When I was a little girl, I wanted a pet tiger – a desire I attribute entirely to Princess Jasmine from Disney’s Aladdin. Her large feline companion, Raja, seemed to be perfect. He was exciting, cuddly, cute, protective, empathetic, and sweet. The ideal animal friend.
However, Raja was also a fictional cartoon character. I grew out of it. No matter how many Animal Planet specials I see with adorable infant wild critters, I force myself to remember that they are, in fact, wild. I’m not equipped to take care of them, unless you count the fact that many of those beasties would probably make a good meal out of me.
Now, the extent of my pet-extravagance entails a cat (not a tiger) named Zip, two Australian shepherds named Foster and Wallaby, and a rescued West Highland terrier named Clover. They are certainly not as glamorous as a tiger. My cat may be fat and lazy and my dogs may love to howl themselves hoarse at passing ambulances, but at least they aren’t harboring a latent desire to rip my face off – that I know of.
Not everyone shares my contentment with plain old domestic pets. Some people don’t want to go all the way to the zoo or a wildlife preserve to see exotic animals. They would rather look out their windows from a safe distance to see bison, tropical birds, monkeys, and all manner of other creatures in their own backyard.
As exotic pet ownership continues to grow, so do my concerns for the animals being taken home.
Unfortunately, there is no concrete definition of “exotic pet,” which can make the issue even more muddled. Some interpretations are broad enough to include pet store staples such as Guinea pigs, ferrets, and rats. Others try to limit the meaning to animals that were more recently in the wild. Still others use “exotic” to mean any animal that hasn’t been fully domesticated, but complete domestication can take generations upon generations and there is no standard definition in this case either. Domestic dogs and cats as we own them now have taken thousands of years to get to this point. More commonly, the colloquial usage seems to basically refer to any animal you can’t readily buy at your local pet store.