10 Legal Exotic Pets That Pose No Threat to Public Safety
Are Exotic Pets Dangerous?
The public, and animal rights groups in particular, always seem to have such a negative impression of more unique animals being kept as pets. "You own that?" "How can you have that as a pet?" "That's dangerous!" "It must be wrong for the animal!" And the ever-so-popular and ideology-driven claim: "That animal belongs in the wild!" Well, all animals certainly come from the wild, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be happy (or happier) in domesticity.
The existence of these animals should, at minimum, call into question blanket bans of exotic pets on the pretense of public safety. The goal of this article is to illustrate how pet ownership is being decided upon by the speculative and highly unsubstantiated emotions and ideologies of people who also have no interest in keeping these pets and possessing no empathy with this personal freedom, or those seeking to restrict pet ownership as a whole because of animal rights agendas, thus infringing on the freedom of choice and lifestyle pursuits of others. For more information on this, scroll down past the list.
A reminder: This article is not a care sheet, nor do I endorse any of these animals as pets. I do support open-mindedness, and I oppose pet bans. Always do your research before inquiring about any animal.
1. Fennec Foxes
Keeping a small desert fox in a home environment may sound as though this small mammal may be a fish out of water. However, fennec foxes are actually one of the most popular exotic mammals. This is because they thrive with the proper owner, being one of the easier exotic animals to manage.
Unlike other foxes, these animals make good house pets. Many use a litter box with varying levels of consistency, and the droppings are dry since this desert dweller conserves water efficiently.
Fennec fox care may be comparable to that of a high-maintenance ferret. A reasonable enclosure for this small mammal should be, at minimum, a multi-level ferret enclosure such as a Ferret Nation. In small enclosures, fennecs should be let out to play daily.
They weigh as much as a chihuahua and are harmless. Bat-eared foxes are similar animals that are not privately-owned in high numbers.
2. Tamanduas and Two-Toed Sloths
I include this unique animal only to show how an animal being "wild" and exotic certainly doesn’t mean it has to possess the danger of a Bengal tiger. Not all animals are ready to pounce on your next door neighbor or bat its paws at moving cars.
How many people would feel threatened by a two-toed sloth? This is an animal that an infant can probably out-crawl. Sloths are high-maintenance pets, and there’s a lot of misinformation floating around about them.
Currently, their captive-bred populations are small, and they are (thankfully) unpopular as pets. To properly accommodate them, they should have a large room or an aviary with sizable branches and ropes to climb on. But with the right owner, the animal’s welfare needs can be met.
Is a sloth or anteater (tamandua) dangerous? Well, look at them. Sloths do possess teeth, and in the worst case scenario, a person holding one can sustain an injury. As far as these animals escaping and running rampant, causing problems for other people, it's impossible.
Video: A Pet Sloth Climbing a Tree (Enzo the Pet Sloth)
3. Bennett's Wallabies
Unlike kangaroos, wallabies are simply too small to be any possible threat or nuisance to anyone. So why should they be banned anywhere? Wallabies are mostly outdoor pets, and should be kept in a sufficient pen with available shelter.
Owners can seal a connection with these marsupials early on by carrying them in a makeshift pouch sling in their early adolescence. After this criterion is met, wallabies thrive in domestic settings. Outside of ideologies, no valid reason exists to ban these animals as pets.
4. Muntjac Deer
Similar to pot-bellied pigs, muntjac deer are kept by some as house pets, and they are unique to their larger counterparts. Muntjac deer reach the size of a large house cat, and are reported by their owners to be extremely affectionate.
If you realized that your neighbor was keeping a pet deer indoors, that might sound bizarre and destined to be a problem. However, aside from the owners needing to deal with the excessive chewing habit this species is prone to, they are wonderfully enriching pets that thrive with the proper human’s care.
Video: Bambi Our Muntjac Deer
5. Spotted Genets
I can personally attest to the harmlessness of this supposedly intimidating-looking exotic pet. An episode of the show Wild Justice on the National Geographic channel will call them a "wild African exotic mammal."
To me, they are a high energy, arboreal, and nocturnal "cat-ferret." They combine many qualities of different animals, as well as possessing a few of their own, and make a very rewarding pet for the right owners who can tolerate them.
Owners who like to snuggle and hold their pets for extended periods may want to turn owning a genet down—they just aren’t mentally built for it. Genets are very skittish and hate to be restrained by humans, and the last thing any person needs to worry about is their neighbor’s genet attacking them. Scratch marks can be expected for the owner who will interact with their pet genet (mine have significantly decreased since my genet’s babyhood).
I have also gotten some angry nips and the occasional bite due to food protection, fear, and simple playing, but I have survived these superficial wounds. My genet is extremely hesitant to leave my room, let alone the house, not that I would allow that to happen. If he did escape, my biggest fear would be his death, not him "sneaking into someone’s doggie door and messing with someone" (as was literally stated by the Wild Justice episode). Every genet owner knows that is preposterous.
Video: Exotic Pet Spotted Genet Standing Like a Person
6. African Servals, Savanah Cats, and Other Small to Medium-Sized Felines
As the most "intimidating" animal on this list, servals deserve a spot on this list. Why? Not because they make excellent pets for average pet-keeping people (they require demanding husbandry and caging requirements), but because they are so sadly often lumped into the same category as tigers, lions, and leopards, which results in their unfair banning.
This type of ban has recently occurred in Ohio, because when people think of a wild feline, they generally think of big cats.
While servals may have an intimidating size, most of their height comes from the length of their legs. They have a build similar to a cheetah (which, despite being a big cat, is also not so dangerous to people), and hunt much smaller prey.
A pet serval is not even likely to stalk a child if, by worst-case scenario, it broke free from its owner’s home. In fact, from what I can find, servals have been responsible for no human fatalities or even any significant injury in the US.
I can assure any person that they would rather spend an hour in a room with an angry serval than 10 minutes with a protective dog on its turf that they don't own.
Other medium-sized felines:
- Bobcats. In this category, bobcats possess the biggest potential to be dangerous because they actually take large prey despite their size. Yet, outside of rabies cases in wild bobcats, there are no reported bobcat attacks (this disease makes some animals highly aggressive) and are actually said to be the easiest of all the medium exotic pet cats.
- Asian leopard cats, ocelots, jungle cats, and Geoffrey cats. Asian leopard cats, ocelots, jungle cats, and Geoffrey cats are also small cats that will not hunt down neighborhood children in the event of an escape. However, they do not make good, easy pets. The owner would need to be willing to create double door entrances to their house, have an outdoor pen for the cat, and deal with excessive scent marking via spraying.
- Savannah cats. Savannah cats are domesticated cats mixed with serval blood. The highest serval percentage (53%) Savannah is an F1, and their prices run from $7,000 to $22,000. F4 generation Savannah cats are similarly tall, and F3 and down are smaller and far more domesticated (more like a regular cat) than wild. They are simply interesting cats with dog-like characteristics. Bans exist for this particular pet due to fear of the unusual. These animals pose no threat to public safety.
7. Bush Babies
Welfare-wise, it's hard to defend having primates as pets. This is because they require dedicated individuals who have the animal smarts to understand their complex needs. The prospective owners should also preferably set them up in colonies so that they can benefit from social enrichment. Either that, or they should have a human owner who can spend significant amounts of time with them.
Unfortunately, many monkeys are purchased on a whim by people who believe they can be treated like small people. In the end, they have a relatively intelligent but highly instinctive and high energy animal with retained wild characteristics; hence, why primate bans are so quickly brought upon counties and states.
For the previously stated reasons, I’ve never been interested in owning monkeys without garnering the needed experience and financial means, but I think bush babies differ from monkeys, other prosimians and certainly great apes (which don’t belong with any private owner—no exceptions).
Bushbabies should not to be confused with slow lorises, which are not readily available in the United States and for the most part, cannot be kept as a pet ethically.
8. Capybaras and Patagonian Cavies
Many states or counties who exempt rodents from their definition of a wild or exotic’ animal, thinking that this category only covers hamster-sized mammals may be interested in knowing what animals qualify for that definition.
- Capybaras. Capybaras are the world’s largest rodent, clocking in at 150+ pounds. Their size alone would arouse interest from the non-exotic pet experienced crowd. However, if you have a yard with a water source like a pool or deep pond, these massive semi-aquatic rodents can potentially be an enjoyable pet that clearly are of no danger to those uninvolved with this animal’s care.
- Patagonian cavies. Patagonian cavies are smaller, more terrestrial versions of the animals (both are closely related to guinea pigs) who require some room to roam, and are obviously not dangerous as well.
The idea of a large rodent as a house-pet may sound weird to another person, but it truly is a harmless pet that a person should be allowed to keep if that is their desire.
Video: Pet Capybara Gets a Home Vet Visit
Thanks to mundane pop culture worship, kinkajous may have found a way to make a name for themselves among the typical cat and dog owning public. Well, one in particular at least:
Aptly named Baby Luv by owner Paris Hilton, this medium-sized pet proved to be not so suitable for red carpet photo ops. Leave it to naïve celebritiesto give exotic pet owners bad names due to their mishandling. Logic should induce someone to conclude that this normally secretive arboreal mammal (from the raccoon family) wouldn’t appreciate bright lights and unfamiliar scenarios. It is also illegal to own these animals in California, along with every other non-dog or cat.
Exotic pet ownership requires some remnants of common sense and 'animal smarts,' and while Ms. Hilton did get "attacked" by the small mammal (bitten more than once), she went to the hospital for a tetanus shot and the bites were described as superficial. There were no life-ruining deformities there, just the overly sensationalizing and predacious media at its finest.
Kinkajous require a spacious cage and need an outlet for their energy at night. Consistent handling will make them wonderful pets for true exotic animal lovers, and they are relatively popular in terms of exotic mammals. Coatimundis and ringtail cats are also closely related exotic pets that are similar. Those who aren’t their owners really have no business minding if someone brings one home.
Video: Kinkajou as Pets
10. Boa Constrictors
All reptiles are undomesticated and considered to be exotic pets. Yet, most of them are essentially harmless; however, the words "boa constrictor" may send chills down the typical snake-o-phobe’s spine.
Somehow, this animal has received a reputation as being hazardous to the same level of the two larger species that are responsible for the most deaths: the Burmese python and the reticulated python (death rates from these animals, however, are still quite low.)
It may be of interest to some people that previous to 2010, boa constrictors, despite immense popularity as pets in the reptile trade, were responsible for zero recorded human fatalities in the US. Nor am I aware of any incidences in other countries, but the US is a more than sufficient sample size.
There are many miserable people who feel as though keepers of these constrictors deserve to die, but any snake owner knows that their chances of dying driving on the highway to pick up their pet's dinner is extravagantly higher.
Fatalities Caused by Boa Constrictors
In 2010 a pet, 9-foot boa constrictor strangled its owner while he was showing it to a friend.
Therefore apparently, this species has caused one death. However, one could only imagine the stupidity and unfairness that would result if we decided to ban everything that has caused a single death.
We’d essentially have to ban our existence. More importantly, this Hub is addressing public safety, and an attack against the owner of the animal is not considered to be an attack against a member of the uninvolved public. So not only are boa constrictor incidences pathetically rare (as are incidences with the larger snakes which have actually killed people with a regular occurrence), but they are even less likely to occur toward a person who is not involved with the care of the animal.
Therefore, outside of baseless fear, discomfort with a neighbor owning these animals is unjustified and senseless.
A Closing Note: Why Exotic Pets Don't Threaten Public Safety
The words "exotic pet" frightens many, but little do many people know that when they support exotic pet bans, they may be empowering bans for their own pets, such as ferrets, sugar gliders and select rodents that they don't consider to be exotics (not to mention breed-specific legislation of domesticated animals). The word exotic has never been synonymous with the words "large and dangerous," but of course, this is its main association. Animal rights groups are not ignorant to the word--they just tend to keep quiet on their anti-position toward more common and less overtly threatening animals such as hedgehogs, sugar gliders, reptiles, and others so they can gain this group's support to take the big guys down first. There are, however, many articles that indicate their disgust with keeping even small pets like these.
A common tactic by anti-captive animal organizations (such as The Humane Society of the United States or the Animal Legal Defense Fund), is to ever so subtly, throw all so-called exotic animals into the same category when these groups speak to legislators. In other words, if a chimp mauls their owner, a fennec fox is also responsible for it. If a human contracts monkey pox from a pet Gambian pouched rat, you should fear disease from any other animal that isn’t domesticated even though domesticated animals are capable of zoonotic transfer as well.
Can domesticated animals harbor potential pathogens or cause deaths? Absolutely, and often domesticated animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs, and livestock are included within assessments of ‘exotic pet zoonosis.’ Rarely are there ever incidents like these from animals that are often banned without question such as wild felines, canines, and other largely uncommon pets. Each animal species present unique risks--this just applies to all animals in general regardless of ‘domestication’ and popularity.
Therefore, when I say that the animals on this list--which are all not legal in some states--are "not a threat to public safety," I’m not suggesting that they pose zero threat to individuals like a stuffed animal does, or that a person should leave small children alone with these animals and fall asleep in the adjacent room, but that they pose the same threat, or far less, than a typical dog or cat.
Animals of any respectable size have teeth and can cause minor injury. This should be distinguished from a severe injury (all are equated when an exotic pet is the perpetrator), but even incidences of this occurring toward people who aren’t directly involved with the animal are rare or have never occurred.
The legislative goals that animal rights groups are calling for imposing bans on entire groups of animals without exception under the guise that they are all dangerous, even though some clearly aren’t. They know this, but their true goal is to eliminate ownership of animals to support their ideologies. The discussion of exotic pet ownership then becomes a battle of which side can effectively exploit the ignorance of non-animal oriented legislators.
Additional Related Links
Which exotic pets on this list would you realistically like to own?
© 2013 Melissa A Smith