Florida is a strange place. Our winters are mild and so people do things down here that they might think twice about doing up north.
What are we talking about?
Exotic pets and their release. Many people become enamored of an unusual type of animal. Maybe they see it in a zoo or in a movie. They get swept up into how amazing it would be to have a pet like that. They don’t research what it takes to care for it or how long those animals live. Or sometimes they do but they don’t check with the people they’re living with, their landlords, or even their insurance policies. Sometimes they’ve done all of their due diligence but then their living arrangements change.
When these things happen the individual is left with an exotic pet that needs a home. If they pet owner is fortunate, they can find one. But many pet owners feel overwhelmed by the responsibility and so they do what seems to make the pet happy, or so they think.
They return it to the wild.
Hey, that’s better than surrendering it to a shelter, right? Wrong.
The Problem with Releasing Exotic Pets into the Wild
Most of our animals at Alligator Attraction have been rescued from skin farms or other places where they were slated for an untimely death. Sometimes we get them from a person who can’t handle the needs of the species or the animal is non-native to Florida. What we often hear though is people who admit they couldn’t handle the pressure of pet ownership of a particular species and so they “set it free.”
While these people mean well, these pets have never known what it’s like to be in the wild. It would be like dropping off your child at Disney by themselves and suggesting they would be just fine because they’re a child and they’ll instinctively know what to do.
We’re not faulting these pet owners. They believe they’re doing something nice for the pet they can no longer care for. But these animals can’t handle themselves in the wild anymore than we can.
While releasing into the wild can be stressful on the pet because they now have to figure out how to seek shelter and find food, other problems can occur. Non-native species can damage an environment. Florida winters are mild and sometimes those non-natives thrive at the expense of others.
Nature works in a precarious balance. When a non-native species begins to deplete a certain source of food, the native species that ate that food suffers too. For instance, let’s say a pet owner wants to get rid of their python. They take him out to a mangrove area and let him go. The snake dines on rats and other small rodents that have no protection from a large predator like the python. Soon their numbers are dwindling and other snakes are feeling the hit on their preferred menu item as well. And what if the animals they’re eating are already endangered?
Releasing the constrictor into the wild seemed like a good idea but it throws off the balance of the delicate ecosystem. We’ve seen this with the Burmese python as they eat woodstorks and mudrats, both endangered. According to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services, “From 1999 to 2009, federal and state agencies spent $1.4 million on Key Largo woodrat recovery and $101.2 million on wood stork recovery.”
If you cannot handle the intricacies of the exotic pet you’ve adopted, you have options. And setting your pet “free” shouldn’t be one of them.
If you’re considering exotic pet adoption, we don’t want to discourage you. We recognize there are many responsible pet owners out there. But before you adopt one, use our Alligator Attraction Exotic Pet Adoption Checklist to help ensure you are unlikely to go through the difficulty of rehoming a pet.
Alligator Attraction Exotic Pet Adoption Checklist
Before Adopting an Exotic Pet You Should…
- Read up on the species taking into account:
- What they eat
- How much food and medical attention will cost
- How long they live
- How large they get and what specific requirements they have for their living conditions
- Consult your lease or landlord to see if the species is allowed.
- Look into your insurance policy.
- Take into account how old you are now and how old you will be if the animal lives to average life expectancy. Many people adopt exotic pets when they’re young and single and don’t realize that they can live for decades. Your life today may be very different than what it will be when that animal is a senior pet.
- Is there a vet in your area who understands the needs of your exotic pet?
- Are there areas where your new pet is illegal? If you don’t know, find out.
- Does the pet’s behavior and temperament fit what you’re looking for in a pet? Not all pets are cuddly. Some pets are nocturnal. Know what you want and then check that the animal you’re about to adopt will give you that.
- Are there any dangers in your current living arrangement for the pet you’re considering adopting?
- Are there any diseases or conditions your new pet is prone to? Can they spread to humans?
- How might your new pet react to your existing pets (or children)?
If You Can No Longer Handle Your Exotic Pet
The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission has an Exotic Pet Amnesty Program. It holds amnesty events throughout the year where exotic pets can be surrendered. They also help pet owners find a home for their exotic pet through their adoption program.
When it comes to pet adoption, don’t take a “we’ll see how it goes” attitude. Do the research ahead of time to understand the needs of your new pet. If you adopt an exotic animal and you find you can’t handle the responsibilities behind it, don’t release it into your backyard or a nearby park. Contact the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission to find out what resources are available to you. Our ecosystem is a delicate balance. Don’t place other species in harm’s way because you no longer can care for your pet.