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Why Owning An Exotic Pet Isn’t As Cool As It Seems

Want to own an exotic pet? You might want to rethink that idea.

In 1969, two young men named John and Ace adopted a lion cub named Christian, and raised him in England for about a year before he was rehabilitated into the wild at the Kora National Reserve in Kenya.

The men reunited with the lion the next year; the joyful greeting from their feline friend was documented and (in more recent years) watched on Youtube where it quickly went viral.

Thanks to the hugging lion and other anomalies, it’s no wonder anyone would covet a big cat as a friend or pet. But most exotic creatures, like big cats, are legal or safe to own. Though wild animals like Christian belong in the wild, many are kept legally despite the threat tight captivity can pose to the animals, their owners, and the public.

Here are some exotic animals that can and are kept as pets, and why it’s not always the best idea, regardless of the law.

1. Pythons and Boas

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Gif from Annabelle Hector via Tumblr. 

If you think there is no better companion than a slithering, scaly, legless reptile, you’ll be pleased to know boa constrictors and pythons are legal to own with a permit, and are bred in captivity specifically to be bought and sold in the pet trade.

According to the Long Island Herpetological Society, boas average 4 to 5 feet in length as adults, but are usually excellent captives. Certain pythons can reach three times that length.

These slippery creatures require very careful handling, as they are expert escape artists. Multiple cases have been reported of big snakes on the loose: the latest report by the Captive Wild Animal Campaign (CWAC) in 2009 lists 31 known incidents in the U.S. involving constrictor snakes.

An escaped snake can be dangerous: recently in Canada, a 14-foot python escaped a pet store owner’s apartment through the wall, and proceeded to strangle two young boys, the Guardian reports.

2. Tigers and Big Cats


Gif from A New Realm via Tumblr. 

As in the case of Christian the lion, cubs are cute and relatively tameable, but do much better in the wild, especially as they reach their full size. Surprisingly, most American states do not require licenses for such pets.

The nonprofit organization Big Cat Rescue cites the CWAC’s findings that about 7,000 tigers are kept as pets by Americans. The number including all other big cats could be as high as 20,000.

According to a report on big cat incidents by the Humane Society, between 1990 and 2012 more than 300 dangerous incidents in 44 states have occurred, resulting in twenty deaths, and scores more adults and children mauled.

Keeping big cats as pets is harmful to these animals, who often are kept in small cages. It also poses a threat to public safety.

3. Monkeys and Apes

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Gif from Head Like An Orange via Tumblr.

Many people are drawn to monkeys and apes for their resemblance to humans, sometimes even using them as child surrogates.

Primates of all types can be purchased through private breeders, so long as the breeder is licensed by the USDA, according to The Primate Store’s website. But monkeys are not legal in all U.S. states, according to PetMonkeyInfo.org. Laws vary by state.

There are an estimated 15,000 primates kept as pets in the U.S. Even so, monkeys can be dangerous to humans after reaching sexual maturity, the Humane Society says. They report that over 275 people have been injured by captive primates in 43 states since 1990.

Extreme examples include a death from a Herpes B infection contracted from a monkey in 1997, and a woman whose face was mauled by a friend’s chimpanzee in 2009, resulting in the need for a complete facial transplant.

Originally published on November 13, 2013. 

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