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What to Say to People Who Are Against Exotic Pet Ownership

Melissa cares for a variety of exotic animals and has completed a certificate in veterinary assisting and a bachelor's degree in biology.

The topic of pets is often an emotional subject for owners.

The topic of pets is often an emotional subject for owners.

Countering Anti-Exotic Pet Ownership

The topic of pets is often an emotional subject for owners. In my experience, when people express disdain and hatred for another person's pet interest, they don't realize the damage they are doing. Most exotic animal owners are as equally committed, emotionally invested, and devoted to the care of their animals as the majority of dog and cat owners. As with any group of people, exceptions exist.

Even if a person doesn't agree with the pet-keeping practices of another, it pays to approach the matter humanistically. Ignorance and arrogance is often a reason why exotic pet detractors are confounded when the exotic pet keeper's reaction to such criticism is less than positive.

Not Everyone Should Have a Pet

Please be advised that this article does not advocate or suggest that any person should pursue adopting any animal that they cannot properly care for, but it does reject the idea that an animal cannot be cared for and be content in captivity simply because it isn't domesticated. This article does not suggest that people take animals out of the wild, nor does it deny that there are conflicts with the existence of the trade. The answers provided here are also not comprehensive.

I also don't wish to mindlessly parrot information from the biases of either side of this controversy. I'm probably more adamant than any anti-pet person on getting animals away from bad owners, both domesticated and not. I hope this user-friendly passage will prompt people to think more deeply about this non-black-and-white subject and to actually assess the facts. The person who said “the truth will set you free” wasn’t puffing smoke.

I have sorted both anti-exotic pet and anti-captive animal sentiments into categories based on their level of intelligence and objective awareness. While naming the first set of assertions “stupid” might sound harsh, the fact is, there is such a thing as a stupid question, and I can't stand it when people state their emotional feelings as fact.

A caracal

A caracal

Common Stupid Arguments About Keeping Exotic Animals

Here are some arguments I have heard against exotic pet ownership and why I think those arguments are wrong and stupid.

1. Wild Animals Are Not Pets!

Reply: Domesticated dogs and cats are not pets!! See? I can do that too, and it makes about the same amount of sense. Human beings have been keeping pets for almost the entire duration of their existence; hence, the existence of many domesticated animals today. Such tamer animals make great pets for more people, yet this does not mean that so-called "wild" animals can't be effectively cared for by the right people. I’m not sure why people have appointed themselves rulers of the universe and feel they get to declare that a group of animals, due to their lack of tameness to the extent of another, can no longer be considered a "pet" even if it is being appropriately cared for.

A pet is an animal you are in charge of and care for; it does not mean that you must treat a tiger, fish, or snake like a dog. Exotic pet keeping requires "animal sense" and adaptability on the owner's part (not the animal's). If you don’t want one, don’t get one. I, however, am not your clone and should be free to pursue my life's interests.

2. Wild Animals Only Belong in the Wild

Reply: Everything once belonged somewhere in nature, including ourselves.

If keeping a so-called "wild" pet is such an absurd aberration of nature, I can only imagine what an atrocity modern homes, computers, cars, modified food, and intentionally-bred-to-look-like-freaks-domesticated dogs must be. This isn't inherently wrong or unethical. What really matters is if the animal can lead a reasonable existence in captivity — and many surely do as long as they are provided the 5 freedoms.

Benefits of Allowing "Exotic" Pet Ownership (and Zoos)

  • Qualified keepers can care for zoo "surplus" animals.
  • It is enriching for responsible owners who want to care for these animals.
  • It supports small businesses (pet sitting, school visitations, etc.)
  • It is educational and enhances our understanding of the animals.
  • Much of our learned successful techniques for captive animal rearing comes from private owners.
  • Our country's values indicate that we should enjoy the same freedoms and respect as other pet owners.

3. Keeping an Exotic Pet Is Cruel and the Animal Will Suffer

Reply: Incidents of animal cruelty involving exotics are nearly identical to those of domesticated animals, with poorly cared for exotics being found in places of a low socioeconomic status.

There's enough domesticated pet cruelty to keep multiple Animal Planet series running, while Fatal Attractions struggles to search for more stories after 2 seasons. It is incredibly unreasonable to hold exotic pet owners to a higher standard than domesticated animal owners and expect there to be zero rates of cruel situations.

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Read More From Pethelpful

Many people decide for themselves that a wild animal must be suffering in captivity because of their own romanticized view of how animals should spend their lives. Luckily, animals do not adopt the positions of humans most of the time. Animals want to be fed, engage in whatever activities are relevant to their species, and have shelter away from the elements. With most animal species that are held in captivity, this can and is being accomplished. Save such criticism for people who aren't providing this, and offer feasible evidence that is not ideologically driven.

4. Keeping an Animal in a Cage Is Degrading to That Animal

Reply: I'm sure horses with humans on their backs, essentially using them as a transportation device, feel a ton of pride. The same goes for a leashed dog that is inhibited from carrying out its natural behavior of sniffing and barking wherever and whenever it wants. Anthropomorphism is not a logical or valid reason to object to animals in captivity. Logic strongly supports that these animals do not subscribe to this sentiment.

5. Nobody Needs an Exotic Pet! Just Get a Dog

Reply: We teach our children to respect each others' differences and desires, yet people feel as though their personal sentiment should literally dictate the lives of others despite no logical justification.

Certainly, no one technically needs a pet of any kind, but they are enriching to people for their own personal reasons. Dog owners should not be told to just get cats because cats never attack anyone, and I don't think cats should be banned just because a lot of irresponsible people allow them to roam outside and destroy other people's property (while preying on wildlife). As I can personally attest to, owners of "alternative" pets feel just as strongly about their pets as owners of cats, dogs, and freshwater fish do—sometimes more.

Pet lion owned by Zuzana kukol.

Pet lion owned by Zuzana kukol.

Typical Arguments Spread by Special Interest Groups

Many special interest groups also make up ridiculous claims and arguments that are short-sighted and wrong.

1. There Are Over 5,000 Tigers in Captivity in the U.S. That's More Than the Number of Wild Tigers Around the World

Reply: This would not be true if tigers weren't extremely endangered.

There used to be over 100,000 tigers living free in the wild, and now only a mere fraction of this amount remains. That’s pretty startling and gives more reason as to why captive breeding programs must be established by credible zoos and professionals. It’s a good thing that tigers readily breed in captivity. It is likely that in about 30 years, a zoo housing one tiger will have more tigers than in the wild.

The amount of "pet" tigers is also often radically exaggerated. Most captive tigers live in zoos, sanctuaries, and other so-called educational facilities, but they are not private pets as many groups would lead you to believe.

Baby genet

Baby genet

2. Exotic Pets Are Taken From the Wild

Reply: Most exotic animals (especially mammals) in the U.S. are captive-bred. Marine fish and reptiles are an exception.

Taking an animal from the wild is largely illegal. Breeders may import wild-caught animals once in a blue moon to improve the gene pool of captive populations, which is fine for people with experience, as it is for zoos, and this practice is sustainable. Obviously, smuggling animals into the country illegally is not a practice anyone supports, and this is exactly why it is and should remain illegal. If there ever is an issue with illegal smuggling of wildlife and wildlife parts into the U.S., it is an easy matter to address. Laws should be mandated to prevent illegal smuggling, but it should not ban everyone from owning an exotic animal because of a few bad people.

Captive Egg-eating snake

Captive Egg-eating snake

3. Non-Native Exotic Pets Will End Up in the Wild and Cause Detrimental Damage to the Environment

Reply: Outside of some restricted climates in the U.S., exotic, non-domesticated mammals becoming invasive is not happening.

There are feral populations of dogs and cats in most climates, while pet reptiles can only live in restricted climates. Cats, in particular, are some of the most critically damaging and invasive species in the country, yet people still allow cats to roam outside and prey on wildlife.

A lot of human activity, including the keeping of domesticated pets, is also detrimental to the environment. Exotic pets are singled out because they are less popular. To people who do not wish to keep exotic pets and, therefore, see no reason for it to occur, they are the most objectionable. But being in the minority shouldn't make anyone's needs less worthy of being considered.

4. Keeping Exotic Pets Endangers the Public

Reply: The statistics show that exotic mammals rarely, if ever, kill or attack members of the public, while dogs accomplish this routinely every year.

Part of being responsible for the care of a "dangerous" exotic (as many exotic animals certainly are not so) is having higher standards than typical pet owners (and laws can be implemented to keep away bad owners just as they should be for domesticated animals). The sheer amount of domesticated pets, and the fact that many owners will let their guard down because their pets are accepted and not in danger of being banned, makes the chances of getting mauled or killed by them extravagantly higher. It defies logic to fear harm from one threat while ignoring and accepting another threat that is more likely to affect you.

Simply put, prejudice is responsible for the fear of what is unlikely to happen, as people are willing to accept the higher risks of dog attacks but not the "lottery" chance of being attacked by another type of animal. Bad luck cannot be banned, and it is a part of life.

Squirrel Monkey

Squirrel Monkey

5. Captive Tigers Are Cruelly Kept in People's Backyards

Reply: Some people keep horses in their "backyards." Not all backyards are small like the average suburbanite's. Surprisingly, some people own a lot of land.

6. The Exotic Pet Trade Is a Billion Dollar Industry

Reply: "Exotic animals" consist of everything from hamsters, ferrets, tarantulas, tropical fish, sugar gliders, peacocks, parrots, snakes, gerbils, lizards, fennec foxes, and of course, a tiny percentage of large animals that may include big cats.

So, indeed, this covers a wide range of hobbies and is a large, profitable industry when lumped together to mislead people into thinking everyone and their mother has or knows someone with a pet tiger. One source states that there are 139 million freshwater fish and 9 million saltwater fish in households in the United States alone. Most of these animals are considered exotic pets and are factored into this economical estimate.

7. Exotic Pets Spread Diseases

Reply: All animals, including humans, spread diseases. Period.

Of course, exotic pets can spread disease. A common practice of arguing this point is lumping all exotic animals together and attributing their combined disease threats (both severe and mild) as a whole to make them sound like a massive pathogenic crisis. Interestingly, most of the occurrences of exotic pet zoonosis come from animals that are small and more acceptable in society, such as birds, small mammals, and small reptiles. But, of course, special interest groups will make it seem like a pet wallaby is responsible for or capable of the disease transmission of a Gambian pouched rat.

Many people who are concerned about diseases from an alternative pet are unaware of the disease threats in their everyday lives and do not practice recommended hygienic practices. If you are truly concerned about disease, beware of hotel remotes, menus at restaurants, animal-based foods, and making physical contact with other people. In fact, do you wash your hands after petting domesticated animals? You probably do, which begs the question, why, once again, are captive-bred exotic animals being singled out? It is not justifiable to determine for others which species of animals they are allowed to keep based on their popularity.