Familiar Companion Animals
Dogs, cats, guinea pigs, goldfish. Everyone knows that domesticated pets can dramatically enhance people’s lives. Pets become members of the family, and learning to care for a companion animal is a great way to foster a sense of respect and responsibility in a young person. A pet can also bring joy and companionship to people later in life.
The Trouble with Exotic Pets
What about pythons, iguanas, monkeys and macaws? Well, that’s a different story: These and other exotic pets are not good ideas and can bring unexpected trouble — especially if you are unfamiliar with an animal’s life history, behaviors and its medical needs. Here are a few examples:
An adorable baby python might draw your attention to be a pet, but when these pythons grow quite large and outgrow their enclosures, they can be difficult to handle and even pose a threat to people and other animals. For many reasons, zoos are not in the business of accepting reptiles that have worn out their welcome in the homes of exotic pet owners. As a result, people often release big non-native snakes into the wild.
Released Burmese pythons have created a potentially dangerous and expensive problem for the state of Florida. Reaching a length of 20 feet, this Asian native has dramatically increased its numbers in the Everglades. Florida habitat is well suited for pythons and now considered an invasive species, Burmese pythons eat food that native species depend on as well as Florida’s native animals themselves, including endangered species such as key deer and the Key Largo wood rat.
Some people who own green iguanas are surprised when the little lizard they received as a gift grows and grows and grows. When lizards become a big maintenance problem, or sadly, an inconvenience, some people release them. As a result, South Florida, where this species can thrive in the sub-tropical climate (except during especially cold winters), is an invasive species. Releasing a “pet problem” iguana can lead to a whole new set of problems:
• Setting a pet iguana free into an unfamiliar wild environment is cruel and inhumane. The animal can find itself hungry, stressed and disoriented in a not-so-iguana-friendly suburban/urban landscape, where cats and dogs roam.
• Hungry neglected iguanas dig up gardens and devour garden plants, fruits and vegetables.
• Iguanas defecate in swimming pools. These lizards have been known to carry Salmonella bacteria.
Note: Small, isolated populations of what may be native green iguanas have been documented in the Florida Keys since the 1950s. But this population was observed long before the problem of released pet-iguanas surfaced. That is, the isolated native Keys green iguanas have played part of South Florida’s current iguana population explosion.
Scarlet macaws and several other macaw species come with a particularly annoying set of challenges for pet owners:
• Macaws can be very, very noisy.
• They are social animals.
• They require very specific foods.
• They are messy and therefore their cages require frequent cleaning.
• They need a lot of attention from their owners or they may scream and pluck out their feathers.
• At some point, they will most likely require specific avian (bird) veterinary treatment, which can be expensive.
• Because macaws can live up to or past 50 years, owners need to be prepared for a lifetime of devoted pet care. It’s never safe to assume that someone will care for bird if you are unable or unwilling to do so.
• Caution: Some macaws are victims of the illegal pet trade and many die in transport.
Ever dreamed of owning a pet monkey? If so, you should know the following:
It is common for captive monkeys to display the following behaviors:
- Severe biting and scratching
- Throwing tantrums
- Urinating in multiple directions
- Tossing feces
- They require a specific balanced diet and can be very picky eaters.
- They live for 20 to 30 years. So even if you manage to bond with your monkey, do not assume that it will ever adjust to another caretaker.
- Legal ownership may require county, state and even federal permits.