This is a post I started a couple of weeks ago, and am just now getting around to finishing it.
I often see this on many different social networking platforms; picture of some adorable animal, most likely a baby version of the full adult, with people wishing they could have one as a pet. Most often, the prime examples are bear cubs, lion cubs, tiger cubs, anything that is a massive killer when it becomes an adult. That’s the first thing I want to mention.
I’ll use tiger for this example, because I know a bit about them. Yes, tiger cubs are cute. They’re basically large cats or kittens. They have the same playful spirit as kittens, they have the same curiosity as kittens, they even sort of squeak and mew like kittens. But here’s the thing about tiger cubs; they grow up. A lot. You essentially end up with an animal that weighs 600 pounds, can move fast, has slashing claws and teeth. Not exactly the creature you want as a pet. Especially when you are basically made up of what they eat; meat. Tigers are also incredibly unpredictable. They may be playing one minute in a pool or lounging around in the shade, and then ready to strike with all ferocity the next minute. Trying to predict a tiger’s mood is like trying to predict the weather, and even then the weather is a thousand times easier to predict.
I’ve caught myself in these kinds of situations, especially with the smaller cats of the wild like bobcats and ocelots, or even my favourite of all wild animals, the fox. Each one of these animals has had the misfortune of being sought after for one reason or another by humans. Ocelots were hunted for their pelts, and later as part of an illegal pet trade. Foxes, especially in North America, were victims of the predator and pest laws that allowed farmers to shoot on sight. This action caused the near extinction of the swift fox and the kit fox. In Europe, especially in Britain, hunting red foxes was a sport. But now even foxes are part of the illegal pet trade (there are some reputable pet breeders who deal in foxes, but they are all domesticated, and act quite a bit like regular dogs). Fennec foxes are quite popular as pets, due to their large ears and relatively small size. From what I’ve heard, they actually make good companions for domesticated cats (regular house cats).
I’ll admit, these animals are rather cute, but I’ve had to steel myself and realize the reality is that they need to remain in the wild. Naturally, that isn’t always an option because many times populations become so dwindled we have to assist them, like what many zoos attempt to do. A place like Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida tries to rehabilitate lesser and greater cats, or gives them a place to live out their final days. Many of the big cats at Big Cat Rescue are former circus tigers or lions, and some have lived for over 20 years in captivity.
I’ll give an example of illegal pet trade, and what it does to the animal.
This is the slender loris, a popular animal to keep as a pet. Nocturnal by nature, they are members of the complete genus of loris. They are actually primates. Located in Sri Lanka and India, the loris has huge eyes to help it hunt insects that it requires for food. They also have very sharp front incisors, and a bite from a loris can be quite toxic. In the illegal pet trade, these teeth are removed from the animal, often without any anaesthetic. So they go through a huge amount of trauma before they are shipped off to a customer, and then they aren’t allowed their natural habitat which happens to be in the dark.
I still get it, it’d be awesome to have one of these as a pet, but to be honest, the only way I’d actually want one is if I was caring for it because it couldn’t survive in the wild. Just imagine if a fox ended up in your back yard with a leg trapped in a gopher trap (common trap placed in gopher burrows to trap and kill gophers). These traps injure more than just gophers, as other animals may fall victim to them as well. If the fox ended up in your back yard, with a trap around its leg, chances are good it dragged itself there and is now exhausted from trying to get the trap off, loss of blood, and trauma its going through. Chances are also good it can never use that leg again. Most would like the humane thing to do would be to kill it. I’m of a different sort, and I’d probably want to help it, but that would also mean I’d become the fox’s care giver, because that fox would never be able to hunt in the wild again. A loss of a limb means it can’t pounce properly to hunt for food, that it would be easy pickings for larger predators like hawks and coyotes. Essentially condemning it to death even if you did save it.
Even then, that would be a huge responsibility to become an animal’s care giver, not mentioning the fact that you’d have to convince the animal you meant it no harm. The fox doesn’t know you, as far as it’s concerned you’re the one who set the trap and put it in its current predicament.
Essentially, I know animals like the ones above are cute, and look cuddly and they are adorable. But they need to remain in the wild. The best way to care for them isn’t by wishing to have one as a pet, but educating yourself on their habitats, their hunting practices, their social groups and their life cycles. Then try to ensure that their environments in the wild are maintained and kept exactly the way that animal would want it to be kept. That way, we can view these animals from a far without hurting their populations.