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Is it wrong to keep wild or exotic animals as pets?

Is it wrong to keep wild or exotic animals as pets?
WRITTEN BY
03/01/21
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William (No)

Snakes, alligators, ferrets, foxes—wild and exotic? Try nontraditional and unconventional. Wild/exotic pets are just pets people select that deviate from the commonplace cat or dog. Throughout America, there are exotic or wild pet laws detailing if a particular species is allowed, banned, or require a permit to own. Historically, man's best friend has ranged from dogs to horses and parrots, showing how people have been domesticating all types of animals for hundreds of years. Horses, which have run free for centuries, were domesticated on farms, tamed, and kept well in stables. Even playful housecats, which are the descendants of nearly five species of the wildcat, were first domesticated by humans in approximately 7,500 B.C.

Keeping wild animals as pets prevents them from becoming an endangered species, such as tigers. Approximately 5,000 tigers now live legally as pets in states across America, while wild tigers have dwindled to numbers well under 4,000, based on a study done by the World Wildlife Fund. Owning an exotic/wild animal has many rich learning experiences in learning how best to provide them care. Wild animals are not only tigers, but include lizards, snakes, and even Foxes, which are allowed in up to 15 states across America. Many of these are small-medium in size, making caring for them more manageable. 

As more people open their homes to embrace having wild/exotic animals as pets, we will see the question of whether it is right or wrong to own a wild animal morph to people sharing tips on how to take care of your exotic pet best. It's not wrong to keep and domesticate wild animals as pets, but is instead a natural process, having happened for millennia.


Alex (Yes)

From tapirs to tigers, there are plenty of reasons why “exotic” animals (still with their wild instincts) never make good pets. While it is possible to tame wild animals, true domestication requires a genetic change that makes them innately receptive to human contact. So although wild pets can act docile for years at a time, they retain their survival instincts and may lash out without warning, with devastating consequences.

Behavior isn't the only concern: even with the best intentions, it is far too easy for owners to hurt or neglect their wild pets, especially smaller animals. Most people simply aren't prepared to care for them, as these animals have specialized food needs, are often kept in cramped or otherwise unsuitable spaces, and require particular types of veterinarians to handle illness and injury specifically related to them.

Though some might claim they've done everything right, and that their wild pets are safe and healthy, the wildlife trade itself is fraught with problems. Removing wild animals from their habitat destabilizes ecosystems and threatens endangered animal populations. Additionally, nearly all traded wild animals are treated cruelly, and many die in transport. Wildlife trade also plays a role in the emergence and spread of new infectious diseases, including SARS and COVID-19. And when wild pets lose their appeal, many owners release them into their own backyards without a second thought. It's there, unattended for and unmonitored by professionals, where they may die immediately or become an invasive species and wreak havoc on local ecosystems. 

Fact Box


  • There is a loose definition for “exotic pets,” but they usually reference any species other than the standard dog, cat, or farm animal. Exotic pets include birds, reptiles, fish, lizards, snakes, amphibians, primates, rodents, rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, pot-bellied pigs, foxes, big cats and more.
  • As of 2016, 19 states have full bans on “private ownership of exotic animals—non-domesticated felines, wolves, bears, reptiles, non-human primates,” and 5 have no bans pertaining to this issue. 
  • US data from 2017-2018 estimates 48.2 million households own dogs, ~32 million own cats, 3.5 million own birds, 893 thousand own horses. 
  • 87% of respondents in a European poll agree exotic animals should not be kept as pets.  
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