5 Irrefutable Arguments That Support Exotic Pet Ownership

1. If you support keeping pet birds, reptiles, or cats as indoor pets, you already support exotic pet ownership

Many people believe that exotic animals have not adapted to be pets. Well, the truth is that no animal has!

There is little or no difference between subjecting a domesticated pet or an ‘exotic’ pet to captivity. The quality of the captive situation varies as does the species being subjected to it.

It is often the case that those who oppose exotic pet keeping on the grounds that they are ‘unsuitable for captivity’ do not logically consider the welfare of traditional pets, applying their same logic. Domesticated cats are probably the most popular animal kept as pets on Earth, and at least within the USA, it is a common practice to keep cats exclusively as house pets, which is a practice (intelligently), promoted and recommended by many vets, animal rescues, and animal rights organizations for the safety of the cat as well as outdoor wildlife.

But no cat is ‘built’ to live inside a house.

"Many behavioral and physical disorders that are seen in cats are often secondary to stress from lack of appropriate stimulation"

AFFP Position Statement


These misconceptions arise due to the domestication myth—a notion that makes people believe that domesticated animals are biologically or mentally suited for living in a modern indoor household while that could never be acceptable for a 'wild' animal (although not all exotics are kept inside).

In actuality the same conflicts that exist for exotic pets also exist for domesticated animals.

In fact, considering their extreme popularity, it can be argued that domesticated animals may be worse off. Domesticated animals are over bred and many are an invasive species. Just like wild animals, pet birds (an exotic pet that sometimes may not be considered as such), hamsters, and indoor cats require, and unfortunately often do not receive, a mentally stimulating environment, socialization relevant to their species, and an outlet for their energy.

A true wildcat

The wild relatives of domesticated cats aren't tigers and lions, This is a wildcat, and not much has changed.
The wild relatives of domesticated cats aren't tigers and lions, This is a wildcat, and not much has changed. | Source

It is not realistic to assume that all cat keepers are aware of the commitment involved that should be carried out with all pets in captivity—in fact most people view cats as 'easy care' pets that don't require much attention from the owner. Many indoor cats have behavioral problems, weight gain, and neurosis as a result...which is not unlike what occurs with inadequately cared for exotic pets or zoo animals.

Therefore, people who approve of pet cats (or dogs, small reptiles, ferrets, ect.) being kept as pets cannot declare any moral superiority over people who keep exotic pets, because both 'trades' have the same exact conflicts. The severity of the problem may vary in extent (i.e. a monkey may have more significant problems in captivity than a tabby), but a ‘lesser evil’ is still an evil.

Note: There are those who believe that cats should never be kept exclusively indoors (a dominant belief in some places like the UK), a belief in favor of encouraging a destructive invasive species (another conflict associated with the exotic pet trade), unnecessary killing native wildlife, and spread of disease to wildlife and humans via fecal contamination.


2. Keeping exotic pets is selfish? So what! Keeping any pet is selfish.

Selfishness is inherent to every organism.

In fact, it is humans that have invented the concept of selfishness and have set criteria for attempting to avoid the poorly viewed attribute while no other animal has. Lack of excellence in selflessness leads many people to believe humans are the scum of the Earth, despite no other animal even taking a monk-like lifestyle into consideration.

Humans consume.

We build large, resource-consuming homes that we don’t need on top of the homes of hundreds of other animals. We then continue to build more of these structures for frivolous pleasures: nail salons, restaurants, Build-a-bear workshops—you name it—a resource-consuming structure will be built for it.

And then to top it all off, we keep millions of human-engineered carnivores that must subsist on the deaths of other animals…but if I pick an uncommon pet, all of the sudden I am viewed as extra selfish. I think my selfishness level does not exceed that of most modern people.


Some people like to claim that keeping exotic pets will save them in the wild but I think that’s untrue in most cases, so I apologize for that on their behalf even if they don’t agree with me. The reason people may be saying this is to salvage any possibility that their beloved animals won't nonsensically be made illegal.

Exotic pet owners keep exotic pets for the same reasons that domesticated animal owners keep domesticated pets, which is the hope of a symbiotic relationship with their creature of choice. No one intends to harm animals by keeping them as pets even though this can unintentionally occur. Since that is not our intention, and since it’s perfectly feasible that an exotic pet can thrive in captivity, the act of keeping pets is not immoral. Exotic pets may also have the advantage of receiving individualized attention unlike many zoo animals.


3. Exotic pets do not harm the environment any more than domesticated pets

Most exotic pets do not pose a threat to the environment and those that do don't have as severe of a footprint as many domesticated pets.

Keeping in mind that lack of being more damaging than another type of animal is not by any means meant to be taken as an attempt to make light of the negative environmental impact that some of our pet-keeping decisions are responsible for, the most popular pets in America that are recommended as moral alternatives to exotic pets are indeed the most damaging to the ecosystem. And not just in the United States, but worldwide (think feral dogs, cats, pigeons, swine). The garden plant trade is also equally damaging.

It is rather astounding that owners of bonafide invasive species would become enraged that some exotic pets have also become invasive. The Burmese python is the most popular animal that people complain about; however despite the severity of the nuisance, its presence is restricted to one region in Florida (they cannot survive in most states).


The domesticated cat is established in all 50 states, and there is a powerful lobby to not only stop cat removal for the protection of wildlife, but currently owned pet cats are routinely released to add to the devastation of invasive feral cats which include excessive small animal predation, diseases spread by feces to wildlife, and adding to the number of animals that motorists have to swerve past to avoid emotional upset.

It is becoming crystal clear that many things humans do as mere hobbies and pleasure have negative impacts for our world, but laws seem to be made only when people are wrongfully intimidated by something. Exotic pets are singled out due to lack of cultural acceptance only. Also keep in mind that there are no mammals from the exotic pet trade that are currently invasive in U.S.

Petting baby servals
Petting baby servals | Source

4. Any animal of a certain size can bite

How many times have you heard of an animal, let’s say an exotic cat or monkey, biting someone in the news?

Generally the first reaction a typical person has is “of course! What do you expect from a wild animal like that!?”

But dogs and cats bite too. A lot. It is estimated that 4.5 million dog bites occur in the U.S. each year (!) with insurance companies paying more than $1 billion in dog-bite claims annually.

And I’m not one of those people who say ‘Chihuahuas bite more than pit bulls!’—failing to realize that a pit bull bite is far more severe than a little dog’s. Not only do domesticated animals hurt people, but they kill too.

Animals don’t even need to attack to hurt or kill. Horses, cows, and other large herbivores have caused deaths because of their sheer mass alone, and countless injuries that would never make the major news unless a celebrity was the victim.

Why do people tend to overlook this strikingly obvious fact about the nature of all pets?


Some say that the difference between 'wild' pets and domesticated pets is that the former are inherently dangerous. This is partially true, it is far more dangerous to be locked in a cage with any tiger picked at random compared to a random canine.

But generally, humans are intelligent enough to treat each species accordingly with the present danger. Tigers will not be kept in living rooms and dart out the front door when the owner leaves. In fact, despite the vivid imagination of law makers, no ‘pet’ big cat has escaped and attacked a member of the "uninvolved" public (people who aren't the owner, or voluntarily visiting the animal) in the U.S.

Despite the small number of bad scenarios involving exotics, people still hold exotic pet owners, as a whole, 100% responsible for every incident individual owners cause, but dog owners are never blamed for attacks and fatalities caused by other dog owners (this means that there would have to be zero exotic pet-related incidences in order to ease people’s fears, and sometimes even that isn’t enough!).


So basically, the logic being exercised here is that since domesticated animals are not supposed to bite or kill humans, their consistently occurring attacks and even fatalities are not relevant, and only reflect on the individual. If a 3 year old is attacked and killed by their parent’s dog who has ‘never shown any aggression before’, the child is somehow less dead than if killed by a wolfdog.

Despite expectations, will unforeseen deaths by domesticated pets ever end? Of course not. But these animals still maintain more acceptance as pets than exotic pets like small wild cats that have no human fatalities on record. The presence of wild-looking spots still unnerves most people more than rowdy dogs kept loosely confined in backyards. While not all dogs are attackers, you don’t know which ones are, and that alone heightens the danger.

People who seek to resolve the perceived public safety threat of exotic pets are hardly saving many human lives by proposing bans. If preserving the safety of the public is the ultimate goal, efforts would be better spent addressing large domesticated animals, which are a bigger threat due to how they are traditionally kept. As for occupational or personal risk, high-risk extreme sports are similar to situations where people choose to interact with dangerous animals.


5. Bans only eliminate problems by eliminating animals

It’s true, there are problems with the exotic pet trade, and I’ll never hesitate to admit this. There are also problems with the trade of all animals. From rats, to dogs, to goldfish, to cats, despite how easy it might seem to care for these animals, there are people who will acquire them and will cause them to have a poor quality of life and/or premature death (since domesticated pets are, by their nature, hardier animals, it might take death longer to occur than for some exotics. This does not mean they have sufficient well-being). Banning the ownership and breeding of these animals will solve these problems! But is that the right thing to do?


Where should we draw the line with what is in need of being eliminated to provide an instant resolution to the bad stuff associated with it? If you hate that people keep exotic pets, it’s easy to be optimistic about them being forced into extinction. I would certainly enjoy a law that would prohibit people’s attempts to ban my pets and lifestyle, but I know that wouldn’t be ethical. People have the right to free speech and to push their laws, but I wish they would consider the unfairness of targeting exotic pet owners. I’m sure there are exotic pet owners out there whose care and expertise could appeal to even the most diehard anti-captivity advocate, and since they exist, the right to keep alternative pets is worth protecting.

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Comments 60 comments

Unknown 2 years ago

Excellent and enlightened post. It really annoys me when I hear those who keep domestic animals say that exotic pets "get depressed" and "psychotic" in captivity. I've tried to raise points like those posted to them, but they don't even listen. I've even had one person start acting completely childish, by pretending I didn't even exist. And they say exotic owners act irrationally.

Ann1Az2 profile image

Ann1Az2 2 years ago from Orange, Texas

You make very good points and I agree with you. My only stipulation on owning any animal, domesticated or exotic is that the owner has the proper means to support it, time to spend with it, and makes the animal as comfortable as possible. To me, this means that someone with a large dog needs to have a big yard with a fence and that person needs to walk the dog every day and spend time with it. People who have dogs that tie them up, leave them outside and never spend any time with them don't need to have them.

I knew a man one time that had a spider monkey for a pet. I found it to be kind of nasty but this little monkey sat on this guy's shoulder all the time and you could tell they had a loving relationship with each other.

Common sense should play a role when people choose a pet, but sometimes, people don't have any common sense and it's always the animal that pays for our stupidity.

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Thanks Ann1Az2 and the unknown guest. I'd be interested in who you're arguing with. Yes Ann, all animals can be cared for wrongly yet this seems to not get through the heads of most people who judge exotic pets with higher scrutiny.

Unknown 2 years ago

I was arguing with these PETA teens who put up this whole booth about PETA. I was going to just walk by them and leave them alone, but I heard them say " DID YOU KNOW THAT 70 PERCENT OF ALL MONKEYS IN CAPTIVITY KILL OR ATTACK PEOPLE???????". This blatant lie they just spread about they exotic pet trade just made me have to say something. PS, my name up there is "unknown" because a while back when I started commenting, hub pages said I needed a username. I was too lazy to come up with anything so I just entered that and I've stuck with it ever since.

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Oh wow that's horrendous. Monkeys may attack but none kill people and barely have the capacity to, how absurd. Not even chimps have killed a person yet. You should use your first name so that I can recognize you.

Wensleydale 2 years ago

I have a lovebird, he is a terror. If he were any bigger...In fact he is worse when it comes to biting than most of the dogs I know. He is also an escape artist who likes to tear important papers to ribbons. But we got an escape proof cage and now he is livid but otherwise manageable. Lots of "exotic" animals make very good pets, I am looking to get a spotted salamander (captive bred) at some point. I do think that you should need to have a license to keep some animals though (chimps, actually I don't think chimps make good pets at all, big cats, large reptiles, etc) and I think it should take some effort to get these licenses.

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Chimps are a no-no, specialized situations only. Big reptiles aren't as hard to care for as they seem, and big cats are doable if you are very well off.

Breck123 2 years ago

HEADS UP. Formally " unknown" I have changed my username. Not exactly creative, but I guess its better than " unknown".

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author


grand old lady profile image

grand old lady 2 years ago from Philippines

Interesting and thought provoking article. I have dogs, but have also had cats, a duck, rabbits, guinea pigs, and love birds. Don't know if any or all of these qualify as exotic. I must say, however, that it was hard to relate to the guinea pigs and the duck.

Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 2 years ago from Wales

A brilliant hub complete with wonderful photos. Your obvious hard work has certainly paid off here and I vote up plus share.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Thanks Eiddwen and grand old lady. Lovebirds can be considered exotics, but they are extensively bred in captivity.

bethperry profile image

bethperry 2 years ago from Tennesee

Very interesting and much to consider here. I have mixed feelings about the subject; I love my exotic finches but I never forget that domesticated pigs brought to North America were allowed to graze as they will and ended up devastating the crops of many of our native ancestors.

I enjoyed the read, thanks for posting.

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Thanks bethperry

Deborah Sexton 2 years ago

This is a very dangerous hobby..exotic animals. It also shifts our eco system when these animals get out or are released into the wild. Florida has many snakes that don't belong in Florida..way over 100,000, which were let go or escaped during hurricane Andrew then reproduced. These snakes are eating all the other animals and it will have far reaching changes, not just on/in Florida, but the world.

If someone wants to die at the hands of an exotic animal, that is their business

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Deborah, did you READ this article? I addressed every point you made, hence the title.

1.) Not all exotic pets are anymore 'dangerous' than domesticated animals, and the ones that are measure up to the risk of other dangerous hobbies and professions. They are rarely a public safety concern (except for chimps).

2.) All pets pose the exact same threat to the environment. Many people over-exaggerate the risk of exotic pets becoming established in the US, particularly regarding exotic mammals, where none are a threat at this time. The snakes cannot live in areas outside of Florida. If you think these animals are impacting any other areas, you are just wrong.

But you're right about one thing, it IS our business if we want to heighten our risk of dying by an exotic by keep them as pets.

Deborah Sexton 2 years ago

You said Quote "All pets pose the exact same threat to the environment" End Quote

This simply is not true. Those which are native to America are not a threat to the environment, they are an asset. Nature has in place, the animals that work for nature. People have put animals here that will destroy that working system.

And is it Okay for those in Florida to be attacked by these ever growing species ? Excluding insects and other arthropods, 192 exotic animal species have established themselves in Florida as of 2009 . Since they are not native to Florida, they all pose a threat.

It may be everyone's business if they want to risk dying, but not if they put others at risk

Deborah Sexton 2 years ago

Blue tilapia have spread throughout Florida, in both freshwater and brackish environments, and have established a presence in Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park. They create large nest craters in shallow waters about 2 feet (0.61 m) wide, visibly altering native plant communities and impeding the spawning of native fishes. Sources Lodge, p. 244. Simberloff, et al. p. 343. Oreochromis aureus, U.S. Geological Survey (March 25, 2009). Retrieved on February 6, 2010.

Suckermouth catfishes are efficient aquarium cleaners that eat benthic algae and weeds. They prefer slow-moving water, canals, lakes, and ponds. In the wild, they can grow considerably larger than their aquarium counterparts and create large burrows into canal and lake beds, which compromise the integrity of shorelines. Their browsing on algae and weeds competes with much smaller native fishes, and birds that attempt to eat them can be harmed by the spiny dorsal fins; 20 strangled brown pelicans were found to have attempted to swallow suckermouth catfishes whole. Sources Nonnative: Suckermouth Catfishes, Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission. Retrieved on February 5, 2010. Pterygoplichthys multiradiatus (Hancock 1828), U.S. Geological Survey (March 21, 2006). Retrieved on February 5, 2010. Hoover, Jan Jeffrey; Killgore, K. Jack; Cofrancesco, Alfred F. (February 2004). Suckermouth Catfishes: Threats to Aquatic Ecosystems of the United States?, Aquatic Nuisance Species Research Program Bulletin, 4 (1), p. 1–13.

Asiatic clams have been in North America for decades, but only recently in South Florida—specifically in Lake Okeechobee. They can reproduce very rapidly and live successfully in low-quality water. Large beds of clams can displace food and nesting sources for native aquatic animals, and their leftover shells can accumulate on lake and river floors. Black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus) feed on Chironomidae that are unable to burrow and establish their own populations due to overabundance of Asiatic clams. The clams furthermore proliferate around water control devices, canal locks, pipes, mesh dividers, and other man-made structures that release water through South Florida. Sources Simberloff, et al, pp. 104–105. Havens, Karl; Rosen, Barry Lake Okeechobee Conceptual Model, South Florida Water Management District. Retrieved on February 4, 2010.

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Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Deborah that is simply not correct. Even native animals can become 'invasive' when human encroachment gives them an ecological advantage, water canals are altered due to human modification, ect. BUT no domesticated animals are "native to America". By definition, NO domesticated animals are native to anywhere. So are you arguing against exotic pets or pets in general? Because native animals are actually considered exotic pets (i.e, pet racoons, ring-tailed cats, squirrels). My article, which I'm certain you did not read, specifically states that I'm not making light of the ecological impact of exotic pets. There is a link in my article that lists my objective research of all established exotic animal species coming from the exotic pet trade (including arthropods). Exotic species come from MANY other sources, not just the pet trade. And not all are established. So where did you obtain your 192 figure from and does it address the pet trade only?

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Deborah, the Asiatic clam and blue tilapia were NOT INTRODUCED FROM THE PET TRADE. Please do your research properly. And read my site. Once again, I have a list of exotics introduced from the pet trade. On another note, since you are bringing up examples of invasive fish, are you in support of banning the aquarium industry?

Deborah Sexton 2 years ago

I cited three places where I took he info about the blue tilapia. Do you know more than them ?

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author


Deborah Sexton 2 years ago

Again, I took the info about blue tilapia from written government sources.

Do you know more than they do ?

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

I'm sorry I don't understand what that has to do with anything. This article is about exotic pet ownership and unless you are also against the live food market, it's not relevant to this topic.

"Means of Introduction: This species has been introduced through a combination of means, including stocking and experimental work by states and private companies (e.g., the electric power industry), and release by individuals seeking to use the species as a sport fish, as forage for warmwater predatory fish, as a food source, and as a means of aquatic plant control. Introductions and spread have resulted by way of escapes or releases from aquaculture facilities and experimental control areas, and from various other holding sites (e.g., zoological parks); through aquarium and bait bucket releases; and by intentional transport by anglers and private individuals (Courtenay and Hensley 1979a; Lee et al. 1980 et seq.; Courtenay et al. 1984, 1986; Muoneke 1988; Courtenay and Williams 1992)."

Vvitta profile image

Vvitta 2 years ago from Petaling Jaya, Malaysia

The ideas are good but when we look at the issue from the point of the animal, things take a different turn. I believe that pets must not be caged and be allowed the freedom of movement. It must be comfortable and allowed to meet 'humans' if it wants too and both parties must feel safe.

My cats are in the house, outside the house, friends with the neighbours and sleep wherever they want to. i don't know if a pet snake will have as much freedom.

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Vvitta, I also look at the point of view of the animal...what about the animals your pets are slaughtering? Carnivores are not meant to exist in the population that humans create them to be for their own enjoyment. Nature is tough enough for animals without luxury pets going on killing sprees. If pets shouldn't be confined then they also shouldn't exist.

Deborah Sexton 2 years ago

I was talking about exotic animals, reptiles, and fish.

The blue tilapia are native to Northern and Western Africa, and the Middle East, so they are exotic. Exotic means something comes from a distant foreign country regardless, of where a person got it

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Alright, we're not getting anywhere with this conversation.

Breck123 2 years ago

I think what Melissa was trying to say was that the blue tilapia was not introduced to the ecosystem by the pet trade. If you say that you have government sources, please show us them.

Deborah Sexton 2 years ago

I understand what Melissa is saying however I was talking about the impact exotic animals have on our eco system. I never mentioned the pet trade

What difference does it make how they are obtained ?

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

The difference is that your are proving my point. Why is the exotic pet trade singled out when it is far from the only offender, and critics of the exotic pet trade benefit from activities that ALSO contribute to invasive exotic species, including domesticated animal keeping.

DevilsAdvocate 2 years ago

As my username suggests, I'm playing devils advocate here, because there's no such thing as an "irrefutable" argument.

Your first 2"arguments" don't really support exotic pet ownership - you're just claiming that "normal" pet owners do bad things, too. This doesn't really further the cause of exotic ownership, it just points out the problems with non-exotic pets. And if pet ownership is inherently "selfish" and "unnatural", as you suggest, then why are you so in favor of it? Do two "wrongs" make a right?

Argument 3 is pretty good, but we can't say with certainty that NO exotic pet has EVER harmed the environment. For example, there have been instances, although rare, where privately owned tigers and lions, some of which could have been former "pets", were slaughtered so that their parts could be sold on the black market. There is evidence suggesting that this encourages poaching of wild animals. And it's estimated that 80-90% of macaques (even "pet trade" individuals) carry the Herpes B virus, which is fatal to humans. You won't see such a high rate of zoonotic diseases in domestics (for example, domestic felines are only about 30% likely to carry toxoplasmosis, and that isn't even a fatal disease most of the time) . Yes, domestic cats have a huge impact on the environment, but that's not what the argument's about. We're talking about exotics.

4. "Any animal can bite". This is a statement, not an argument. And while 4.7 million dog bites occur each year, there are anywhere from 70-80 million dogs in the country, meaning there's only a 5.8% chance of you being bitten by a dog. And out of those attacks, only 1 out of 147,717 attacks is likely to be fatal. We don't have exact data for exotic pets, but an aggressive macaque, tiger, or bear is going to have a much higher likelihood of killing someone than a traditional "domestic" animal would. And your claims that "no ‘pet’ big cat has escaped and attacked a member of the public" is patently false. In 2005, a lion and tiger owned by a mechanic in Minnesota bolted from their cage and pounced on a 10-year-old boy, leaving him a quadriplegic and on a respirator due to the severe injuries to his spinal cord and brain. A pet jaguar in Belize escaped in 2010 and killed the neighbor of the owner. In Mexico City, a 500-pound lion escaped from a local lawmaker’s private zoo and attacked a woman and child. And in Oregon, an escaped pet lynx was shot after it pounced on a six-year-old girl and began clawing her head. Smaller cats don't seem to have caused any recorded fatalities, but they've come very, very close: A 7-year-old boy was reportedly bitten “bone-deep” on the neck by a 40-pound declawed African serval, and a 2-year-old was mauled by a "pet" bobcat, which chewed off his right index finger and heel, and left a severe bite wound to his right cheek. This is ultimately why your analogy to extreme sports fails - if something goes wrong during a skydive, the only one who will bear the consequences are the skydiver and his family, who presumably understand the risks involved. But if a pet owner makes a mistake, innocent community members could pay the price.

5. "There are exotic pet owners out there whose care and expertise could appeal to even the most diehard anti-captivity advocate, and since they exist, the right to keep alternative pets is worth protecting."

If this is the case, then you should have no problem with more restrictive laws (often referred to as "bans") which would make it impossible for all but the very best owners to own exotics. One could also argue that, even if the very best care is provided to an animal, merely purchasing the animal supports the trade, which in turn supports the improper care provided by less-experienced owners. Is it ethical to support 10 "good owners" if you're also supporting 50 "bad" ones?

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

DevilsAdvocate-- Since the keeping of certain animals like dogs and cats enjoys near universal acceptance by all but the most radical and estranged animal rights followers, my goal is to not discuss the ethics of keeping pets in general, but to challenge the notion that keeping a dog is ethical and keeping an exotic pet is not.

Whether it is a dog, cat, flamingo, genet, or wallaby, they are all pets that fall under the same ethical quandary. The only thing that needs to be addressed is whether or not the species fares well in captivity, and I'm certain that there's just as much 'evidence' for most exotic pet species as there are for indoor-only domesticated felines and possibly even dogs, despite their extreme willingness to live with us. Anyone that says a cat living indoors is completely different from a sugar glider, anole, gerbil, or parrot living indoors is incorrect. Many exotics are also cared for in relation to their species-specific needs, so some exotics have outdoor access or live exclusively outside.

I find it to be irrefutable that no one can really know which animal is better off.

I thought it was made clear that while I acknowledge that pet keeping is and always has been selfish, that any human other than monks following extreme ascetic lifestyles will find it completely impossible to become 'unselfish', nor do I think it's fair for any human to torture themselves over this idea and diminish their quality of life. Nor is it right for one person to dictate which levels of selfishness are appropriate, i.e., the production of domesticated animals is ethical and keeping natural state animals is not.

"For example, there have been instances, although rare, where privately owned tigers and lions, some of which could have been former "pets", were slaughtered so that their parts could be sold on the black market."

Considering that this is "rare", I find it to be unreasonable to cite this as a broad impact from the N. American exotic pet trade. What such evidence exists that the 'pet trade' involving captive tigers is a significant reason that people go into jungles and shoot wild tigers? It doesn't seem to make any sense. Some conservationists have actually suggested captive breeding of tigers to offset the shooters. Tigers are pretty easy to breed, and therefore anyone can achieve it. Why would a reputable breeder be responsible for the actions of unscrupulous people who kill their animals to sell to the wildlife parts trade (if that even happened in this country)?

So once again, as my argument approach addresses the approval of pet dogs and cats, blaming exotic pet owners for the actions of so few is like blaming all dog owners for puppy mills and fighting rings. The existence of the animal means that some people will abuse it. That doesn't mean you end the animal's existence.

"And it's estimated that 80-90% of macaques (even "pet trade" individuals) carry the Herpes B virus, which is fatal to humans."

This is not really an environmental issue, and despite this fact, the last time anyone has caught this virus from a macaque was in the 90's. I make mention of that here:

If we can guess that there are at least thousands of pet macaques owned, why hasn't even ONE person caught the virus in the last 15 years? But aside from this, monkeys are one animal. We are talking about exotic pets. What kind of heavily concerning zoonotic diseases do captive born genets, wallabies, servals, sugar gliders, capybara, bobcats, toucans, zebras, coatimundis, and wolves have? I just named a slew of exotic animals that are no more disease-ridden than dogs and cats yet when talking about disease, everyone wants to talk about macaques. They are ONE animal. If anything, this tells us to be concerned about macaques but we have around 100+ other exotics to assess.

Domesticated cats are the biggest threat to the environment by far. Toxoplasmosis is even deadly to some marine mammals. It likely impacts humans. 30% is still MILLIONS of cats. I've never heard of a wild animal catching Herpes B virus from a monkey (there are wild macaque colonies restricted to parts of Florida).

"Any animal can bite". This is a statement, not an argument."

Well that would be true, if that was the only thing I wrote. It's simplistically written for a reason: it is silly for anyone to expect no incidences to occur with any captive animal of a certain size. Leaving alone the subject of inherently dangerous animals like tigers, even harmless exotics like ferrets have been persecuted for the exceptionally rare circumstances where a case emerges with a child injured by one. And ferrets are probably some of the more popular small animals, so numbers are high. Basically, whenever any animal of the exotic description harms anyone, the reaction is that all the animals should be banned. Now as for inherently dangerous animals:

"but an aggressive macaque.."

Without having researched this, I can confidently say that this animal has never killed a person in recent history, other than disease transmission (last occurred in 1997).

"And your claims that "no ‘pet’ big cat has escaped and attacked a member of the public" is patently false."

Maybe I wrote it incorrectly, but I'm only referring to the U.S. as the sample size, and members of the public should have "uninvolved" next to it if I didn't write that.

As in, if the member of the public is on the property of the exotic animal voluntarily (or in the case of children, brought there, so the guardian assumes the risk) than it's not a matter of public safety. When I think PS, I want to know; is an animal going to attack me or my child while we're minding our own business, assuming no risk, as countless dogs have done (just as in the recent viral video where a cat "defends" the little boy)

The tiger mauling occurred because the boy and his father were visiting the big cat owner, who foolishly went to show the animals to them and opened the cage. Perhaps your lynx example is a situation involving an uninvolved member of the public, but it should be noted that the girl received "no visible injuries".

Now don't think that I find the non-U.S. incidents irrelevant or that I believe that it's IMPOSSIBLE for a cat to escape and harm a member of the public. Should a tiger escape and eat 2 school children tomorrow, my point is that these situations are extremely RARE. As I've stated, not even zero incidents would be enough to please lawmakers. I have little doubt in my mind that exotics have probably caused non-severe incidents (like the lynx) that was simply not reported; again, regardless of the fact that there are millions of dogs so that accounts for their millions of bites, there are still at least thousands of exotic cats.

Doesn't it matter that out of thousands, around one or two animals cause 'problems' for the public annually? Doesn't it matter that members of the uninvolved public are almost never victims? PS is -not- under siege by exotic pets, as statistics show. My extreme sports analogy applies to keeper risk only.

"If this is the case, then you should have no problem with more restrictive laws (often referred to as "bans")"

No, bans do not make exceptions for 'good' owners. In most states, many exotic animals are not allowed to be owned as pets, period. You can have 20 years of expertise, a 10 acre compound, and loads of money. You can't get a license. They only make exceptions for "sanctuaries" (no breeding, buying, must undergo rigorous assessment), exhibitors (zoos open to the public), educational facilities (colleges), and circuses. If you want an animal just to own it, and not to make money, no license.

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

DevilsAdvocate-- I should also point out upon reviewing my words that a lynx is not considered to be a 'big cat' to me or zoologists, so the lynx scenario is also not an example of what I was referring to. Neither are the incidences involving small cats like servals. My only mistake was not putting 'uninvolved' or specifying the U.S., which I will fix.

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Weis on the rocks 2 years ago

Melissa - thank you so much for what you do.

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Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Weis on the rocks-- Thanks

NDsnakes 2 years ago

Melissa, I love your articles and am incredibly grateful for what you write. I only have a few exotic reptiles right now, but would definitely like to expand when I'm older and more financially stable. Exotics, for me, provide a link to the natural world that television shows can never reproduce. Without contact with a variety of wild and domestic animals, I think we, as a nation, would lose our appreciation for animals and the natural world. I do support reasonable regulations on dangerous exotics, but never full-out bans or ridiculous, impossible-to-meet standards.

Sadly, I'm not sure that we're going to win this fight. It's "common knowledge" that exotics make terrible pets, and convincing people otherwise is so, so hard. I do plan on having a small, responsible, licensed zoo after college. I'd like to focus on animals that are already hated or persecuted rather than the camels and zebras that everyone loves, but I'm afraid that, in the ten years it'll take me to get there, nothing will be legal anymore. I hate the mentality of banning everything that isn't accepted by the general population, and think you do a great job of fighting it. Thanks again! Also, what do you keep exactly? Is it just the genet?

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Yes, particularly with the larger or more uncommon exotics, we've already lost the fight in most states and cities. The plan is just to go down fighting, then maybe those of use who are really obsessed can find a way to get licensed for 'educational' reasons. Maybe you can get an exhibitors license, but it won't be easy. I also have snakes, an iguana, and a green aracari.

NDsnakes 2 years ago

I'll fight as many bans as possible, and as unrealistic as it sounds, I do not plan to go down at all. I'd like to move to North Carolina after college, where there are less laws than there are here in Ohio, and eventually get USDA/AZA registered. I just can't bring myself to accept defeat, however inevitable it seems.

I saw in another article that you didn't believe that bears could be properly kept by private owners. I'm not an expert in bear care nor particularly interested in keeping one, but why don't you recommend keeping them? They don't seem any more difficult than big cats.

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

NDsnakes-- AZA doesn't support pet owners, you'd have to agree to their SSPs and they get control of certain animals, I think. You're better off with ZAA accreditation. I'm moving the NC too, and be SURE to find one of the few remaining counties that doesn't have bans. Where I'm going, the county next to my county has bans as bad as California!

Bears need A LOT of room and stimulation to stop them from performing unnerving stereotypies which are, in my opinion, different from the pacing of big cats. I think no one should attempt them unless they have a large enclosure (around at least 2 acres).

Tina 21 months ago

Try telling my very domesticated, indoor by choice cat that she's meant to be wild xD Seriously, if I leave her out on her own for more than 5 minutes, she gets pissed off at me. She's also perfectly happy and healthy because we play with her and take care of her PROPERLY.

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 21 months ago from New York Author

Wild or not your cat would be domesticated Tina. The word has nothing to do with tameness. In the large majority of cases, tameness comes from human socializing. Cats are not tame when they are raised without human influence. A human-socialized tiger has a better disposition than a feral cat, but the feral cat is domesticated and the tiger is not, because that word means a change of genes.

bob 20 months ago

some one needs to tell deb over there to do better research on florida, when they went out and did the great snake hunts they barely found any snakes. but when reading the articles you'd swear you can't take a step wtihout stepping on a sake. look it up, over a thousand people hunting snakes didn't even find a hundred snakes

Tash 20 months ago

As a keeper of 20 snakes, 5 lizards, 8 inverts, a cat and a dog. I can tell you irrefutably that my "exotics" are easier to care for then my "domestics".

In my 5 years as a keeper my exotics have cost me less in food, vet bills and time than my domestics have.

My little 6kg dog and my cat would do far more damaged to me or anyone else if they attacked than any of my exotics.

A couple years ago I compiled a list of statistics from NHS published figures comparing the hospitalization caused by exotics and domestics.

Total treatments between 2003-2012 because:

W54 Bitten or struck by dog : 44850

Treatment needed between 2003-2012 because:

W58 Bitten or struck by crocodile or alligator

W59 Bitten or crushed by other reptiles

X20 Contact with venomous snakes and lizards

X21 Contact with venomous spiders

X22 Contact with scorpions

X24 Contact with centipedes and venomous millipedes (tropical)

Combined total of reptile/inverts (this includes native animals): 1260

So "safe pets" caused over 40,000 treatments to be needed and that's not even including other pets deemed as safe like cats/rats/mice etc and reptiles/inverts, so called "dangerous wild animals", didn't even make it into 2000.

It is also estimated that, due to the fact that many keepers like myself have multiple reptiles and inverts, there are more reptiles and inverts kept as pets in the UK than there are cats and dogs.

Make of that what you will...

Someon des 18 months ago

I don't think there is anything wrong with keeping cats. If the cat doesn't want to live with humans, it doesn't have to - it can always go and live somewhere else. I'd love to be a domestic cat; they don't have to worry about anything.

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 18 months ago from New York Author

Someon des-- A properly cared for cat cannot.

Buildreps profile image

Buildreps 17 months ago from Europe

Congratulations with your HotD! Very nice and well written article. You make good points, and they appear objective and almost irrefutable from a relativistic point of view.

vasantha  T k profile image

vasantha T k 17 months ago from Bangalore

Interesting topic on exotic pets.The exotic pet owners get attention for themselves and for their pets. Voted Up!

John Albu profile image

John Albu 17 months ago from Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87102

I think the problem with exotic pets as opposed to regular ones is that they are more complicated to keep. You need to know more about them, they have special demands and people don't always bother to research about that.

Venkatachari M profile image

Venkatachari M 17 months ago from Hyderabad, India

Very interesting article on exotic pet keeping. It is an exciting topic which is very useful for exotic pet keepers. I learnt new things here.

Voted up and interesting.

Vortrek Grafix profile image

Vortrek Grafix 17 months ago

Nothing is irrefutable. Most issues like this are judgement calls - and that makes them arbitrary relative to opinions and experiences upon which they are founded. That said, I am an animal rights nut, but also a pragmatist. Don't like hunting for sport and would prefer much better gun control. And yet, by and large the wildlife situation in the US national forests is in reasonable shape. Bears, Cougars, Moose, Elk etc. all over the place. Why? The NRA and proper hunting license management\enforcement. So here the "bad guy" to a large extent funds and regulates wildlife and supports a manageable and sustainable strategy.

As for the logic 'if you accept domestic pets, you must accept exotic pets', that logic applies to anything. Take any subject upon which opinions vary. How about sports betting? It's no different from the stock market, or placing a wager with an insurance company. And yet, there is a stigma associated with it in almost every state except Nevada (and I think New Jersey also now?). So why is one opinion acceptable and another is not? It's not democratic I know that much. A lot of it depends on whether there is a sufficiently well financed lobby to change things. There are lots of examples like that ranging from criminal justice issues, to controversy surrounding freedom of speech, artistic expression, personal lifestyles, etc.

One needs to have an open mind to the pros and cons of the big picture putting aside opinions of right and wrong and realizing they are often arbitrary. As for exotic pet trade, if it is done in a responsible way and encourages preservation of wildlife (let's say by breeding exotic pets domestically rather than exploiting threatened populations in the wild), then one needs to consider that such ideas if properly executed can have merit.

aethelthryth profile image

aethelthryth 17 months ago from American Southwest

A carefully-stated, thoughtful article. Good job. I am still amused that the city of Denver outlawed African pygmy hedgehogs because of (so I heard) fears of feral hedgehogs, although midsummer is the only time Denver temperatures are warm enough for the hedgehogs!

Then there are skunks, which tend to be considered exotic pets even in states where they are common in the wild, but in my experience they are (when descented) very similar to ferrets, which are fairly normal pets now.

ArtDiva profile image

ArtDiva 17 months ago from Yountville, CA

An irrefutable fact is the destruction of animal habitat by humankind slowing forcing many animals into extinction. Survival of many animals will depend on the preservation of habitat for the preservation of wildlife, not whether exotic animals socialized and raised as pets; however, it might well be the answer for the survival of many species. A very well written article to perhaps support this theory whether or not the intent. Just my considered opinion.

word55 profile image

word55 17 months ago from Chicago

Very educational and Congrats on HOTD Melissa. You must really love cats. I've lived with cats and dogs in my youth. They can help you pass the time well and give you true love but they can also get bored with you so you'll need to ease up the bothering sometimes. Thanks for the good info provided here. See you around.

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 17 months ago from New York Author

"How about sports betting? It's no different from the stock market"

Maybe this is true, not one of my areas of interest. The stigma against exotic pets is almost completely imagined.

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 17 months ago from New York Author

You are right aethelthryth, thanks.

Michael McKeown 14 months ago

I should like to ask Melissa her opinion of the the hundreds of dolphins and whales held in captivity in dolphinaria in the USA. Quite apart from malpractices by keeper and inadequate facilities in these concrete tanks the effect of captivity ultimately destroys the mental equilibrium and welfare of these highly intelligent and sentient creatures . To me this is indefensible.

Daisy 2 months ago

Thank you for this article. I own a ferret, I believe is a more 'accepted' exotic animal. At least in my community. I have been taking my ferret on walks since I first got him, at first I let just anyone touch him; Kids, parents, local police (That one is a funny story). Anyways, now if kids want to pet him I ask them to ask their parents. I had a woman scream at me she was going to sue me for endangering her child to my 'Filthy Rat'. Because my ferret supposedly has rampant diseases. I did show up to court with my ferret, and thankfully the case was dropped after I explained that my ferret was no filthier than anyone else walking their dog. Luckily the judge had knowledge about ferrets, and accepted my response. I try my best to inform those who approach that they are part of the weasel family and related to polecats and minks. Also that their original practical use was to put them inside pipes to hunt/chase out unwanted mice and rats.

This next part is just a story that has had a significant impact on my memory.

I did almost loose my ferret, when I was younger and ignorant of states having their own pet laws. For my senior trip in high school. (At the time I had a Female ferret name Jezzabell who was 8 years old at the time) And wanted to go on a cross country road trip. So me, two other friends, Jezzy and their dog hit the touristy spots. When we got to California, we entered from a less trafficked road. I was asleep in the passenger seat with Jezzy curled up in my chest.(On her leash with her name tag). I remember being so scared, as they opened the door and reached for her. I wouldn't let her go and I was a crying mess. I told them I didn't know I couldn't bring her and that I we would turn the car around and not enter, but they called the state trooper. The state trooper was older and I'm sure seeing three, barely legal teens, one refusing to let go of the ferret, wasn't what he expected. Because the first thing he did was start laughing. He asked for the ferret, and not wanting to get in too much more trouble I reluctantly handed her over. He held her, and pet her. He said that she was quite beautiful asked me some questions about why I had her, how long, and where I was from. He went to his car, Jezzy just chilling in his hand. Me wishing this would be the one time she would give someone hell but nah she was like 'warm hand'. I returns handing me a paper. Of course I thought ticket. But it was actually a list of counties and cities that ferrets were banned (at the time) with corresponding state. He asked for a picture with her and with us. Of course we did, and then he let us go. My mother called me an hour later to say that the cop had called her saying we were fine but what happened. Needless to say I have never been to California. But I'm happy I got to finish my trip. Jezzy passed 3 years later but I still have a photo of her and the trooper.

whatever 2 months ago

Here's the thing, exotic pet ownership is a multifactorial topic. I don't mind people taking care of abandoned animals etc or maybe an exotic animals somehow decide it likes you and wants to stay... but


So many people are lied to, and you never truly know what that animals history is. The breeder you got your lemur or whatever from will tell you some story about how this animal was saved when in reality it was probably captured and taken away from it's family.

They do similar things to lions and tigers... they'll take the cubs from mom, tell you she wasn't accepted and sell them off. You think you're doing the right thing when in reality you're only promoting the problem

Or maybe they'll let you pet the cubs and play with them... but then what happens when they get bigger... they get replaced with tiny little cubs, which were again taken away from mom. And what happens to those big cats...

If you truly love animals, you'd want them to be able to live in a world where they are free to do as they please.

It's true we've damaged their environments, but our goal should be to fix those environments not make them our pets.

Also the cats/dog thing is not something worth discussing. It was a mistake (or maybe not) for domesticating them long long long ago. At this point it's our job to take care of them. It doesn't mean that we should do it to other animals.

It's all linked, we should have a low tolerance for people with exotic pets, because there will always be some POS out there who wants to capitalize on the exotic animal business, and to those people it doesn't matter how many have to suffer in order to make a living.

whatever 2 months ago

And to add to that, yes i totally want a fennec fox etc etc... but what am i promoting when other people see it and start to think that it's ok to have exotic and wild animals? There are consequences to my actions.

We should remember that there are also a lot of exotic animals in countries with extremely poor protection for animals; and when animals in these nations become a business, the lows and cruelty of humans has no bounds

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