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Three Reasons for Banning the Private Possession of Exotic Animals

When contacting public officials about legislation in your city, county, or state, in letters or calls, or at a public hearing, you may want to highlight these three reasons why they should institute and enforce a ban on possessing exotic animals as “pets”:

1. Public Safety

Across the country, many exotic animals privately held have escaped from their enclosures and freely roamed the community, and have attacked humans and other animals. Children and adults have been mauled by tigers, bitten by monkeys, and asphyxiated by snakes.

Monkeys are the most common nonhuman primates privately held. After the age of two, monkeys tend to exhibit unpredictable behavior. Males become aggressive, and both males and females bite to defend themselves and to establish dominance. Of monkey bites reported since 1990, many resulted in serious injury to the possessor, a neighbor, or a stranger on the street.

Non-domesticated felines, such as lions, tigers, leopards, cougars and ocelots, are commonly held as “pets.” These exotic animals are cute and cuddly when they are young but have the potential to seriously injure or kill people and other animals as they mature. Adult exotic felines weigh anywhere between 300 to 500 pounds depending on the species, and are incapable of being “domesticated.” Even an animal that appears to be friendly and loving can attack unsuspecting individuals.

Reptiles, including all types of snakes and lizards, pose safety risks to humans as well. There have been many reported incidents of escapes, strangulations, and bites from “pet” reptiles. Snakes are the most common “pet” reptiles and have the potential to inflict serious injury through a bite or constriction. According to the University of Florida, more than 7,000 venomous snake bites are reported annually in the United States (it is uncertain how many of these snakes are “pets”), 15 of which result in death.

With so many exotic animals in private hands, these incidents are not rare. By their very nature, exotic animals are dangerous creatures. Given the life these animals are forced to endure, it is no surprise that they exhibit their natural instincts to the detriment of the community. These animals are time bombs waiting to explode.

2. Public Health

Many exotic animals are carriers of zoonotic diseases, such as Herpes B, Monkey Pox, and Salmonellosis, all of which are communicable to humans.

Eighty to 90 percent of all macaque monkeys are infected with Herpes B-virus or Simian B, a virus that is harmless to monkeys but fatal to 70 percent of humans who contract it. Monkeys shed the virus intermittently in saliva or genital secretions, which generally occurs when the monkey is ill, under stress, or during breeding season. At any given time, about 2 percent of infected macaque monkeys are shedding the virus. A person who is bitten, scratched, sneezed on or spit on while shedding is occurring runs the risk of contracting the disease.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) asserts that the increase in macaque monkeys in the pet trade may constitute an emerging infectious disease threat in the United States. Thus, persons who possess or work with infected monkeys are presumed to be in constant peril of potentially contracting the virus. In addition, monkeys have been known to transmit the Ebola virus, Monkey Pox, and other deadly illnesses.

Ninety percent of all reptiles carry and shed Salmonella in their feces. Iguanas, snakes, lizards, and turtles are common carriers of the bacteria. Reptiles that carry salmonella do not show any symptoms, thus there is no simple way to tell which reptiles play host to the microbe and which do not, because even those that have it do not constantly shed the bacteria. Individuals become infected by ingesting salmonella after handling a reptile or objects the reptile contaminated, and then failing to wash their hands properly (this can be either indirect or direct contact with infected reptiles). The CDC recommends that children, people with compromised immune systems, and the elderly avoid all contact with reptiles and not possess them as “pets.”

Salmonellosis associated with exotic “pets” has been described as one of the most important public health diseases affecting more people and animals than any other single disease. The CDC estimates that 93,000 salmonella cases caused by exposure to reptiles are reported each year in the United States.

3. Animal Cruelty

When in the hands of private individuals, the animals themselves suffer. These animals do not adjust well to a captive environment, for they require special care, housing, diet and maintenance that the average person cannot provide. As a result, individuals possessing exotic animals often attempt to change the nature of the animal rather than the nature of the care provided.

Many possessors realize they can no longer care for an exotic “pet” so they turn to zoos and other institutions such as sanctuaries to take over the responsibility. However, all the zoos and accredited institutions could not possibly accommodate the number of unwanted exotic “pets.” As a result, the majority of these animals are either euthanized, abandoned, or doomed to live in deplorable conditions.

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