Fancy a pet tiger? How about a bear or a chimp? In Indiana, that’s just fine and legal — but if a group of animal-rights activists have their way, not for long.
Indiana allows legal private ownership of a variety of exotic animals, including lions, tigers, cougars, ocelots, bears, wolves, alligators and non-human primates. Advocacy group Be the Change for Animals is working to alter the state’s laws, arguing that keeping these wild animals as pets is inhumane and dangerous.
Though their owners may think they “love” the animal — loving a being means wanting what’s best for it, even if it causes us pain. In a sanctuary, these exotic “pets” would receive care from highly trained individuals, live in natural habitat enclosures, and would be interacted with appropriately and respectfully….Exotic animals pose serious health risks to humans and can transmit zoonotic diseases like Herpes B, Monkey Pox, and Salmonellosis. The keeping of these wild animals is a public health and safety risk.
There are millions of exotic animals living in private homes in the United States; it’s estimated that there are between 5,000 and 7,000 tigers alone kept as pets, a number greater than the entire global population left living in the wild. Many pets of this type are stolen from their native habitats in manners that break local laws, or come from unregulated backyard breeders.
Regardless of what Indiana law says, these are wild animals. Cats and dogs have been domesticated over thousands of years, but the same cannot be said for wolves or tigers. Inevitably, these “pets” cause harm to other animals and humans, through no fault of their own, and often end up destroyed as a result.
Born Free USA is a good source of information about the realities of life for exotic animals improperly kept as pets.
Most people cannot provide the special care, housing, diet, and maintenance that exotic animals require. Many animals who have become too difficult for their owners to care for, or who have outgrown their usefulness as “pets” or profit-makers, end up languishing in small pens in backyards, doomed to live in deplorable conditions, or are abandoned or killed. A very few lucky ones are placed in genuine sanctuaries to live out the rest of their lives.
Other states have ended the legal practice of keeping wild animals as pets. This year in Ohio, outgoing governor Ted Strickland banned the future sale, breeding and ownership of wild animals like bears and chimps. People in the state who already own such animals are now required to register them and no longer allowed to breed them. Other states have varied laws, from strict restrictions on the ownership of exotic animals to virtually none; About.com has a good guide to existing legislation across the U.S.
In Canada, exotic pet laws vary by province and city; for example, Toronto allows pigeons and backyard chickens but bans non-human primates and snakes longer than three meters, while the province of B.C. restricts big cats, large lizards and animals otherwise deemed unusual or non-native to the province. UK pet laws changed in 2007, adding extra restrictions on some animals (dingos) and loosening them on other (sloths).
The American Veterinary Medical Association, the United States Department of Agriculture, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Animal Control Association, and the American Zoo and Aquarium Association are all against the keeping of some wild/exotic animals as pets. If you also agree that wild animals shouldn’t be kept as domestic pets, sign the petition in support of changing Indiana’s laws.
Photo by David Barber/Creative Commons