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What Are Exotic Animals? About Exotic Pet Bans

Posted by Donna Fernstrom at 2/6/2012 12:55:34 PM

What is an 'Exotic' pet?

You may have heard in the news recently that there's a lot of legislation in the works aimed at banning or restricting the ownership of exotic pets.  When most people think of exotic pets, the images that come to mind are of folks who have tigers and lions in their living rooms.  Why is that?  Well, opponents of exotic pet ownership WANT you to think of the most extreme animals, and the most irresponsible owners.  They generally don't talk about the smaller exotics that we all take for granted...the ones available in our local pet stores.

You see, for legal purposes, in MOST places, an exotic animal is any animal that is not a common domesticated animal.  In fact, some domesticated animals, such as ferrets, may even be labeled as exotics.  Which animals aren't domesticated?  The list will surprise you.  Exotic also does not usually refer only to non-native species.  Some native non-domesticated animals are also often called 'exotics'.  So, what do organizations like HSUS and PETA, and many legislators, mean when they say 'exotic'?

Of course, non-domesticated big animals such as lions, bears, zebras, and kangaroos are on the list.  So are smaller animals, such as small wildcats, fennec foxes, lemurs, wallabies, and capybara.  That's not the end of it...the list also includes pygmy hedgehogs, prairie dogs, sugar gliders, and in some cases, even hamsters.  Next up are the birds--with the exception of canaries and society finches, all cage birds are considered to be non-domesticated, and thus all may be subject to 'exotic animal' legislation.  Even budgies and cockatiels.   Next up are the reptiles...the media has been telling tales of the dangers of 20 ft long Burmese pythons, and sharp-toothed Nile monitors, but in reality, accidents that result in death from these species are exceptionally rare, and fall into the category of occupational hazards...or, people who are already breaking the law, doing things they simply shouldn't be doing, which isn't something you can legislate away.  Horses are a non-exotic animal with a high rate of occupational hazard--26 people are killed each year, by horses.  Less than 3 by all reptiles combined, including venomous snakes.  No one's been ever been killed by an escaped reptile (the same can't be said of escaped dogs or horses).  ALL reptiles...not just the giant ones...are considered 'exotic animals' in most places.  That means harmless corn snakes and king snakes, green anole lizards and leopard geckos, ball pythons and red-footed tortoises...all common animals in pet stores...are considered 'exotics'.  All amphibians are considered exotics, whether they are tree frogs or bull frogs, salamanders or newts, or axolotils.  All fish, sometimes even goldfish (which are clearly domesticated), are considered eoxtics.  All arachnids and invertebrates kept as pets are considered exotics--tarantulas, scorpions, and millepedes.

What's left?
Domestic rats and mice.
Guinea pigs
Domestic rabbits

Don't think they'll leave it at that, either.  You can easily find legislation aimed at restricting or banning the ownership of certain dog breeds, and limiting the numbers of other animals you may keep.  In some places, if you have more than 4 intact cats or dogs, you're considered a commercial breeder, even if you aren't breeding the animals, or produce just one litter of pure-bred every couple of years.  So, non-exotic pets aren't 'safe', either.

What can you do about this?  Refuse to accept any legislation that seeks to ban any type of animal.  It only takes a moment of thought to realize that the knowledge possessed by 'accredited zoos' is not special, and that animal husbandry isn't rocket science.  Any truly dedicated person can learn how to properly and safely care for any animal.  If they have the funds and the space to do so, why should this not be permitted?  If it's ok for a zoo to do it, why is it not ok for anyone else to do it, in exacty the same way (or better)?  Individuals can make a difference in captive breeding programs, too.  They can promote education and conservation.  Most of all, they can pursue happiness by working with the species they love, and they can do it in such a way that the species benefits from their attention.  Should there be restrictions on the ownership of some animals?  If necessary, yes.  It's true, people shouldn't be keeping bears in their apartments...but if they have proper licensing, and meet safety standards, why not keep bears in a proper enclosure?
Many 'exotics' shouldn't require permits of any kind...they're harmless to the public.  Existing humane laws cover any other issues that might arise from exotics ownership (or pet ownership of any kind).  If an animal is being kept properly, and poses no risk to public safety (that includes all cage birds, all reptiles and amphibians, all fish, and many small mammals), then there is no legitimate reason to require licensing or permitting, either.  If the animal is not being kept properly...enforcement of existing laws is all that is required to deal with the issue.  Additional laws will only require additional funds for enforcement.

If you believe people should retain the right to keep the pets they choose--whether it's a wallaby, a large python, a small cat, or a hamster...then pay attention to what your local lawmakers are up to.  City ordinances and State laws can pass in a flash.  They often do their best to keep them under the radar, to avoid opposition.  When one of them turns up in your area--write in, call in, and fight it.  Even if it's not about any pet you keep...especially if it's not about any pet you keep.  If pet owners don't stand together to protect our rights, we will all individually lose them.  The evidence of that is already clear.

-c. 2012, Donna Fernstrom.  Please distribute freely.  Do not truncate or alter.

 Comments: View Oldest First  

Pope of iHerp and Bread,
Posted At: 2/6/2012 4:12:45 PM  

In DE an exotic is defined as a specie not native to DE. It's the only way I'm able to keep my corn snakes and "eastern" hogs.

Psycho Dragon,
Posted At: 2/6/2012 5:58:21 PM  

BTW: Been meaning to ask you, do you breed hogs or just keep?

Posted At: 2/8/2012 4:01:09 PM  

I like this the only thing I don't have a problem with is native species licensing for the breeding and selling of native species.  It's more to prevent too many animals from being taken out of the wild and honestly I don't mind the $25 a year, if it's ran like that program I wouldn't care.  One thing I don't like is if you keep hots in FL you're required to register with the state and they put your address online for the public to see.  A lot of people don't want it to be public knowledge where they are keeping possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of snakes.  I don't mind the state knowing, but I don't think it should be public knowledge.

Posted At: 2/8/2012 8:01:41 PM  

Great post Donna!  I LOVE LOVE LOVE it!  I do agree with Tiki though that some of the legislation and laws already in place are already overreaching and going too far.  I could possibly see how it would make sense to license venomous reptiles.  But they should not be posting your address online to the public!  That's trouble waiting to happen.  I could see some people finding that list and creating a mob to harass those people, or worse, break into their houses in an attempt to steal the animals - which are probably required to be in locked rooms or locked cages anyhow - and could wind up causing some serious trouble (getting bit themselves even).

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