Column: Wild animal pets

Published 9:25 am Thursday, December 2, 2004

By Staff
At one time or another nearly everyone has pined for a wild animal pet. My first "can't live without" was a monkey. My folks were amazingly supportive of my childhood idiosyncrasies but they drew the line at this one. My next passion was for an otter. Again their good sense ruled and I eventually got over it. I don't know the psychology behind our desire for wild animals as pets. Kids don't know any better but adults certainly should. It simply flies against the nature of any wild animal to cohabitate with humans. A wild animal in captivity is never happy.
Most of us declare the illegal wild animal trade despicable yet we don't give a second thought to the cages of finches, parakeets and lizards at the mall. Most people think all the evil aspects of the wildlife pet trade are addressed by one law or another. There are regulations governing the trade in endangered species but the rest is a pretty loose affair. Federal law only requires wild animal dealers have a license. How they obtain and treat their animals goes largely unmonitored. The U.S. Fish &Wildlife Service only enforces matters with endangered species. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture only regulates interstate trade between licensed dealers. All other doors of abuse stand wide open.
We haven't even discussed legal aspects. The trade in illegal wild animals is enormous beyond comprehension, second only to illicit drugs. These are typically laundered in with legal, commercially raised animals, most being sold at wild animal auctions across the country. It's estimated that over 150,000 wild caught endangered parrots are smuggled into the U.S. each year. Importation of monkeys for the pet trade was banned in 1975 yet every year thousands upon thousands of baby monkeys are snatched from their mothers and smuggled in to serve as surrogate human babies.
Perhaps more important than the moral and legal issues of the pet trade, wild animal pets invariably turn out to be a disaster. The list of problems is long. Cuddly babies turn into big, mean, biting adults. What do you do with them then? The introduction of snakeheads, walking catfish and other deleterious alien fishes into our environment was a result of people releasing outgrown aquarium fish. Alien house finches now taking over the eastern U.S. were released from pet stores. Few know how to properly take care of a wild animal so it becomes malnourished or sick and most vets have no clue how to treat them. Wild animals often carry diseases dangerous to humans and domestic animals. Right here in our area, imported African prairie dogs recently caused a monkey pox outbreak which infected a number of humans. Dogs and cats evolved over thousands of years to be human buds. All concerned would be best off to just stick with them. Carpe diem.