Dangers of Exotic Pets
By Dr. Julio Correa, Extension
Big cats, primates, small mammals, birds, and
reptiles are available for sale from dealers across the United
States (US). This means the public has easy access to inherently
dangerous animals that are unsuitable as pets. Exotic animals
do not make good companions and pose serious health risks if
they become aggressive. In the last five years in the US, nine
people have been killed by privately kept tigers, and each year,
90,000 people are treated for Salmonella infection contracted
from reptiles such as small turtles and lizards.
People do not seem to fully understand
the health and safety risks associated with owning an exotic
animal. Wild and exotic animals are notorious vectors or reservoirs
for diseases and parasites that can cause serious harm to humans
of all ages. Furthermore, some exotic animals need a larger habitat
than just a backyard or cage. Keeping exotic animals isolated
in close quarters with no room to roam increases their stress
levels and causes some animals to become agitated and dangerous.
The ownership of exotic wildlife as house
pets presents a real danger to families, neighbors, communities,
and the public-at-large. Following are examples of exotic animals
that have posed harm to people as pets.
- Monkeys are one of the most common exotic
pets. Often bought as cute and cuddly babies, they become larger
and more aggressive as they reach sexual maturity. The male chimpanzee
tends to be the most aggressive. Of great notoriety was the mauling
of Charla Nash on February 16, 2009, in Stamford, Connecticut.
Nash was savagely attacked by a 14-year-old pet chimpanzee named
Travis. Travis was owned by her friend and employer, Sandra
Herold. The chimp broke most of the bones in Nash's face and
ripped off her nose, lips, eyes, and hands. Travis was eventually
shot by local authorities.
- Felines such as lions, tigers, and cougars
are also common pets. Again, these animals may look cute and
cuddly when they are young, but they have the potential to seriously
injure or kill people as they mature. The most notorious case
was the attack of Roy Horn on October 3, 2003, at the MGM Mirage
Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. A 7-year-old trained white tiger
named Montecore attacked and carried Roy Horn off stage
by the throat during Siegfried & Roy's long-standing show
at the Mirage. Horn suffered massive blood loss and a stroke.
Incidents involving large exotic cats often result in fatalities.
- Reptiles, including baby turtles pose
health hazards to humans. Ninety percent of all reptiles carry
and shed Salmonella in their feces. People can become
infected by ingesting Salmonella after handling a reptile
or objects the reptile contaminated, and then failing to wash
their hands properly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
recommends that children, people with a lowered immune system,
and the elderly avoid all contact with reptiles and not own them
as pets. Salmonellosis associated with exotic pets has been described
as an important public health issue, affecting more people than
any other single disease.
- Other exotic animals that pose grave
dangers to human health and safety include bears, wolves, prairie
dogs, hedgehogs, hamsters, alligators, snakes, and other reptiles
such as iguanas and lizards.
In addition to posing dangers to humans,
exotic animals themselves suffer when privately kept. Exotic
animals kept as household pets are forced into unnatural lives
that include confinement in close quarters and surgical removal
of teeth and/or claws. These circumstances, which are often deplorable,
compromise the animals' physical and psychological welfare.
Although ALA. ADMIN CODE r. 220-2-.26
stipulates that "no person, firm, corporation, partnership,
or association shall possess, sell, offer for sale, import, bring
or cause to be brought or imported into the state of Alabama"
certain live fish or animals, there are no state laws or rules
governing private possession of exotic animals such as lions,
tigers, or monkeys. Therefore, it is incumbent upon state and
local government agencies and non-profit organizations like Extension
to educate the general public about the health and safety risks
associated with owning exotic animals, and the suffering of the
animals themselves doomed to live in environments far different
from the ones nature intended.
Animal Protection Institute. (2005). A
life sentence: The sad and dangerous realities of exotic animals
in private hands in the U.S. Animal Protection Institute.
Retrieved July 21, 2010.
Farinato, R. (2009). The
whims and dangers of the exotic pets market. The Humane
Society of the United States. Retrieved July 21, 2010.
The Humane Society of the United States.
& Roy incident underscores the dangers of exotic pets.
The Humane Society of the United States. Retrieved July 21, 2010.
The Oprah Winfrey Show. (2009). The
will to live. Oprah.com. Retrieved July 21, 2010.
you do not have the latest version of Adobe Acrobat and wish
to view the
PDF publication on this site, click here
Return to Metro News...