Have you ever heard of someone owning an exotic animal, like a tiger or an alligator? That might seem thrilling and kind of cool, but did you know that it’s probably illegal? Exotic pet laws vary from state to state, so they may be drastically different depending on where you live. For example, you can own exotic animals without a license or permit in Alabama, Nevada, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and South Carolina. In Arkansas, you can only own up to six coyotes, deer, bobcats, or squirrels. Many states restrict people from owning non-native pets that could pose a danger to people or wildlife, but a handful of them allow these animals if you pay for a permit. Here at PetPlace, we’re passionate about providing you with all of the knowledge and resources needed to understand various animals in all of their cute, cuddly, or scaly glory. Today, we’ll be teaching you more about illegal pets and reptiles.
Illegal Pet Statistics
Born Free USA reports that millions of animals are bought and sold via the illegal pet trade every year. However, it can be difficult to get accurate statistics because most of these pets are exchanged on the black market. The United States is the largest consumer of illegal flora and fauna in the world. In fact, from 2010 to 2014, more than 80 illegal alligators were recovered in Arizona alone! A number of U.S. citizens are more than willing to pay high prices for extremely rare and endangered animals, and the harder an illegal pet is to find, the more expensive it is.
One of the easiest ways to get an exotic pet is on the internet. Thousands of websites sell these animals, offer advice about their care and provide forums in which buyers and sellers can complete transactions. However, sellers on the internet aren’t interested in local laws that regulate the ownership of exotic animals. They also don’t always reveal the dangers and challenges of raising these pets.
Illegal pets are often captured from their native environments. From there, they’re transported long distances to the highest bidder. Regrettably, many animals die as they’re being shipped to their final destination. The Animal Welfare Act, or AWA, has been around since 1966 and protects animals from inhumane treatment by humans, but reptiles are not protected by the AWA. Therefore, in states where it’s legal to own these animals, people may set up roadside attractions and other forms of “entertainment” that often involve the harm and mistreatment of reptiles.
Risks to Public Safety
Inexperienced buyers may not be able to handle an exotic animal. You may have heard news stories about these types of pets attacking their owners or other people. If they don’t have the proper enclosures, illegal pets can get out and wreak havoc on the community. Owners may intentionally release the pets, too. Sometimes, an exotic reptile becomes too difficult for its owner to handle, causing them to irresponsibly let the animal loose.
Non-native exotic reptiles also threaten local wildlife. Thousands of Burmese pythons have been found in the Everglades in Florida. These animals are originally from Southeast Asia but have made it to U.S. soil via the illegal pet trade. They have threatened many endangered animals and plants in the area. For example, the pythons have all but wiped out the population of marsh rabbits in the area. This is the first time that an invasive animal species has made such a negative impact on a single species in such a large area.
More Info on Reptilian Pets
Many reptile owners get rid of their pet within a year, mostly due to the fact that they’re very difficult and expensive to take care of. After all, a large portion of reptiles require specialized enclosures and costly food to keep them healthy and happy. It’s also worth noting that some reptiles need to eat whole mammals to survive, and you can imagine how hard (and expensive) it would be to procure rabbits and pigs to feed your pet on a regular basis.
Large constrictors (like pythons and boas) can kill adult humans. In fact, seventeen people have died from constrictor snake-related events in the U.S. since 1978. Even more people have been seriously injured. Vipers, cobras, and anacondas are also illegal to keep as pets in several states.
Crocodilians—caimans, alligators, and crocodiles—may be sold to unsuspecting people. As babies, they’re pretty cute. However, even a two-foot alligator could cause serious harm to humans and other pets alike. Crocodilians become strong quickly, and they’re usually very aggressive.
Many people have questions about keeping iguanas as pets. Once again, the laws differ in different areas. Most geckos and chameleons are legal to own. There are several species of lizards that are safe to keep in your house, too. The right low-maintenance pet for a child may be a lizard.
Are you considering getting a pet turtle? This is the most common reptile to keep as a pet, especially for new families with young children. However, more than half of the turtle species have become endangered because of the illegal pet trade. Although a tiny turtle may seem harmless, it can pose a health hazard.
The FDA advises consumers not to buy small turtles. Turtles with shells smaller than four inches long are actually illegal to sell in the U.S. because they spread salmonella. Parents can even transmit the salmonella to their babies by handling a turtle or the tank and then holding the infant. Moreover, turtles need proper lighting, filtration, and temperature systems to survive, making them difficult to care for.
If Your Neighbor Has an Illegal Pet
What should you do if you peek into your neighbor’s yard and see an illegal and dangerous pet? The short answer is… run. Seriously though, contact your local police department if you suspect that someone you know owns an illegal exotic pet. And if you’re considering adopting an exotic reptile, know that the Humane Society recommends against it. In a vast majority of cases, a legal reptile or a furry pet will be a better fit for your lifestyle.