Wild and Dangerous (Lies): The (Misrepresented) World of Exotic Pets

We're actually not all idiots.
We're actually not all idiots.

Earlier this year in January, completely unbeknownst to me, my spotted genet ‘Fuffy’ made his television debut in an episode of the Canadian documentary series called Doc Zone, Wild and Dangerous: The World of Exotic Pets directed by Jason Young.

This episode caused a stir in the exotic animal advocacy Facebook groups (one featured exotic pet owner had to demand that they remove fake roaring sounds from the clip of her lion shown in the advertisements), but the show’s website made the episode inaccessible to Americans so most of us, including the featured guests, couldn’t see it…until now.

By pure chance after the episode had left my memory, I stumbled upon another upload of the documentary and I was dumbfounded, to say the least, to see the lazy ignorance it presented and the unauthorized use of my and others Youtube footage of our pets, juxtaposed with nasty accusations toward exotic pet owners, essentially suggesting we are too dense to realize we shouldn’t have our animals and that they shouldn’t live with us, by an incomprehensibly challenged PhD.

By far, the biggest crime of ‘Wild and Dangerous’ is the fact that it is masquerading as a ‘balanced’ documentary.

Operating with a premise that pegs exotic pet owners as naïve, foolish, egoists desperate for 'status', the narrative essentially poses the loaded question, what drives these people to do something so dangerous and unethical?

A write up on the doc states:

“We get the deep emotional bonds we form with cats and dogs, but what’s going on with people who choose exotic and often risky animals as pets? Do exotic and dangerous animals offer a unique emotional connection? Something we can’t get from other humans or traditional pets?”

I have some better questions. Why are “traditional” pets the only acceptable pets to have? Why is every non-dog and cat animal presumed to be “risky”? Why does the writer feel that only two species can offer a “deep emotional bond” and why does everyone need to keep a pet for this vaguely-described purpose?

True private big cat owners are rare.
True private big cat owners are rare.

These questions will never be answered. You can expect a similar ludicrous approach to the subject of exotic pet ownership in Young’s failure of a documentary.

It offers little insight and intelligence, but a lot of berating by so-called ‘experts’ that mindlessly parrot (no pun intended) what they’ve learned about unique pets from (probably) the Humane Society of the United States and similar organizations. Everything said is ridiculously and easily refutable by anyone with a 3rd grade education.

This documentary is just one among many false media reports; a by-product of a cultural delusion against the ‘strange and unusual’ when it pertains to animals. The same reason there are idiots that kill every snake they see.

What is the first thing wrong with this documentary?

The title! Before the show even airs, it presents nonsense. It’s not that I can blame the show’s creators for failing to make logical conclusions as many do, but exotic pets are not ‘wild’, and they certainly aren’t all dangerous.

None of the featured exotic pet stories show any wild animals, but they do show non-domesticated animals that have been raised in captivity. Many people refer to them as ‘wild’ because their behaviors are unique to cats and dogs, but as I’ve written about extensively, this deduction makes little sense.

Many exotic pets certainly are dangerous to interact with, but the documentary repeatedly acknowledges the existence of non-dangerous exotic pets—parrots, my spotted genet, tarantulas, tamanduas, hedgehogs, ect. The keeping of the animals shown presents equivalent or significantly less danger than horseback riding.

Many are also less dangerous than a Japanese tosa, the dog breed that Young owns, which are deemed dangerous and are illegal in many countries including the UK. Only the big cats can be considered more dangerous than other typical hobbies, and only if they are interacted with.

LIES

The 20,000 tiger claim has been debunked, yet it continues to make rounds.
The 20,000 tiger claim has been debunked, yet it continues to make rounds.

Also, the episode is ostensibly covering the topic of ‘the exotic pet trade in Canada’, but many of the images and video (including mine) are not in Canada.

John Lussmyer, the featured cougar owner, lives in Greenbank, Washington, and Zuzana Kukol, owner of numerous large carnivores, lives in Pahrump, Nevada. Their failure to find even one big cat owner in Canada to feature reveals an immense hole in the documentary’s constant insinuation that the large and ‘dangerous’ exotic pets are typically owned.

In actuality, most big cat owners possess USDA licenses, and true private owners are extremely rare. In addition, it is overwhelmingly illegal in most states without a permit, and if not in the state, in most counties of that state. This is also true of Canada. The bans of larger carnivores often drag down with them smaller, non-dangerous species, all thanks to public sentiment powered by uneducated documentaries like these.

This ad is for a zebra. Nice try.

Big cats are rarely offered for sale to non-licensed individuals. The doc makers couldn't even find a legit ad for a lion.
Big cats are rarely offered for sale to non-licensed individuals. The doc makers couldn't even find a legit ad for a lion.

Balanced? What a joke.

While no exotic pet owner would believe this, an article states:

“So when making his documentary Wild & Dangerous: The World of Exotic Pets, airing on CBC TV’s Doc Zone on Thursday at 9 p.m., filmmaker Jason Young strove to present a balanced portrait and to create a bit of debate.”

When a documentary begins with the narrator (Ann-Marie MacDonald) declaring “zoologists, vets, animal control experts, everyone says it’s a bad idea!” You know the filmmakers have their minds made up.

As exotic pet ownership is already unpopular to begin with, I wonder why the media has the need to repeatedly declare opposition to the subject with the same failed arguments as though they are providing an educative experience for viewers. Controversial topics like recreational marijuana, movements to legalize prostitution, and pushers of dubious medical treatments are often treated with more diligent respect.

The Two Big Mouths

In our ‘balanced’ documentary, exotic pet owners are continuously hammered upon by these two know-nothings; Dr. Beth Daily, professor and ‘pioneer’ of a new field called anthrozoology, and Dr. Ron Orenstein, an author and ‘conservationist’ who possesses a PhD in ornithology.

Both spout off spiteful comments throughout; our editor makes sure they get to dominate most of the speaking time. Orenstein, an avid bird watcher, declares that watching birds in captivity is nothing like doing so in the wild, and the documentary aids this statement, snarkingly, by showing a clip of wild birds forging and caged birds standing still.

We’re not stupid.

We know caged birds and wild birds are different, but there is still a ton one can learn from animals that live with people. On the other side, you can only catch quick glimpses of wild birds before they soar away with ease. Captive exotic animals still express plenty of natural behaviors. And believe it or not, they stand still in the wild as well, perhaps less often when an ornithologist is stalking them.

Oh Ha HA! Very Clever!

“They’re NOT. GOOD. PETS. If it’s a dangerous animal, you are doing something of the equaivalant of keeping a hand grenade in your closet and hoping your neighbors don’t mind”

Oh seriously, shut up. Who knows what Orenstein was refering to when he said this? But our “balanced” documentary keeps piling on garbage like this whenever an exotic pet owner speaks.

Daily’s ignorance is evident during the showing of my clip—she actually speaks of hedgehogs, tigers, and monkeys in the same sentence, suggesting we are deluded in thinking we are taking “wonderful care” of our animals, and that “some animals should not be domesticated”.

WHY?

Why should some animals, particularly African pygmy hedgehogs (which are hybrids and are technically domesticated already), not be ‘domesticated’? I would love her to give me one decent, non-laughable reason. These speakers seem to think that once dogs, cats, and guinea pigs were domesticated, we should stop there; everything else is off limits. WHY? No one knows. People just don't think.

This is the same woman that is supposed to be teaching her students to “think critically”.

Slow lorises are NOT in the North American pet trade.
Slow lorises are NOT in the North American pet trade.

No Clarity about the Illegal Wildlife Trade

Yasmin Nakhuda, the original owner of Darwin the ‘Ikea monkey’ before his custody was granted to a greedy sanctuary, should be very offended that the documentary basically suggested she obtained her animal from the illegal wildlife trade, and it is always emphasized that the trade is a BILLION dollar industry behind DRUGS and GUNS and HUMAN TRAFFICKING , again and again, as though they are hoping we will be seen as criminals, traveling to 'hoods', standing by a corner and waiting for someone to make the 'drop' of our new pets.

Many fail to understand that the vast majority of exotic pets are captive bred (except for marine fish and invertebrates), and this is especially true of mammals.

Animals like Darwin do not “often” come from the illegal wildlife trade—just like your dog or cat, they are born in captivity, often by other private owners and even zoos. In fact, zoos often get their animals from private owners! Like these two hyenas, now living at the AZA-accredited Denver Zoo, that hail from the same facility I am buying a new pet from!

The documentary proceeded to show alarming photos of animals like chimps, tiger cubs, and cheetahs in small cages, and this has no basis in reality for the pet trade in North America. Even an aye aye is shown. The reason evades me.

Slow lorises are also not impacted by the North American pet trade. Have you ever seen a slow loris in an American household? No? I wonder why? The famous viral video with the loris being scratched takes place in Eastern Europe. The documentary does not inform the viewer of any of this. It constantly implies that large mammals are routinely smuggled, even showing two miniature horses in a crate, which I’m pretty sure are not exotic animals.

The Public Safety Risk Lie

"Aside from conservation, aside from animal welfare, aside from all the kinds of issues that get me going, one of the biggest concerns that I think people everywhere should have about exotic pets is public safety".

Orenstein rails on.

Two little boys were killed by a python. So what? It was a shocking, horrendous, heart-breaking tragedy.

What else is new?

Tragedies occur all the time. At the time of this writing, seven people died in another train accident close to where I live. Whether or not this was due to negligence, it is an isolated incident.

It doesn’t mean that trains are dangerous. Even cars, the most common mode of transportation of which people perish, are not considered dangerous. So why, WHY do we have to get beat over the head with these rare tragedies like the CT Chimp mauling and the Zanesville, Ohio shootings? Young, with his ‘dangerous’ dog breed, should know this better than anyone. Please, let’s stop this nonsense. It defies logic. There IS. No. Public. Safety. Threat. With. Exotic. Animals. As I have repeatedly shown.

Invasive Species!

No one cares about conservation enough to make free-roaming pet cats and TnR programs illegal, so as far as I’m concerned, case closed. Conservation is only an issue when the invasive species aren’t cuddly traditional pets, and I’m deathly tired of the ‘argument’ that some exotic pets are released or have escaped into the wild when we have movements to protect feral animals that damage the ecosystem like wild horses.

Arbitrary conservation is not conservation, and I would love for people to come down to Earth and give it a real try. But until then…

What’s the line between wild and domesticated?

My favorite subject. What is the line? Domestication is entirely arbitrary.

There does exist a ‘domestication phenotype’, responsible for some similarities among domesticated species such as floppy ears and neotenic features, but most people think any tame-ish animal that is common in captivity is domesticated.

While the domestication process can make animals more simple for humans to manage in captivity, it doesn’t REMOVE their instincts. They are still animals, just more convenient for humans to live with or farm.

Some so-called wild animals do not need to be domesticated, they are suitable for captivity just the way they are! Cockatiels are a good example. As long as they are reared by humans (and this goes for cats as well) they are not ‘wild’ and will be relatively tame.

Seriously? Seriously?

Young stated that production on his documentary “opened my eyes to negative issues around exotic pets and it worries me”. Well of course he's worried, he's peddling the same myths that I've debunked in a recent article.

Between talking to 'experts', one of which was duped into buying a pet "wolf" that's actually a malamute, taking in lie after lie, how could he not boo hiss exotic pet owners? As well as everyone else. This is what we have to deal with. This is the REAL world of exotic pets. Baseless attacks to our lifestyle with garbage claims.

But Mr. Fuff Fuff was on TV, COOL!!

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Comments 20 comments

Larry Fields profile image

Larry Fields 18 months ago from Northern California

Hi Melissa,

I 'm on safe ground, saying that it's important to do one's homework, before getting a pet -- a common pet or an unusual pet. You owe it to your animal companion.

I like dogs, especially big dogs. (Yappy, ankle-biting Chihuahuas suck.) However I'm not prepared to take on the responsibilities of dog ownership at the moment. In the past, I borrowed my neighbor's family's Border Collie mix to accompany me on Northern Sierra day hikes. Gurr (yes, that's really his name) and I really enjoyed each other's company.

Many years ago, I saw a couple of pet ferrets in the home of an acquaintance. I can see why some people enjoy ferret antics. Unfortunately, pet ferrets are illegal here in the Peoples Republic of California. And I do not have a clue as to why this is so. To adapt an old saying from a well-know political and educational organization:

When ferrets are outlawed, only outlaws will have ferrets!


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 18 months ago from New York Author

Ferrets are illegal because of the unsubstantiated belief that they can establish wild populations, despite this not happening in adjacent states, or from the numerous illegally kept ferrets that reside in CA. Cats continue to roam free and mutilate billions of wild animals. When you don't want a dog or a cat, rights are a rare luxury.


B M Gunn profile image

B M Gunn 18 months ago from A Place Outside Of Time And Space...Somehow...

I hate it when documentaries about exotic pets say that they are going to be neutral, and then blind you with so called "facts" about why they shouldn't be kept in captivity. This sounds like a stupid documentary. I'm even more ashamed that this documentary was made in the same country I live in.

I noticed you said that you would be acquiring an animal from the same facility the hyenas come from. I'm guessing this is kapi'yva exotics they're talking about. Just out of curiosity, what animals are you getting? They have lots of rare ones, rarely found in the pet trade. In the future, I may be importing a fossa from them.

Anyway, good hub!


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 18 months ago from New York Author

B M Gunn -- Chacoan mara. I'm also interested in the Asian palm civet. Do you have a license or would the fossa just be a pet?


Sabine 18 months ago

Just for your info : horses are indigenous to America . They evolved here and the genetic research clearly shows that Equus lambei was biologically the same as the modern Equus caballus . As to the supposed damage they cause , that is from cattle , which are truly non indigenous and indeed very damaging but ranchers blame the horses to get rid off them . Read the papers of Craig Downer, a wildlife bioligist , about this .

Otherwise I agree with most of what you say . As a keeper and rehabber of reptiles , I am very aware of these arguments .


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 18 months ago from New York Author

I'm very glad you enjoyed my article, but I do not concur with those theories that go against the consensus. As far as I know, those horses descended from domesticated animals that originated from Europe, designed for riding purposes. There's no getting past that fact. I'm sure dogs and cats are genetically very close to their ancestors as they are all technically sub-species, but I would vehemently object to any re-introduction program of African wild cats with domesticated stock. We can see by the enormous phenotype variation that dogs have from wolves, yet little genetic differences, that there's more to the story of relatedness.

The original North American horses appear to have gone extinct by very natural means (if natural is defined as anything that is not powered by human modernization), so they should not be 'replaced' and any present horses are there as feral invasives.

I guess technically people can do whatever they want, they've already messed up a lot of the 'natural' swing of things, but it bugs me that the 'cutest' or most culturally adored animals receive this specialized attention. I believe the horses AND the cows should be removed.


B M Gunn profile image

B M Gunn 18 months ago from A Place Outside Of Time And Space...Somehow...

The fossa would just be a pet. You don't need a license in Canada.


Frida Nyberg profile image

Frida Nyberg 18 months ago from Sweden

Wow, I'm very glad someone other than me did a take on this "fakumentary" (did I just invent that word?)

I could not stand any more than 15 minutes of this drivel. I'm someone who's sat through Blackfish four times, can watch The Tiger Next Door with just some eyerolling, and watched Fatal Attractions for fun.

But this stuff just gave me brain-bleeds.

This is what I managed, but it's angry writing: http://exotic-exotics.tumblr.com/wilddangerous

And I wonder... does this guy and the Blackfish-crew know each other?

Because they have EXACTLY the same approach to two rather similar topics. Pretending to be a documentary, while having already made up their mind (and sure have made up YOUR mind for you!), shows people with no authority on what they're talking about, uses lies and sensationalism to force their opinion on you, and... they steal footage.

Blackfish stole footage from YouTube, and it seems these people have too. Not just yours, but from at least one other owner (and I'm sure there's more).


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 18 months ago from New York Author

Wow really? I didn't find it much worse than Blackfish. Clearly ignorance was the main reason it was the way it was. No one seems to be open to the idea that exotic pet ownership might not be bad, they approach it from the hysteria angle each time.


ManNewt 18 months ago

I think the "documentary" intentionaly showed the tegu tryng to wriggle out of its owner's arms


Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 18 months ago from Northeast Ohio

Melissa, this was another powerful hub from you, concerning on the lies and misconceptions on dangerous animals. I feel your pain, since I'm all for animal rights. Voted up!


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 18 months ago from New York Author

Thank you Kirsten.


B M Gunn profile image

B M Gunn 18 months ago from A Place Outside Of Time And Space...Somehow...

Kristen Howe, I think that you may have misunderstood the article…


Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 18 months ago from Northeast Ohio

BM, I don't think I have misunderstood it. She told us how she felt about the misrepresented world of exotic pets.


B M Gunn profile image

B M Gunn 18 months ago from A Place Outside Of Time And Space...Somehow...

Sorry, it's just that in your comment, you called exotic animals "dangerous" and said that you're "all for animals rights". Not trying to be rude or anything, its just that your choice of words made it seem as though you're anti-exotic pet.


Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 18 months ago from Northeast Ohio

Well, I'm not anti-exotic pet, since exotic pets can be dangerous, whether it's snake or a spider, etc. That's what I meant. No worries.


B M Gunn profile image

B M Gunn 18 months ago from A Place Outside Of Time And Space...Somehow...

OK, sorry for the confusion.


Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 18 months ago from Northeast Ohio

No problem BM. I'm glad we've gotten that clarified and cleared up.


Lotta Loocrona, Sweden 5 months ago

Why?

Wild animals are not pets, many of them are predators.

All wild animals belongs to Mother Earth - so simple!


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 5 months ago from New York Author

Lotta Loocrona: All animals were once 'wild' so I guess no animals are pets. There is nothing simple about what you said, it's actually just stupid.

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