Do You Want a Wild Animal Pet? Oh, Deer!
Why We Should Keep Wildlife Wild
As a rule, wild animals do not make good pets. Despite my childhood experience of catching a baby ground squirrel in the High Sierras of California, there are too many things that argue against keeping wild pets.
When we moved to the forested foothills of California, we had one neighbor who regularly fed the deer. Keep in mind that the deer in our area are not deprived—they have plenty of natural food including leaves and twigs, plants, berries, fruits, acorns, aquatic plants, grasses and evergreen plants. Their diet varies according to the season, and they are adapted to a specific natural food cycle.
Despite the fact that the native deer in our area do well in their natural environment, our neighbors liked to watch them feed near their house, and would offer them grain and commercially made pellet feed year-round. Soon, more deer began coming into the immediate area for the free, unlimited buffet. The herd grew to 30 or more individuals, and the deer were becoming used to people. Some deer became so bold that they would walk right into an open garage.
Interacting With Wildlife Comes With Risks
Wild deer are fairly docile, timid and cautious creatures, but meeting a 250 lb. buck or a protective mommy doe in a confined space is not something you want to do. They have hard, sharp hooves, and will use them to inflict serious injury if they feel threatened.
My neighbors have since moved away. The herds have dispersed somewhat and have returned to a more natural diet. I'm sure that they are disappointed and miss the free lunch, but they are better off in the long run. Human residents will be less likely to see deer outwitting the fences around their vegetable plots and flower gardens.
Squirrel Mischief and Domestication
In another instance, I heard of a wild squirrel that once came down a chimney flue into a mountain cabin while the owners were away. Besides getting soot all over everything, it shredded the curtains and furniture, and chewed into the cupboard to eat their stored cereals and macaroni. It must have been a peculiar experience for the squirrel—being transplanted into an unfamiliar world from which there was no easy escape.
Wild animals are supposed to be wild. People who feed wild animals or try to make pets out of them are really doing the animals and themselves a disservice. Besides being dangerous and destructive, there are several reasons interacting with wildlife is not a good idea.
Feeding Wild Animals Is Harmful for Several Reasons
- Wild animals do best when kept wild: Wild animals should live by their inborn instincts; they have also evolved to eat certain kinds of food.
- They do not learn a "wild social structure": Their instincts are geared toward competition and cooperation with others of their kind. Human-imprinted animals can rarely return to their wild home, even when they become a danger or a nuisance.
- They can become aggressive and unhappy in captivity: Without their usual habits and surroundings, a wild animal is not likely to thrive. They are likely to require more attention from their human owners than the owner can give.
- Human owners of wild animals may not be aware of special needs: Wild animals in human care may get the wrong kinds of food or too much food and too little exercise.
- Animals can catch diseases from people: Historically, a monkey in a London zoo died of human measles. Veterinary care may not be available for wild species, and if it is, the costs may be very high.
Habituating Wild Animals Is Risky for Humans
- Wild animals can be wild: Serious injuries occur when an animal (even one that seems docile) is frightened, frustrated or ill. Bites, scratches and kicks can be serious or fatal. Even small animals can be unpredictable and destructive.
- Animals can carry diseases: Some animal or parasite-borne diseases such as rabies, bubonic plague, tetanus and tularemia can be fatal. Others like Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted fever can be very serious as well. There are over 150 known zoonotic diseases including, bacterial, viral, fungal, protozoal, parasitic and tick-borne ailments.
What We Should Learn About Habituating Wild Animals
There will always be people who will try to make pets out of squirrels, raccoons, deer (even lions, tigers and bears) without providing for the special needs of the species, and without the necessary expertise to keep them healthy and happy.
My experience of capturing a baby ground squirrel when I was a child was mostly happy. We enjoyed him as a pet for many years, but at that time, we were ignorant to the fact that wild animals should be kept wild . . . and keeping the squirrel in captivity was probably illegal. Let wild animals be wild and adopt a domestic shelter pet.