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Why Do People Keep Exotic Pets?

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

What's the appeal of keeping an undomesticated animal?

What's the appeal of keeping an undomesticated animal?

Why Own an Exotic Pet?

As an exotic pet owner through and through, I am coming forward to answer this question; a question that is often rhetorical and disdainfully thrown without any anticipation of a real response.

To many, I am justifying my self-inflicted insanity and selfishness. I am massaging my ego in desiring to own an exotic animal all while leading my pet down an endless road of unbearable suffering in captivity. My pets are essentially prisoners. They are furred humans with four legs that dream incessantly about romping free in the wild paradise that they were ‘meant’ to be in.

I will not attempt to justify my pet choices by saying “there is no wild for these animals to return to,” or pretend to be holding a species conservation program in my own room. I don’t believe in any of these "excuses" or find them logical, and I believe they only feign a savior appearance for a personal choice.

I honestly wonder how so many people could only want traditional pets.

I honestly wonder how so many people could only want traditional pets.

Allow me to attempt to explain what the appeal is in owning such non-domesticated animals for my own personal gain.

Unsurprisingly, humans are unique individuals, and resultantly, they have unique and individual desires. From my own perspective, I often wonder how people could not want exotic pets. Ever since I got my first pet as a young child (those cheap Petco brand goldfish), I simply believed it was the job of parents to dislike everything that was amazing about life.

My parents didn’t enjoy my cartoons, barred me from eating too much sugary cereal, and they didn’t leap at the opportunity to buy pets. To this day, I still find it bizarre how some people don’t, immediately upon buying their own homes, run out and fill them with animals. It’s been my number one goal in life from the start and my only motivation to get my own residence; so I can finally get all the animals I want. Without that, the idea of leaving my parents’ house is 100% pointless.

I Like the Feeling of Preparing for a New Animal

I find the prospect of preparation for a new and exciting animal intoxicating.

  • I longed for a dog for most of my childhood, eventually achieving that goal in high school. I thought that would end my constant pining for animal additions (and I informed my parents that this was so), yet, while having a dog was a wonderful addition, it did little to ‘complete me’ the way I thought it would.

A dog is a wonderful companion.

  • It is an animal you can actually take with you on vacations and a motivation to leave the house and go outside to enjoy nature. But exotic pets serve another enchanting purpose. Owning an exotic pet is like the pleasure of going to the zoo times ten thousand.

Instead of simply viewing the animal in the congested environment of the Saturday crowds, in your own home you get to personally care for, interact with, touch, and come into an intimate understanding of an animal that few people keep, which is an experience that can only be realized by that animal’s main caretaker.

While for many, the word "non-domesticated" equals "bad pet," for me, it rings as follows:

  • "Exciting and enriching challenge"
  • "Amazing and unique behaviors to observe"
  • "A unique relationship like no other"
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Compared to this, the mere thought of a dog or cat makes my mind groan. I honestly wonder how so many people could only want traditional pets.

Many exotic pets are an exciting and stimulating challenge.

Many exotic pets are an exciting and stimulating challenge.

I Want Hands-On Experience With Awesome Animals

I detest nature documentaries and find them to be glorified animal snuff. Observing animals in the wild or on television is just not my thing, no matter how un-politically correct that may sound.

Many exotic pets are an exciting and stimulating challenge; caring for them invites a profound understanding of their behavior, how they think, and their needs that no other experience can possibly substitute for.

I wonder why this is so hard to identify with. When people observe unique animals in the wild and are titillated from the experience, well, to me, caring for my own exotic is like that on steroids.

My genet was the first time I had actually seen that animal live, in person. I imagine that genets are snubbed by many zoo displays due to their secretive nature, but when raised by a human, they will accept their caretaker like no other.

I’m far from one of those super naïve people who think I have an actual ‘bond’ with my pets to the same extent as my dog. I know there is a level of disconnect between that of a modernized, sapient primate and a primitive and survival-minded undomesticated pet. My genet for the most part, "tolerates" my appearances, although any person less skeptical than I would consider that my genet actually "likes" me from his seemingly affectionate behavior of hopping on my shoulders and rubbing up against me in the same manner as a domesticated cat.

I could also swear that I hear "purring." Many cat lovers suggest that cat bonding is superior to canines because you must earn the love of a cat. Getting little bits of behaviors like this from a normally "wild" animal is unparalleled by any other domesticated animal-owning experience.

My dog

My dog

Domesticated animals make great companions but as far as the challenge and the educational experience of unique behavior? There is no comparison, and I can’t stand being told I should "just" get a cat or dog instead of an exotic.

As for my ego in keeping exotic pets, I pretty much stand guilty as charged. Many people display their ego through the clothes they buy, the make-up on their face, or catering to people with ridiculous fake behavior. This is how some people choose to make their mark in the world and communicate to others that they exist. I prefer the success of keeping an unusual pet.

I have been told countless times that I should be more invested in my appearance and pleasing other people than in planning on which animal (or plant) I’m going to purchase, despite huge expenses, time investment, and potential failure in these endeavors. But I wouldn’t dream of doing anything else. This is what I like to do. For some reason, this is baffling to people.

Let me repeat that, this is what I like to do. I’m an individual. Other people like to get drunk at parties, becoming a danger to society that makes the risk of my pets look pitiful.

I want to spend all my time caring for my fauna collection. I think I have a right to exist, and my hobbies, which are actually a lifestyle, mark my existence as do other people who define their own existence with where they went to school, where they’ve traveled, how happy they are, who they are dating, children and other forms of reproduction-oriented activities...typical look-at-me postings that are common on Facebook.

My pets (that are hopefully happy and healthy, as this is my goal) are my badges of individuality and personal choice. And yes, I may want to show my animals off, as I think it would be great if other people could even have an appreciation for it, hoping they are as interested in these animals as I am (they all too often aren’t). Sometimes, my interest in pets and plants is the only thing that causes me to open my shy mouth and converse with people. This is as far as my ego extends.

And so yes, I am admitting to it here and throughout, my choice to keep pets is selfish and egotistical.

Keeping an Exotic Pet Isn't For Everyone

The point of this passage isn’t to suggest that everyone run out and get exotic pets to experience this for themselves; please don’t.

If you don’t currently have or have never really pined for an exotic pet by now, it most likely isn’t the lifestyle for you. One of the only things keeping most exotic mammals from falling victim to the surplus rates or factory farm production of domesticated animals is the overall public disinterest in them and their lesser presence in pet stores.

Therefore, they aren’t being marketed to the general public as much, which would inadvertently put pressure on the demand for them. I wish all animals could enjoy hesitancy of purchase from humans, but unfortunately, all animals fall victim to this.

I believe that good people do not deserve punishments for the actions of the bad. I think responsible owners should be able to pursue their desires even if there are influential organizations that oppose them. I hope people will begin to understand that issues are rarely black and white and that throwing the baby out with the bathwater is never the solution to a problem.

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.

© 2013 Melissa A Smith


Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on July 09, 2018:

Nah: Housing and feeding an animal is not cruel in any way.

Nah on July 08, 2018:

So you're against animal cruelty unless it benefits your ego, gotcha.

Herb Walters on January 25, 2018:

It isn't greed or ego when finding a baby animal such as a puppy or kitten and taking it home. Who seeing a puppy or a kitten on the side of a road with it's dead mother hit by a car would just leave it there? Anyone? Maybe it was a deer, a fox, bobcat, raccoon or whatever, who would leave it there to get hit or starve to death? Anyone?

Ever heard of a hunter who shot an animal then found that it had babies nearby? How many left them there to die? These are a couple of ways how people end up with unusual or exotic pets.

It has nothing to do with ego or anything else. So why then can anyone think that buying an exotic pet is somehow immoral or any different? Doesn't matter how you get it once you have it and it will soon to be more a domestic than wild animal. No state or federal government should be allowed to pass a law to take it from you.

With that said, anyone keeping lions, tigers, and bears or truly dangerous animals like venomous snakes as pets is crazy! You belong in a mental facility lol.

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on May 27, 2015:

"Is that enough of a semantical shift to keep you from ignoring what, in my opinion, was the spirit of the idea?"

What are you talking about? Stop playing around and be specific.

"No one except you offered anything about an animal's capability to reason rationally"

Except they did.

"Is the egotism you freely admit all the justification you need?"


Anonymous on May 27, 2015:

How about if the word "will" is switched for the phrase "can and sometimes will?" Is that enough of a semantical shift to keep you from ignoring what, in my opinion, was the spirit of the idea? Enough to keep you from racing forward to declare your own position's superiority by tearing down a straw-man.

No one except you offered anything about an animal's capability to reason rationally, and the way you introduced the idea of rationality gives me the impression that what under rides your comments is a belief that your rationality make you superior to nature.

So owning an animal is fun for you, and there is excitement in observing the behavior of the animal. What gives you the right to take another living creature and claim it as your own? Is the egotism you freely admit all the justification you need?

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on April 07, 2015:

"A dog or cat will come to your door and ask to come live with you."

That's a massive generalization. Have you ever a 'lost dog' or cat poster? About a dog or cat that bolted out the back door and can't be found? Are you going to tell those people they were keeping a non-content slave? Or are you going to be rational and realize that animals can't really make logical decisions all the time? Your argument is hogwash.

Sundee on April 07, 2015:

I see the intrigue, however, animals' autonomy is something to be respected. A dog or cat will come to your door and ask to come live with you. A genet would not volunteer to live as a captive. Buying an animal is perpetuating their enslavement and, often, slaughter. These are adult beings who deserve to have lives free from human intervention. They have the right to find mates of their choosing, care for offspring, forage for food, and pursue companionship as they so choose.

Breck123 on May 01, 2014:

That's cool. I've always wanted a Barons racer. Can't find anywhere that sells them though.

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on May 01, 2014:

Ball pythons, egg-eating snake, barons racer, and Mexican black kingsnake.

Breck123 on May 01, 2014:

Cool. What type of snakes? (If you don't mind me asking)

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on May 01, 2014:

Thanks Breck123, dog, spotted genet, green aracari, snakes, axolotl, iguana

Breck123 on May 01, 2014:

Good hub. It nicely explains the mindset of us exotic animal owners. I understand what you said about that euphoria you get for caring for such amazing animals. This may be off topic, but what animals do you keep?

Unknown on March 29, 2014:

Wonderful hub! It tells exactly what most of us exotic keepers think.

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