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Thanks to social media, baby otters have become popular wild pets.

The Mainichi Shimbun/Aflo


The World of Wild Pets

Millions of wild animals are kept as pets. Find out why that might not be such a great idea.

iStock/Getty Images

If you’re looking for a new pet, Chris Evans knows just the place. He owns Panhandle Exotics, a pet store in Pensacola, Florida. However, you won’t find puppies or kittens there. One of the store’s top sellers? Hedgehogs.

Mini pigs, red kangaroos, and sugar gliders (right) are just a few of the other exotic pets he sells. Exotic pets are animals that haven’t been domesticated like dogs and cats.

Thanks to social media, interest in exotic pets has skyrocketed in recent years. People post videos on Instagram of their cute pet otters playing with chew toys or little monkeys taking a bath. Soon their followers want to rush out and buy one for themselves. But experts warn that there is often more than meets the eye when it comes to owning wild pets.

“People are not thinking about the real consequences of that choice for both them and the animal,” says Angela Grimes of animal rights group Born Free USA.

If you’re looking for a new pet, Chris Evans knows just the place. He owns Panhandle Exotics. That’s a pet store in Pensacola, Florida. However, you won’t find puppies or kittens there. One of the store’s top sellers? Hedgehogs.

Mini pigs, red kangaroos, and sugar gliders (right) are just a few of the other exotic pets he sells. Exotic pets are animals that haven’t been domesticated like dogs and cats.

Thanks to social media, interest in exotic pets has skyrocketed in recent years. People post videos on Instagram of their cute pet otters playing with chew toys or little monkeys taking a bath. Soon their followers want to rush out and buy one for themselves. But experts warn that there is often more than meets the eye when it comes to owning wild pets.

“People are not thinking about the real consequences of that choice for both them and the animal,” says Angela Grimes of animal rights group Born Free USA.

Buyer Beware

Millions of wild animals are kept as pets in the United States. And they’re not all little critters like hedgehogs. In some states, it’s legal to own giant pythons, chimpanzees, or even lions.

But wild pets are just that—wild. So their behavior can be hard to predict, which can be dangerous. In 2017, a 2-year-old girl in Iowa was rushed to the hospital after her family’s pet wolf attacked her. It was one of nearly 100 reported attacks by wild pets in the past decade.

But even smaller animals like hedgehogs can cause trouble. They can bite and may carry diseases harmful to humans.

“Don’t let their tiny size or cute faces fool you,” says Grimes.

Plus, experts point out that many wild pets live very differently in homes or backyards than they would in their natural habitat. Some baby otters, for example, live in rivers in groups of up to 15. But as pets, many spend a lot of time alone in cages, with little more than an occasional swim in a small tub.

Millions of wild animals are kept as pets in the United States. And they’re not all little critters like hedgehogs. It’s legal in some states to own giant pythons, chimpanzees, or even lions.

But wild pets are just that—wild. So their behavior can be hard to predict. That can be dangerous. In 2017, a 2-year-old girl in Iowa was rushed to the hospital. Her family’s pet wolf had attacked her. It was one of nearly 100 reported attacks by wild pets in the past decade.

But even smaller animals like hedgehogs can cause trouble. They can bite. They also may carry diseases harmful to humans.

“Don’t let their tiny size or cute faces fool you,” says Grimes.

Plus, experts point out that many wild pets live very differently in homes or backyards than they would in their natural habitat. Some baby otters, for example, live in rivers in groups of up to 15. But as pets, many spend a lot of time alone in cages. They have little more than an occasional swim in a small tub.

Vincent J. Musi/National Geographic Creative

ALL GROWN-UP: Many exotic pets end up being too big—or too expensive—for owners to care for. John Matus bought Boo Boo the bear as a small cub. When Boo Boo was grown, Matus gave her up to an animal sanctuary, where she would have more room to roam.

ALL GROWN-UP: Many exotic pets end up being too big—or too expensive—for owners to care for. John Matus bought Boo Boo the bear as a small cub. When Boo Boo was grown, Matus gave her up to an animal sanctuary, where she would have more room to roam.

A Wild Debate

Evans admits that exotic pets are not right for everyone. But that doesn’t mean he thinks people should shy away from getting one. He argues that bad owners, not bad animals, are the problem. People can get hurt when they don’t take safety measures. And the animals suffer when owners don’t take care of them properly.

That’s why Evans makes sure his customers know what to expect. He tells them exactly what could go wrong and what the animals need.

“If you can’t prove that you can take care of the animal properly, you’re not adopting a pet from my store,” he says.  

Not all sellers are as careful as Evans, though. It’s easy to buy many types of exotic pets online. But most online ads don’t tell buyers how to care for the animals. Nor do they include warnings about any possible dangers the animals pose.

Grimes says even if a buyer thinks they’re totally prepared, there’s still a big problem with owning a wild pet.

“Even if you take the best care of an exotic pet, that animal is not living in the
wild where it belongs,” says Grimes.

Evans admits that exotic pets are not right for everyone. But that doesn’t mean he thinks people should shy away from getting one. He argues that bad owners, not bad animals, are the problem. People can get hurt when they don’t take safety measures. And the animals suffer when owners don’t take care of them properly.

That’s why Evans makes sure his customers know what to expect. He tells them exactly what could go wrong. He tells them what the animals need.

“If you can’t prove that you can take care of the animal properly, you’re not adopting a pet from my store,” he says. 

Not all sellers are as careful as Evans, though. It’s easy to buy many types of exotic pets online. But most online ads don’t tell buyers how to care for the animals. And they don’t include warnings about any possible dangers the animals pose.

Grimes says some buyers think they’re totally prepared. But there’s still a big problem with owning a wild pet.

“Even if you take the best care of an exotic pet, that animal is not living in the wild where it belongs,” says Grimes.

 iStock/Getty Images

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