Keeping exotic animals as pets might make a great conversation starter, although it’s tough to start a conversation if you happen to be dead. Certain exotic animals are known for their ability to maim and kill — not to mention they’re illegal to keep in many states and localities. The owners are at risk, especially if they have no clue on the proper care and handling of such creatures, but exotic pets can also pose a hazard to the community, the ecosystem and 2-year-old children who might look like supper. Even exotic creatures that are not deadly still run the risk of terrifying your family, friends, neighbors and any potential spouses on your list.
If you think rats get a bad rap, try a 150-pound rodent. The capybara, which is related to the guinea pig and officially the largest rodent in the world, can grow to 4 feet in length with a height of 2 feet tall. They also require a whole lot of time and patience to make them comfortable enough to coexist around humans. But despite their imposing size, they are quite harmless, and owners can become very devoted to their rodent. One capybara owner, Melanie Typaldos, even turned her pet into a celebrity of sorts, with a website and Facebook page with thousands of friends.
Some people get creepy about crawly pets like tarantulas, although these fuzzy spiders are easy to care for and can be fun to own if you take the right precautions. They do bite, and some people can have bad reactions, so experts recommend minimizing handling. And many tarantulas have a defense mechanism in which they flick barbed hairs from their body into a person’s eyes; surgery is needed to remove them. As a Cornell University web page on pet tarantulas notes, “do not open a cage and look at a spider directly.” So here you have a pet that you should avoid handling, and should not look at. Sounds like great fun, right? But at least you don’t have to worry about being eaten by a tarantula, as their diet consists of insects.
For many people in the Southwestern U.S., scorpions are pests to avoid. Where some see pests, others see pets, as exotic pet dealers have seen an upswing in demand for the stinging creature. Most scorpion stings are harmless, but they pose a threat to young children, seniors, and can kill household pets.
7. Giant Snakes
Owning a giant pet snake may be the epitome of manliness to some, but it’s also an easy way to kill your toddler. Such was the case in 2009 when an 8-foot pet Burmese python in Florida decided to slither into a 2-year-old girl’s crib in search of food. It found some. The snake belonged to the girl’s mother’s boyfriend, who called 911 in a panic: “Our stupid snake got out in the middle of the night and strangled the baby.” The couple was found guilty of manslaughter in 2011. MSNBC reports the girl was one of five children and 12 people overall killed by pet pythons since 1980. Pythons are also screwing up Florida’s Everglades ecosystem, since many folks let them loose in the wild when the cute little baby snakes grow into 16-foot beasts thicker than the cables used to hold up the Brooklyn Bridge. And we didn’t even get started on boa constrictors …
6. Monitor Lizards
If you like the idea of housing a miniature dinosaur, you would probably dig a giant lizard as an exotic pet. Just make sure you go for a type of lizard that is more like the docile brontosaurus than the fearful tyrannosaurus rex. Certain types of monitor lizards fall into the latter category. In one gruesome case, police called to an apartment in Dover, Delaware, found seven giant lizards feasting on the corpse of their owner. A cause of death was never determined, but the man’s friends noted he had recently been bitten by one of the lizards, leading to speculation he died from an infection. The incident was featured on the Animal Planet show Fatal Attractions.
5. Alligators and Crocodiles
Although men with cool Australian accents and a few others have found ways to live peacefully with alligators and crocodiles, these reptiles do not make good pets. If you do want to keep such a behemoth, know that both alligators and crocodiles can grow up to 15 feet in length. And just so you know, crocodiles can outrun horses, at least for the short haul, so don’t think fleeing on foot leaves you any chances.
You may end up howling like a wolf if you decide to keep one of these canine creatures as a pet. As with other baby animals, wolf pups may seem just too cute to pass up. But when they grow up, they are too unpredictable to make a good pet. Unlike their domesticated dog cousins that were specifically bred to be eager-to-please loyal companions, wolves don’t really care about anything other than their next bloody meal of raw meat. They certainly don’t care about pleasing their master. Even if wolves are not the bloodthirsty menace to man as depicted in really bad Westerns, they are still apt to attack when frightened or cornered. That’s where your howling would come in.
Bears make great bedfellows when they are plush, stuffed and preceded by the word “teddy,” but real live bears are terrible pets. Although keeping bears as pets is illegal nearly everywhere, some people insist on giving it a try — with sometimes disastrous results. In 2009, one unfortunate Pennsylvania woman apparently thought she could safely clean one side of the bear cage while she threw some dog food in the other to distract the 350-pound beast. It didn’t work. As her own children and other neighborhood kids watched in horror, the black bear attacked and killed her.
2. Lions, Tigers and Other Big Cats
A tabby cat may be dandy, but lions, tigers, leopards, panthers and other large cats that normally roam wild are not quite as fine as feline pets. A 2011 incident in Ohio proved this point when a man let dozens of exotic animals loose before killing himself. Police officers had to hunt down and kill dozens of big cats. In another infamous incident, entertainer Roy Horn of Siegfried & Roy fame was critically injured by his pet white tiger during a live performance. If that’s not enough to convince you not to keep large, predatory cats as pets, just think about cleaning out their litter box.
Young chimpanzees are undeniably cute, affectionate and fun to have around the house. One problem: they eventually grow up. Chimpanzees are incredibly intelligent, display violent and unpredictable tendencies after reaching puberty and are five times stronger than humans. That is a dangerous mix. In one highly publicized incident in 2009, a woman was savagely attacked by an acquaintance’s 200-pound chimpanzee; it gouged her eyes and ripped off her lips, nose and both hands. The chimp, named Travis, had gone on a wild rampage and had to be shot to death following the incident. Other chimpanzee owners have also been mauled. As the JaneGoodall.org website notes, “Chimpanzees are meant to live in the wild, not in our homes.”