. But should we take these exotic, undomesticated animals from their natural habitats and bring them into our homes?
In December, authorities in Arlington, Texas raided U.S. Global Exotics, and approximately 26,000 animals were confiscated. The company, which specializes in the trade of exotic animals like snakes, sloths, wallabies, turtles, hedgehogs, and chinchillas, is accused of not caring for their animals. Four thousand animals have died. The judge awarded custody of the animals to the city, so that the SPCA can find homes for them in zoos and sanctuaries. They will not go back into the exotic animal trade.
There are many risks that come with the exotic animal trade, including danger to the animals, the environment, and the people who acquire them. One giant issue is that these animals are wild! They have unpredictable behaviors that we don’t fully understand, which can result in injury or death to people, and almost certainly death for the animal.
Also, these animals require an enormous amount of care: they need special diets, sometimes a controlled climate, and possibly miles to roam. If any of these things should go wrong, the vet bill (if you can find a vet who knows how to treat these animals) is extremely high. On top of all this, exotic animals carry a number of diseases that can be transferred to humans: herpes, hepatitis A, rabies, ringworm, and measles, just to name a few.
Finally, taking these animals out of there natural environments disrupts that ecosystem, and if they escape–or are let loose, as many people feel forced to do after they learn how difficult it is to care for them–these animals can disrupt the environments they were brought into.
Hopefully the raid of U.S. Global Exotics, called “the biggest animal seizure of its kind,” will be a turning point in how we see the treatment of exotic animals. Instead of risking harm to environments, people, and these animals, perhaps we should just leave them in their natural homes, and be content to watch the adorable wallabies bounce on our TV screens.