What to Say to People Who Are Against Exotic Pet Ownership
Using Simple Logic
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 in 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.
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.
Common Stupid Arguments
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 any 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Informed, Sensible, or Valid Concerns
Here are some valid concerns about owning exotic pets, and these arguments are solid and nuanced.
1. Captive Exotic Animals Fuel the International Trade for Illegal Smuggling of Animals Taken From Their Natural Habitats, Just Look at the Macaw
Reply: Endangered hookbills are often brought up as an example of how the pet trade affects wild populations, but they are one of the only examples. Most captive exotics do not threaten wild populations in any way, and parrots are in trouble mainly due to human encroachment and destruction of their habitat, which affects successful nesting. The illegal pet trade is just icing on the cake of this issue, so only banning these birds as pets will not resolve it.
2. Are Non-Domesticated Animals Happy in Captivity?
Reply: The claim is that captive wild animals often exhibit what is called stereotypical behavior, which is repetitive, unnatural behavior with no apparent goal. It appears to indicate that the animal is experiencing stress, depression, or some other psychological imbalances.
This is indeed a problem with some facilities that house wild carnivores and other intelligent mammals. It's still questionable, however, whether such behavior is the result of mental illness or "boredom." Many animals exhibit the behavior in anticipation of their feeding time or due to hormonal changes in light of breeding season. The public mistakenly believes that these behaviors indicate that the animal is suffering from its confinement. In situations in which an animal does not have its mental needs met, a husbandry error is the probable cause. Husbandry errors exist for pets of all species, and only those up for the challenge of exotic animal ownership should take on the care of an exotic animal.
3. There Are Not Enough People With the Proper Ability to Care for Large Exotics
Reply: Laws and regulations should be shaped to encourage the placing of exotic animals in the hands of only qualified owners, with penalties for any violations. These regulations should include registering the animal with the state, implementation of an applicable insurance policy, caging specifications, and an overall analysis that the potential owner is knowledgeable and sensible about the animal. Somewhat more tepid regulations may be put in place for less concerning exotics like servals, other small pets, and cat-hybrids. Education should also be brought forth for other species.
4. Even Though There Are Some Good Owners, Bad Owners Will Always Exist as Long as the Exotic Pet Trade Is Allowed to Continue
Reply: This claim is much less sensible. It is essentially arguing that contributing to the demand for the exotic pet trade is supporting cruelty. It is true that there are bad owners, but there are also bad parents and bad people in general. Bad things will always happen with anything that we do, but that doesn't mean we should stop well-meaning, law-abiding people from living and choosing freely in order to avoid it. Banning people from their pets because their animals are less popular than other animals is neither ethical nor constitutional.
5. Then Do We Just Ignore the Suffering of Exotic Pets in Captivity?
Reply: No, you support regulations that discourage bad owners from obtaining species they shouldn't have, but do not ban all owners from keeping pets. The same should be done with domesticated pets.
The Major Point
I may feel differently about this topic than some people, but I also have the information and the experience to back up my feelings. I shouldn't have to abide by your values. People do not need to be in love with the idea of zoos or pet keeping, but the major issue here is that people must tolerate the differing opinions of others and not enforce laws based on their emotional and ideological sentiments. People should want to do this so that they can enjoy the same respect for their own pursuits in return. Your basic feelings about how someone else should conduct their life should end at your own property line. If someone's neighbor wants a parrot, and that neighbor is a responsible owner, then the law should end there.
When people refuse to think, they are not allowing their minds to expand beyond their comfort zone, which is potentially damaging. In this case, such harm comes to animal-related business efforts involved with captivity to help animals and individuals who enjoy working with these animals. Exotic pet owners find meaning in their lives with 'alternative' pet-keeping, and their need to do it is not unlike the need of dog owners. Exotic pet owners comprise a small portion of the animal-caring population, so unfortunately, the public majority leans towards the ideas of groups with more power and influence. This article is my feeble attempt to counteract it.
No one has the "right" to own an animal they cannot properly care for. My position on this subject is solely out of interest for responsible owners, not the irresponsible owners. If I feel that no one is capable of providing for an exotic pet in a private situation, I won't support it. However, there are a few people who have a strong interest in animal care and base their life around it. They should not have to abandon their chosen lifestyle due to the opinions of non-animal orientated people or special interest groups.
Feel free to add more questions or raise your concerns. Just remember to think before you address anything, especially if emotions arouse the assertion. Remember that single, isolated incidences of anything are close to useless in providing real reasons for why pet owners deserve to lose their animals.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Should people be able to keep bigger animals like tigers and lions?
Yes, people who have the means and follow some basic safety measures.Helpful 1
© 2012 Melissa A Smith