Exotic Pets and the Exotic Pet Trade

I am the owner of exotic pets, and I plan on obtaining more. Why? Because there is something inherently special about being able to touch the wild while contributing to animal conservation. Captive breeding of exotic species does great work in continuing species that might not be able to be maintained in the wild, and exotic animal ownership has proven to improve private captive breeding programs.

There are laws that regulate and govern the captive breeding and sale of exotic animals as pets, however, and there are more laws being proposed all the time which will further regulate the breeding and trade of these animals. Large snakes become difficult to handle as they grow and are often discarded, disrupting native wildlife. Exotic mammals, released into the wild, can wreak havoc on the environment. Non-native birds cannot survive and adapt in local climates. And this says nothing of the larger exotic mammal species and the dangers of ownership.

If, like me, you're interested in exotic animal ownership, please read on.

Reptiles as Pets

Reptiles are one kind of exotic pet that is extraordinarily common. Most commercial pet stores carry several species of reptile, and some of them even carry animals such as the Burmese Python pictured to the right and even Caimans (a form of crocodilian). On occasion even baby alligators can be found at exotic pet shows!

Around the United States reptiles and invertibrates are popular exotic pets, and many of the animals seen sold en masse at shows are wild caught or captive born. This means that not only is the purchaser bringing home an animal that is (and always will be) wild, but one which was brought in from the outside environment and which also may be diseased or have health issues that cannot be controlled as is possible with controlled captive breeding of these animals.

However, regardless of whether or not these animals are wild caught, captive born or captive bred, reptiles remain wild animals. These animals cannot be "tamed" and will very likely at some point bite. Some species are able to cause more damage than others. Large reptiles are potentially incredibly dangerous, but hobbyists continue to collect these animals.

There is currently no licensing legislation in most states regarding the keeping of large reptiles. There have been proposals due to the frequency of abuse cases and the fact that in many cases these non-indigenous animals are released into the local environment and are very destructive to the habitat.

Potential keepers should be very aware of the decisions they are making with regard to their choice of pet. Please see my reptile hubs listed below for more information.

Wolves are becoming more and more common as pets in the United States.
Wolves are becoming more and more common as pets in the United States.

Wolves as Pets

Wolves are becoming more and more common as pets, whether hybrid or pure wolf cubs being sold or given away as pets. They make fascinating, if often difficult to train, animals even in captivity and may be the forerunner of our domestic dogs (research appears to be indicating otherwise, however!).

There is no question that wolves are wild animals. A wolf is not going to "evolve" into a dog simply because it is the first generation that has been bred and born in captivity. While these animals can be tamed to a certain degree, they do remain wild animals and keepers must guard themselves in their ownership.

To the best of my knowledge at the time of writing, there is little legislation controlling the keeping of wolves as pets. If you choose to keep a wolf as a pet, please make yourself as aware as possible of the behavior of wolves in captivity and ensure that you have a good support network of other keepers and breeders!

This behavior is normal in "pet" wolves!

Tigers are wild animals and do not usually make good pets!
Tigers are wild animals and do not usually make good pets!
Big cats belong in the wild.
Big cats belong in the wild.

Cat Person? Wild Cats in Captivity

Many "cat people" are fascinated by the big cats, and even some of their smaller cousins like ocelots (featured in the video to the right) and cougars. These are beautiful animals who often closely resemble their captive relatives. History tells us that cheetahs were once domesticated as hunting animals and you may know the history of how the cat was brought into our human lives in Ancient Egypt.

But what about modern times. Do people own big cats as pets today?

YES!

While big cat ownership is certainly not recommended (for anyone), it is happening, even here in the United States. There is a trade in big cats and there are big cat rescue organizations.

It is noteworthy that there are very many irresponsible owners of exotic animals (including big cats), but that there are also many wonderful, loving and responsible people who often pick up the slack for those who have made poor choices for their animals and for themselves.These individuals own the big cat rescues and are responsible for caring for many different species of animals. They are worth a look and possibly a donation if you have the time and the resources to do so.

I have had the pleasure of talking once or twice with big cat rescuers or owners, and those I have known are wonderful and I greatly appreciate them! The resources below will point you in the right direction to check their websites and get to know more about them and their work.

This is what can happen when you own a wild animal as a pet! These bites are from a pet monkey!
This is what can happen when you own a wild animal as a pet! These bites are from a pet monkey!

Things to Consider

Some points to consider regarding owning a wild animal as a pet:

  • Wild animals are, by their nature, wild. However much you may want them to be, they cannot be tamed. You will always be dealing with a loose cannon and must be willing to take the risks associated with owning a large and potentially aggressive animal. Most species of wild animals are dangerous.
  • Wild animals usually require a large amount of space to keep. Wolves and big cats, for example, will need a large outdoor area where they can "be themselves:" the animals they were born to be.
  • Wild animals are often very expensive to keep. The exception may be some of the smaller reptiles. However, please learn about your potential pet's diet before making a purchase. As an example, we are considering another burmese python (we rehomed our original two when we moved into non-permanent housing two years ago). These animals at their full size can eat animals as large as a goat.
  • Wild animals often require a specialized diet. Big cats, for example, are obligate carnivores and should only have meat in their diet, preferably raw. Wolves are omnivores which require fruits and vegetables as well as meat in their diets.
  • Your pet won't be happy in a cage. Consider the welfare of the animal. Does it deserve to be kept in a cage throughout its entire life?

Elsa was a beautiful exception to the rule about wild animals as pets!
Elsa was a beautiful exception to the rule about wild animals as pets!

The Born Free Trailer

What about that Lion? There was that Movie Once...

You might be thinking right now of the story of Elsa, the lioness portrayed in the book and subsequent movie Born Free. The woman's name was Joy Adamson, and yes, she rescued and raised a lion cub.

The lioness's name was Elsa, and ultimately the Adamsons (who lived in Africa) released her into the wild. The movie and the book touched my heart deeply when I was a child and also captured my imagination. What would it be like to have a lion as a pet?

The Adamsons knew what was true and what was important: Elsa was a lion, and she needed to be a part of a pride of lions. She needed to be living free and wild, where she belonged. However much they loved her and however much she was an addition to their family, in the end they had to let her go.

Joy Adamson did the difficult thing: She let go of something she loved because she loved it. If you truly love the animals you would like to keep as a pet, it might be best that you not keep them as a pet. There is some justification in animals that are born in captivity and which cannot be released into the wild (such as Burmese Pythons). However, to take a wild-caught animal into your home does both you and the animal a disservice.

I highly recommend watching Born Free if you have not yet seen it. Even better, the book is written by Joy Adamson herself and is a first hand account of what it was to live with Elsa.

Reader Poll About Exotic Pets

Would you consider an exotic pet?

  • Yes, a small mammal that is easy to care for
  • Yes, a small reptile such as a leopard gecko or small snake
  • Yes, a large reptile such as a Monitor, Crocodilian or giant snake
  • Yes, a primate
  • Yes, a wolf
  • Yes, a big cat
  • Yes to all of the above
  • No, never! Are you crazy?
  • No, it just isn't for me.
  • Maybe. I need to do more research.
See results without voting

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Comments 9 comments

GeneriqueMedia profile image

GeneriqueMedia 7 years ago from Earth

I've always wanted a racoon...but they're smart and have five fingers, and having pet rats, I know how useful those fingers can be.

Damn lighter stealers! ;D

G|M

P.S.

When I worked at a PetSmart one customer showed me pics of him and his panther. Him and some of his friends went spelunking, but were soon attacked from within a cave. They had to shoot the panther, but after traveling deeper they found out they had just made a litter of panther cubs orphans.

They each took one, his was the only one to survive well in captivity. He said that he loved it to death, and it loved him, but the law took it another way. The other thing he didn't like is that it would always open up his back porch sliding door, but never bothered to close it! ;D


Everyday Miracles profile image

Everyday Miracles 7 years ago from Indiana, USA Author

I've seen pet panthers and heard that with proper handling, they don't make bad pets. But you do need a license!


debnet@poddys.com 7 years ago

That wolf howling would drive me mad! Super job on this Becki... but I think I'll stick to dogs LOL!


Alexander Mark profile image

Alexander Mark 6 years ago from beautiful, rainy, green Portland, Oregon

Well put together hub, hit many important aspects covering exotic animal ownership. I love the howling of wolves. I have to agree with the sentiment that if you truly love such an animal, you will want the best for it. I had a neighbor with wolves in a cage. I loved to hear them howl at night, and their eyes drew me in - they were wild, but it was so sad to see them in a cage, it didn't make sense.

Thanks for the hub!


AARON99 6 years ago

An excellent hub really. Good job. Keep writing.


Alyssia Alexandria 5 years ago

Owning Exotic pets is dumb! Dummer are articles that sugar coat ownership ( only the dumb have lions tigers and bears as pets )! Watch Elephant in the Living Room - the documentary about exotic pet ownership - DUMB. Why is it that we are 1. so PC that we do not tell on or boycott cultures that keep exotics in cages " to purchase and eat".

The untaxed ( mostly unseen ) Exotic trade is booming and the internet has helped reinforce how Tiger ownership "is not that bad". The US battle for animal welfare is still in its infancy - many domestic animals and children DIE as a result of people who want to go " exotic" exotic = foreign = caution and = wild. Owning an "exotic" animal is not smart. Ask the people of the state of Ohio!


Anonymous 4 years ago

your second link about Joy Adamson didn't work


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 4 years ago from New York

Glad that this article isn't one-sided and thoughtless like the post of 'Alyssia Alexandria'.


juju 3 years ago

I love tiger, and i wanna buy tiger, can you give a guidance for buy a tiger.

i need to get tiger ownership and license get from government. so, please give a guidance...

Thanks... & Regards

Juju

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