Have you ever seen a monkey in a movie and thought, hey, that’s cute, I want one of those? Maybe you’ve seen celeb with exotic pets, like a lemur or pig, and thought, oh man, I would love to have one of those as a pet.
It’s very easy to fall under the spell of a cute micro pig or a Capuchin monkey, and it’s easy to love the exotic uniqueness of a leopard gecko or bearded dragon, but you have to remember one very important thing. They are all wild animals, with special needs that are difficult for urban pet owners to meet.
Some of the most popular exotic pets
Rabbits are technically considered exotic animals, but they aren’t by any means the most exotic. Other species include reptiles (a range of snakes, lizards, and iguanas), fish, and birds.
Some examples include:
- Tortoises and turtles
- African Pygmy Hedgehog
- Chinchillas and degus
- Sugar gliders
- Slow loris
Why exotic wild animals aren’t suitable as pets
The general public simply doesn’t know enough about wild animals to keep them as pets. They have complex dietary, environmental and behavioral needs that extend why beyond taking your dog for a daily walk and building your cat a catio. Failure to meet their needs puts you at odds with animal welfare organisations and various legislation. You could face prosecution for abuse or neglect.
There are 5 basic needs (or essential freedoms) that all pet owners should provide. These include:
- Freedom from discomfort. All pet animals have the right to a comfortable living environment and that includes a habitat that is the correct size, offers the correct shelter and is kept at the correct temperature.
- Freedom from hunger and thirst. All pets have the right to a balanced diet that meets their breed or species-specific needs, and they have the right to a constant supply of fresh water.
- Freedom to express normal behavior. All pet animals have the right to exercise their innate behavior patterns, including climbing, swimming, foraging and digging.
- Freedom from fear and distress. All pets have the right to feel safe and secure without any threat to their psychological, emotional or physical well-being.
- Freedom from pain, injury and disease. All pet animals have the right to proper medical care in the event of illness or injury – and owners need to take proper care to prevent illness and injury as much as it’s possible.
To make sure you can meet these needs, you need to research the type of exotic pet you’re interested in and make sure you full understand what living with them entails. You also need to ensure that you buy your exotic pet from a reputable provider. There are way too many illegally imported exotic animals in the USA, captured in the wild by poachers and transported in inhumane conditions so that they can live in sub-par living conditions.
As a general rule, don’t buy an animal from an online supplier, choose an exotic pet specialist.
Some important considerations regarding specific exotic pets
Olivia Rudgard takes a look at some important considerations you have to bear in mind before buying one of the following exotic animals:
Animal welfare organisations strongly discourage anyone from buying any type of monkey, as their complex social and nutritional needs are very difficult to meet. It doesn’t matter how cute that little Capuchin is, unless you’ve spent your life studying them in the wild, she won’t thrive in your home.
Hedgehogs are surprisingly popular as small – handbag sized – exotic pets. Unfortunately, it’s tricky to replicate their diet and they are next to impossible to house train, so you’ll find poo pellets everywhere your prickly cutie has been.
George Clooney brought pot bellied pigs to the public’s attention, but micro pigs (or teacup pigs) have taken over as the pet swine of choice. The problem with these pigs is that they don’t stay micro. Adult ‘teacup’ pigs can grow up to 100 pounds. They can be bigger than Great Danes. Pet owners struggle to meet their nutritional needs, and many people who have micro pigs for sale, often give owners false nutritional advice in the hopes of keeping the pigs small. Whatever size your pig, you need to provide a lot of space for them to roam and forage and you should, ideally, provide a piggy companion, as they are social animals.
In addition, there is a lot of red tape to cut through if you want to own a pig. As a pet pig owner, you are bound by the same regulations as pig farmers, you will need a county parish holding number and you will need to inform you local Animal and Plant Health Agency.
Many exotic pet reptiles grow much bigger than their owners expect, and often outgrow their vivariums. Their appetites are also difficult to satisfy, especially for anyone who is slightly squeamish around insects and rodents.
Reptiles are also very good problem solvers and can figure out how to get out of their vivariums and take themselves for a walk (or slither) around your house or your neighbourhood, scaring the hell out of your and the sweet old lady down the road.
Owls are beautiful and mysterious and make rubbish pets. They are predators and don’t take kindly to cages or to having their meals provided in unexciting ways. They need space to stretch their wings, they need a complex diet and their sharp beaks and talons can be very, very dangerous.
Stephen Crickmore Veterinary Practice mentions special considerations for exotic animals.
Bearded dragons can live for up to 12 years, which is a long time to have a pet that doesn’t lend herself to kisses and cuddles. They need a habitat that is at least twice as big as they are and they need temperature variations within their habitat, so they can bask in warmth and cool down as they need. They need a balanced mix of plant-based and insect-based foods, including locusts, crickets, mealworms, dandelions and spring greens. Even then they will also need mineral and vitamin supplements.
Corn snakes can live for up to 12 years and they grow to be over 3 feet long. They are natural Salmonella carriers, so risk of illness is always a concern. They are nocturnal, so don’t expect action and entertainment from them during the day. Their vavarium needs to be temperature-controlled to different temperatures during the day and night. They need a basking area, but their exposure to light must also be carefully controlled. They need clean water to bath in and they need to be fed every 2 – 3 days.
Giant African Land Snails
There are people for whom giant snails represent the ultimate in animal companionship. African land snails are not your run-of-the-mill garden variety snail. They grow up to about 8 inches and can live up to 7 years. Snails thrive in habitats that contain other snail friends and that are temperature controlled, well ventilated and have a nice peat or compost carpeting at the bottom.
They eat fresh fruit and veggies but will need calcium supplements – crushed eggshells or cuttlefish will meet their calcium needs.
Two final important considerations
Exotic pets need specialized veterinary care and some species need special licences.
Exotic animals have special veterinary needs that most local vets can’t meet. Typically, veterinary training for pets doesn’t include iguanas, tarantulas or slow lorises, so you may have to hunt far and wide to find anyone capable, let alone qualified to treat your exotic pet.
Some vets are willing to work with exotic animals, if they can find an expert to offer the necessary advice and support. You need to bear in mind, however, that if you have a venomous or dangerous pet, your veterinarian may be understandably reluctant to treat her. They may, however, do some research on your behalf and find a specialist who can help you and your owl or tarantula.
If all else fails contact a zoo. Zoos invariably have experts capable of treating virtually any species and may be able to help you directly or help you find another specialist.
All pets are for life, even the ones you no longer find cute or who have grown too big. It’s especially important that you understand this before you buy an exotic pet, because it can very supremely difficult to re-home a fully grown boa constrictor or Macaw.
If you no longer want your exotic pet, or you can’t keep your pet for any reason, DO NOT release them into the ‘wild’. US landscapes are a far cry from their natural habitat and they’re unlikely to adapt and survive. Their presence may also have an adverse impact on local wildlife and could damage certain industries, especially agriculture.
Furthermore, it is illegal to dump or release non-native species into the wild.
Instead, contact a zoo or your local animal shelter for advice. Some zoos will be willing to take your pet off your hands (take – not buy), and if they can’t they may give you advice regarding re-homing.