Keeping them wild
Special to the Ledger-Enquirer
When it comes to keeping wild animals as pets in
Some of the reasons are better than others.
First, it's illegal.
It's bad for the animals. A wild species kept for a prolonged period of time by humans usually dies or becomes domesticated to the point it can never be returned to its native habitat.
It's also dangerous for humans in ways they may never have imagined. Many people across the country have become sick, died or even caused the deaths of others because they tried to keep a wild animal as a pet.
In short, it's just a bad idea.
"When people try to bring native wild animals into their lives as so-called 'pets,' the stories just never have a happy ending," said Todd Nims of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Special Permits Unit. "People don't realize how hard it is to properly care for a wild animal. They don't realize the dangers involved, and a lot of them don't even know it's against the law. Bad things always seem to happen."
Anyone who has ever encountered a baby animal in the wild knows how cute, innocent and helpless they can look. But just like kittens and puppies, they grow up -- and they can bring a slew of problems into a home environment.
For example: Raccoons -- one of the most innocent-looking animals as youngsters -- can carry a species of intestinal worm known as balis ascaris that can be transmitted to humans. Microscopic larvae from this worm can make their way into the brains of people and dogs, causing serious neurological problems and even death.
Can you believe it? All that from a raccoon?
"People have been known to contract balis from simply feeding raccoons in their backyards," Nims said. "So obviously, your chances go way up if the animal is living with you."
Another cuddly looking animal that has caused major problems in captivity is the whitetail deer.
During the spring and summer, humans often find adorable spotted fawns they believe have been abandoned by their mothers. They "rescue" the tiny, frail animals and soon find themselves living with full-grown critters in excess of 100 pounds.
Whitetail bucks are particularly dangerous because they begin sprouting dangerous antlers when they reach adulthood -- and they become very territorial toward other animals and even humans. There is at least one documented case of a captive deer goring someone to death in
"First of all, fawns are rarely ever abandoned by their mothers," said Robert Simmons, a private lands biologist with Georgia DNR. "Does leave their fawns in safe places while they go off to forage. If you find a fawn, the best thing to do is leave it alone because the mother is most likely coming back for it."
Even if humans survive keeping animals illegally, the experience is rarely a good one for the animal.
Native wild animals kept in captivity are often malnourished because they don't have access to the natural forage they seek instinctively in the wild. Animals are often confined to small spaces where their muscles become atrophied from lack of exercise.
Worst of all, wild animals kept in captivity lose the ability to hunt and forage for themselves. They become dependant on humans for their daily necessities and can never re-learn the basic skills they were born with.
"Animals kept by humans for any substantial length of time are generally ruined," Nims said. "They can't be reintroduced into the wild. So when we seize them, they have to be placed at an educational facility or some other type of facility that is licensed to care for them."
Space in such facilities has become limited.
"Most of those facilities across the state already have everything they need," Nims said. "If we can't find a place for them, unfortunately, they have to be euthanized."
People caught in possession of a native wild animal without the proper permits are subject to stiff fines and permanent seizure of the animal -- and such permits aren't easy to get. They are generally issued to facilities that intend to use the animals for commercial or educational purposes only.
"We don't allow people to keep wild animals as 'pets' in any situation," Nims said. "There are plenty of animals that can be kept easily and legally as pets. It's best to let the wild animals remain wild."
For the cats,
Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457
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