Sunday, October 24, 2010

An Unnatural Animal Alliance

I was at the Cleveland Regional Council of  Science Teachers Conference a week ago at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.  It was a great location for the conference since many sessions were concerned with animal science. We, as a human species are at a crossroads with animals.

Diane's teacher conference includes topics like exotic animal release and the new elephant exhibit at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.

 We have made considerable strides in our treatment of animals.  Our government enacted the Animal Welfare Act in 1966 to guide the treatment and care of animals used in research, for exhibit or sale.  Scientist today employ animals in an ethical and pain free manner.  Likewise zoos consider every aspect of an animal's needs before exhibiting those animals.  In addition, dealers produce records of an animal's care before selling that animal.

However, our relationship with animals has taken a deleterious divergence.  Exotic pets have become the  latest fad in domesticated animals.  Unfortunately, the state of Ohio has some of the most lax laws with regulating the sale and ownership of exotic pets.  Why are suburban home owners allowed to raise and care for dangerous predators like bears, tigers and wolves?  If I had a neighbor who was raising a chimpanzee, I would consider moving.

What motivates exotic pet owners to care for unpredictable predators?  Unfortunately it is due to TV shows with people like Steve Irwin, Austin Stevens and Jeff Corwin.  These animal exploiters depict wild animals in sensational and inhumane settings.  Steve routinely teases the crocodiles or snakes on camera by picking them up by the tail or forcing them to strike him.  In addition, many of the crocodiles seen on his shows are zoo-fed or sedated.  This gives viewers an unrealistic impression of animal behavior in the wild and furthers animal cruelty.

Animal Planet has begun to air a new show called Fatal Attraction.   This show will only incite suburbanites to become exotic pet owners.  Exotic pet owners believe that they are conservationists since the animal's natural habitat is being encroached by humans.  This is an honorable endeavor but many exotic pet owners don't realize that they are endangering nearby residents.  Many exotic pet owners are unaware of the aggressiveness of chimpanzees as they age; or how a bite from an iguana is laden with salmonella (a stitched bite runs the risk of infection if not properly treated with antibiotics).

The keynote speaker at the CRCST conference was Tim Harrison, an exotic animal activist.  For almost ten years, he has been assisting in the recovery of exotic animals that have been released into the environment.  Whenever exotic pet owners become frustrated or unable to continue care for their animals, they liberate the animals in parks, fields or uninhabited spaces hoping for the best.  Tim drives hundreds of miles to rescue these animals because first responders like police or fire personnel are often unprepared to capture these exotic pets.  Moreover, exotic pets can escape like the chimp in Kansas City.  These lost exotic pets become a public nuisance and potentially a menace to humans.  Tim knows first hand how dangerous it is to coral a wild boar piglet, a six foot alligator or a capuchin monkey.

Tim wants educators and parents to know about the misperception that animal TV shows are propagating.  Exotic pets are not meant for domestication like cats and dogs.  They are unpredictable, strong and lethal.  Tim hopes that his movie, The Elephant in the Room brings this message across.

We as humans have made appreciable advancement in the care and treatment of animals used in research and education.  Now, we need to carry that success to the animals found in the wild.  They deserve to have our respect, understanding and to remain undomesticated.


  1. Hear, hear! I'm related (by marriage) to someone who feels the need to own exotics. I think it's an ego thing.

    This guy has already 'gone through' a wolf, a fox, a bobcat, a wallaby (!), and various small animals like sugar gliders and reptiles. And he has taken in a fawn at one point, saying that it had been 'abandoned' by its mother, which is unlikely since a doe will leave it's baby to find food, knowing that the fawn has no scent and will be there when she returns. Unless some idiot takes the fawn into his house.

    These critters don't last very long in the household, which should come as no surprise.
    'Exotics' aren't pets, and invariably their owners will tire of them. (That's why we find alligators in the Metroparks).

    My BIGGEST gripe, coming from the Animal Sheltering world, is this:

    Why, in the state of Ohio, are there restrictions on owning certain kinds of dogs, but more lax restrictions on exotic animals? Can anyone prove they have the ability to own a wolf (or a wallaby) moreso than a pit bull? And which vets are qualified to care for these exotic animals? What vet care is required?(Ohio law says that dogs must have rabies vax. What about a pet giraffe?)

    So, I see a HUGE discrepancy in laws required for exotics vs. certain domestic dog breeds, and it makes me crazy.

    Thanks for bringing this into the light, Diane.

  2. You can tell that I pay attention to details. Not!! Thank you Pam for your comment. It is an illogical world that we live in.