COMMENTARY: Not Pet Material

Why Wild Animals Don’t Belong in Your Home

Travis the chimp lived with a Connecticut woman for 14 years before he critically attacked her friend and was shot by police.
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By now, the tragic story of the 200-pound chimpanzee in Stamford, Connecticut that left a 55-year-old woman critically mauled before being shot by police has been widely reported. Many wonder how the pet, who had been with its owner since he was 3 ½ weeks old and raised by her until he was 14 or 15, could have turned so unexpectedly aggressive. But a wild animal is always a wild animal. Exotic creatures like chimpanzees, pythons, kinkajous and scarlet macaws have captured the hearts of animal-lovers looking for companions; but keeping exotic animals as pets can come with hidden—and sometimes deadly—costs. Wild animals have lived for thousands of years without the direct influence of humans. They are adapted for survival in complex, wild environments. They are not well adapted to living with humans or in a house.

What’s wrong with having a wild animal as a pet?

" You can’t provide the right home for them.
Wild animals have complex behavioral, social, nutritional and psychological needs. Most people cannot meet the needs of wild animals kept as pets. Wild animals need to be with members of their own species.

" Apes are a special concern.
Apes, including chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos, orangutans, and gibbons, are intelligent, sensitive, and highly social animals. As our closest living relatives, they are fascinating, and ape infants are appealing. These attributes make apes popular as performers in commercial entertainment, advertising programs and, sometimes, pets. But this popularity and attractiveness masks the often cruel and dangerous practices commonly required for making apes compliant in such appearances. When kept as pets, apes can unexpectedly cause severe injury when natural instincts trigger fear, aggression, or other powerful responses. (see: www.aza.org )

The scarlet macaw is one rare parrot species under stress from pet trading that does not respond well to captivity.

" Taking them from the wild can endanger the species.
Parrots are the world’s most endangered family of birds due to devastation from the international pet trade. The enormous global demand for these and other exotic pets is fueling the illegal capture and trade of millions of birds, mammals and reptiles annually, most of which die while being captured or transported.

" You could get hurt.
Keeping wild animals as pets can be dangerous. Many can bite, scratch, and attack an owner, children, or guests. Animal owners can be legally responsible for any damage, injuries or illnesses caused by animals they maintain. Finding new homes for large, hard-to-handle animals can be difficult, if not impossible, particularly since most zoos are unable to accept them.

" You could get sick.
Wild animals can carry diseases dangerous or fatal to humans. Diseases include rabies, distemper, herpes viruses, salmonella, polio, tuberculosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and bubonic plague. Wild animals also harbor parasites, such as intestinal worms and protozoa.

" It would probably be illegal.
Many state, county and city ordinances prohibit the ownership of wild animals as pets.

What types of animals do make good pets?

" Dogs, domestic cats, guinea pigs, domestic rats and mice, domestic gerbils, common hamsters, domestic rabbits, domestic chinchillas.
" Interesting insects like African millipedes or Hissing cockroaches.
" Responsibly captive-bred parakeets, canaries, cockatiels, doves, and pigeons.
" Responsibly captive-bred reptiles and amphibians such as red-footed tortoises, lizards (bearded dragons, leopard geckos), snakes (corn snakes, king snakes, ball pythons) and frogs (White’s tree frog, ornate horned frog, fire-bellied toad, red-eyed tree frog).
" Tropical fish that are captive-raised or collected from sustainable wild populations make good pets.
Look for certification of sustainability from the Marine Aquarium Council when you buy tropical fish for your home aquarium.

Visit a shelter

" Millions of dogs and cats are destroyed each year because they don’t have homes. Shelter directories such as PetFinder are excellent places to find adoptable animals near you.

CONTACT: Association of Zoos and Aquariums

THE ASSOCIATION OF ZOOS AND AQUARIUMS (AZA) was founded in 1924. It"s a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, education, science, and recreation. With its more than 200 accredited members, the AZA is a leader in global wildlife conservation.