Where to Find an Exotic Pet
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
The adorable singing, baby-squawking, furry little star of Gremlins had everything I could want in a pet -- a cuddly and unique alternative to the average cat or dog that I was sure I could manage, even with all those pesky rules to keep my little guy from birthing or turning into, literally, a monster.
Of course, my dream wasn't a reality, but it fell in line with the concept of owning a pet monkey or playing with tigers and even alligators. Movies and television shows dedicated to the alien and unusual species of animals around the world brought these creatures directly into our local Cineplex and living rooms, romanticizing the idea of calling these animals our own. And who doesn't recall that indelible image of Michael Jackson and his beloved chimp, Bubbles?
It's that idea that helped spur the market for exotic animals as pets. From the "Sugar Glider" Joey and badgers to literally lions and tigers and bears, the market for exotic pets is wide open and business is booming. You may not find these critters at Petsmart (PETM) or PetCo (CENTA), but here's where you can hunt them down.
Where the Wild Things Are
The exotic and wild animal trade industry in the United States is conservatively estimated to be worth $15 billion annually, according to the Humane Society. The trade in wild animals worldwide is worth many billions of dollars.
And the variety of species is astounding. Interested in a hedgehog (around $125), hyena (roughly $5,000), or kangaroo (about $1,800)? No problem. Looking for a serval -- described by one seller as an unusually small wildcat (males get up to 45 pounds) adapted for hunting prey in African tall grass that feeds chiefly on large rodents or birds? It's available (for just $2,500!).
Besides reptiles and birds, monkeys have become one of the more popular exotic pets of choice.
"Monkeys are probably what I sell the most of," said Mac Stoutz, owner and operator of exoticpetco.com. "Capuchins, spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys, and Macaques … there is a very wide variety of clientele, from families that have several kids to those who can't have kids. I've sold them to couples whose last child went off the college and they had the empty nest syndrome."
An Unfriendly Pet
State laws vary greatly, but most people can easily find an exotic pets dealer like Stoutz via any quick online search. Animals can range in cost from a few hundred dollars to thousands for large breeds like tigers and baboons. Based on statistics from the Captive Wild Animal Protection Coalition, estimates of such creatures currently here in the United States include at least 3,000 nonhuman great apes, 5,000 to 7,000 tigers, 10,000 to 20,000 large cats, 17.3 million birds, and 8.8 million reptiles.
Among those reptiles are Burmese pythons, which have become a serious problem in Florida. In July, 2-year-old Shaiunna Hare was strangled to death in her crib by a nine-foot Burmese python kept as a pet, illegally, in her house near Orlando. Since then, legislators and animal rights activists are trying to get a handle on the thousands of pythons that are pervading the Everglades.
"There are these huge yellow pythons that are too big to be handled, and they wreak havoc on the native wildlife," said Don Anthony, communications director for Animal Rights Foundation of Florida. "The basic problem with exotics is that first of all, simply based on the word itself, they don't belong here."
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