Chimpanzees not the safest house pet

Chimpanzees not the safest house pet

Lions and tigers and chimps, oh my! Exotic creatures from far-away lands have mesmerized Americans for decades, but the past few years have shown that keeping these animals as pets can have serious consequences.

Last February, a Connecticut woman was mauled by her friend’s 200-pound chimpanzee. The chimp, named Travis, ripped off 56-year-old Charla Nash’s hands, nose, lips and eyes. This past week, Nash appeared on “Oprah” and emphasized how dangerous keeping these animals at home can be.

Attacks such as the one Nash endured bring to light a sad but true fact: some wild animals can never truly be domesticated. No matter how long the animal has lived peacefully in captivity, there is always the chance that it will turn on its caretaker. Consider, for example, the tiger that attacked Roy Horn and punctured an artery in his neck during his famous Las Vegas show. Horn was a professional with years of experience, yet even he could not anticipate the tiger’s actions.

The safety of the owners is not the only issue at hand. The well being of the animals is also at stake. These animals can be high-maintenance, even requiring special diets. The right type of food could be challenging to find or expensive to purchase in large quantities. Additionally, the habitat and space the animal needs to live comfortably is another issue that is often overlooked. When these animals are taken in, it is difficult to simulate their natural environment and replicate normal interaction between creatures of the same species. The financial and time commitments, as well as lifestyle changes, that owning an exotic animal require are an aspect many Americans are unprepared.

Some exotic pets have been abandoned when their owners have found caring for them to be too great of a burden. This action can pose a serious ecological problem. Imported animals may have no natural predators, and their populations can explode when left to their own devices in the wild. Such invasive species provide native animals with competition for food and space.

The Burmese python, which is native to Southeast Asia, is a perfect example of such a problem. A little more than 30 years ago, Burmese pythons were nowhere to be seen in the Everglades. Now their numbers are estimated to be somewhere in the thousands, and park staff are constantly working to remove them. How did this happen? Officials believe the snake was introduced to the park by pet owners who released it when it grew too large to handle. Pythons gobble up the same small animals that alligators and other large predators rely on for their meals, thus introducing more competition to the environment.

I am not advocating a ban on exotic pets; it would undoubtedly be unpopular and difficult to pass). I simply believe it is vital for Americans to seriously consider the ramifications of adopting one before they do so. There are many potential hazards involved, both for the human and the animal. If you choose to adopt, be aware of local, state, and federal regulations, and do your homework before, not after, your pet arrives.

Sarah Ziomek is a freshman environmental science major from Keller.