Many people are interested in purchasing and keeping exotic animals for different reasons. A lot of these enthusiasts are responsible owners who enjoy and care for their animals. Others are not.
Reptile enthusiasts have become a bane to some Florida residents, and many Floridians wish that all imported snakes were banned in the state. As a happy hedgehog owner, I can’t say much about supporting any exotic pet ban. What I can say is that it isn’t something to take lightly. Looking at the issue created by python overpopulation in the state of Florida, it’s easy to see why many people are against importing animals into new environments. The best way to combat these negative feelings about exotic pets is to take responsibility in your actions. There is no better way to combat a stereotype than to disprove it with actions.
There are a few things to consider before investing in any exotic pet.
First and foremost, is the animal legal in the area at which you intend to keep it? This is important to consider. If you live, let’s say, in Kansas. You know a friend in California who breeds a particular animal. Sure, he can ship you one. Just because you can get it, however, does not mean it is legal for you to keep it in your city. If an animal is illegal in your area, there is probably a reason. Take for instance the influx of exotic snakes on the island of Guam. Snakes were not native to this region, but were accidentally introduced through air travel. These little stowaways took it upon themselves to eat away at many species of indigenous birds, much to the displeasure of bird lovers everywhere. That being said, take the time to do your research. Make sure your animal isn’t going to negatively impact your environment in any case.
If your animal is legal in the area, the next step is to find an animal that fits your needs, abilities and level of interest. Do not pick an extremely dependent or “long term” animal if you do not have the time or attention span needed to maintain it. If you don’t plan on caring for an animal for the next 20 years or you don’t have the space for a full grown version, don’t get one that is expected to reach that state. This is the big issue with reptiles in the United States. Many people purchase gorgeous pythons or alligators when they fit in fish tanks, thinking that they’re just the most interesting things ever. When they get too big to easily maintain, they often find themselves in the neighbor’s fishpond or fending for themselves in the wild. This type of irresponsible pet ownership is often the reason non-enthusiasts find themselves angry at even responsible pet owners. If you get a pet, it is your responsibility to care for it until your or its life has ended or you find a fitting home for it. (Tossing your gator into the nearest koi pond does not count as finding it a fitting home.) This goes for any animal. If you pick a nocturnal animal, make sure you’re going to be up at night to tend to it as needed. If your animal requires hand feeding, make sure you’ll be as dedicated in hand feeding in year three as you were on day one.
Before you buy, think about why you are interested in purchasing the animal. Did your five-year-old see it on television this morning, and now he just HAS to have one? Pets should never be an impulse buy, especially ones that can have a major impact on your life or habitat. How much thought did you put into this before you started price-comping? Take the time to get to know your animal before you set your mind on buying it, or you might end up with an animal you can’t or don’t want to care for.
The abandonment of animals is a big part of the problem. An animal isn’t necessarily bad for the environment while it’s safely in the confines of a house, but when it escapes or is ditched in the wilds of suburbia, there can be an issue. Not only can the animal find others of its kind, also released, to breed with, but it can also feed on natural wildlife and take food from other consumers. In large quantities, this can lead to major destruction and even extinction. Long lecture short, don’t abandon your pets. If you do find yourself with an animal you can’t care for, take it as a lesson and find it a good home. Contact a reputable breeder or animal care agency that will ensure that the animal finds a good home that doesn’t involve release into an unnatural habitat.
If you’re still interested in getting an exotic pet, you must be pretty dedicated! If you aren’t fully familiar with your intended animal, make sure you do extensive research before your purchase. You might go as far as track down other owners of the same animal and ask them about their experiences, good and bad. Has the experience been good or do they regret the purchase? How easy is it to find food for the animal? What kind of habitat does it require? (Heat lamps, sand, swimming pool, etc.) How long will it live/big will it get? You never know what you’ll find. Also, make sure that there is a veterinarian or specialist in your area that is familiar with the animal. Even if this isn’t an animal that needs regular care, (such as the annual vaccinations that your average cat or dog would require) you never know when you’ll have an emergency that requires extensive medical care.
Now, if you’ve gone through all this and you still want your animal, it probably isn’t just a short term interest. Make sure you find a reputable sales person who has bred and cared for the animal, not just some pet store teenager who doesn’t know a boy rabbit from a girl rabbit. A good breeder will ensure that your pet comes from healthy parents, doesn’t have any juvenile illnesses, and has been cared for appropriately from birth to sale. Make sure you can contact the breeder if you have any medical issues with the animal post-sale.
If you’ve considered all these factors, I hope you enjoy your new friend and best of luck to both of you!