December 22, 2017
To the Richmond City Council for considering a ban on wild and exotic animals as pets.
Richmond, Virginia is home to over 220,000 people. For animal control, enforcing the safe and humane care of dogs and cats can be challenge enough, but exotic pets — including chimpanzees, venomous snakes, and even lions present major concerns.
Currently in Richmond, it is legal to keep exotic animals as pets, even endangered species, with state and federal permits. The term “exotic” refers to any wild, undomesticated species, particularly one that originated in another continent. U.S. examples of exotic pets would include tigers, anacondas, and sugar gliders. The term “wild animal” generally refers to any wild, undomesticated species local to the area being discussed. Wild animals in the U.S. would include foxes, wolves, and raccoons.
A proposed new ordinance in city hall would change Richmond’s code, banning most species of exotic and wild animals from within city limits. Residents who currently own an exotic pet would be allowed to maintain ownership, unless the animal is deemed dangerous. Small nonvenomous snakes, ferrets, and domestic rabbits would be permitted.
While exotic animals are beautiful, and the draw to be near them is understandable, exotic pet ownership presents some major problems to the welfare of the animals themselves. The following are a few reasons why:
- Some of the wild animals being kept as pets have nuanced nutritional, environmental, and social needs. The complete care of these animals would be challenging even for an experienced biologist. Proper care requires vast knowledge of the species, atypical of a layman.
- The purchase of many exotic pets powers illegal wildlife trafficking, in which species are captured from the wild for sale in the U.S. In other cases, the animals are inhumanely bred in North America, and sold to buyers.
- Even with vast knowledge of the species, the adequate care of many of these species would require capital that few Americans possess. Adequate land, safe containment, veterinary care, and a suitable, enriched environment for an animal like a wolf, tiger, chimpanzee, or alligator requires a steep and long-term financial commitment.
- Many exotic species live for decades, often outliving their human owners.
- A “tame” wild animal is still a wild animal. Unlike a dog or cat, which has undergone thousands of years of domestication, a tiger or chimpanzee retains the same DNA as his wild counterparts. Therefore, animal’s instincts to hunt, defend, procreate, migrate, and perform other behaviors are still intact. When an animal cannot express these instincts in the normal context of the wild, the consequences may incur a threat to human safety, and ultimately, the safety of the animal. (Warning: the following link contains content that could be upsetting to some readers.) The canonical example of this reality tragically occurred in the year 2009, when the chimpanzee, Travis, mauled a friend of his owner. Travis was shot dead after the attack. The attack occurred after years of living among humans.
Take action. Residents of Richmond, Virginia, contact your city council and urge them to pass an ordinance restricting the ownership of exotic pets.