In a recent conversation, I stated my opinion that the government should have sterner regulations regarding the ownership of exotic animals, and indeed that the owning of certain species should be prohibited. My interlocutor stated that I wanted to regulate everything, and that such regulation flew in the face of what this country stands for. I would thus like to take the opportunity to clarify my position on the ownership of exotic animals, along with some of the issues that the owning of such animals raises.
First of all, I would like to say that I am not necessarily an advocate of banning the ownership of ALL exotic animals. However, there are certain species that pose too much of a danger to both their owners and to others (in the case of escaped animals) to be safely owned. These would include large snakes (such as the Burmese python which, due to a number of factors including owner negligence, are now laying ruin to the Everglades), as well as some large cats (consider the case of the tiger that escaped from his owner a few years ago and was shot by local authorities). Even more importantly, monkeys, apes, and other primate species should be completely off-limits, not only due to their endangered status (orangutans, for example, teeter on the brink of extinction, partially due to the fact that they are so popular in the pet trade), but also because their emotions are so complex and unpredictable that your average owner is certainly not able to handle or deal with them adequately (consider the example of the woman whose face was severely damaged by an enraged chimpanzee. The chimp, sadly, was shot by local police and, after dragging his wounded body along, died in his cage).
Secondly, contrary to what some exotic pet owners would like us to believe, many exotic pets are the result of the pet trade, where rare animals are ripped from their habitat, smuggled into the country (a process that often involves the death of several of the animals, thus necessitating even more animals to be taken from the wild), and sold to the highest bidder. The moral problems associated with this are numerous. First of all, it puts an immense pressure on the natural ecosystem that it often cannot sustain, leading to the endangerment and sometimes extinction of some species. Secondly, it puts an enormous stress on the animals’ well-being, and the creatures very rarely cope well with captivity.
Thirdly, far too many exotic pet owners are simply not capable of taking adequate care of their “pets.” The animals are often kept in sub-par pens or cages and are subjected to pressures (both physical and emotional), that they are simply not equipped to handle. Although their owners may love them, and I’m not doubting that they do, they simply cannot make their pets’ lives happy or fulfilling. Instead, they often experience a lack of stimulation and increasing unhappiness.
Finally, I would like to point out that regulation, when it is designed to benefit both the animal and society at large, is indeed part of the fabric of American society, and it is the only way that certain abuses can be prevented. Of course, there will have to be a great deal of discussion put into place regarding this legislation, with everyone’s voice getting its fair share of representation. With reasonable restrictions in place, people can still enjoy the presence and loving companionship of their animal companions, but they will have to be able to meet certain standards in order to do so (and, as I said, certain species should be off-limits). Perhaps most importantly, we need to severely restrict the pet trade, which has been one of the greatest dangers to many varieties of endangered animals. With this type of comprehensive legislation, we can make great strides towards helping both people and the animals with whom they share the world.