by Michelle Rivera -
So there I was eating a vegan bagel with "Better than
cream cheese" on it and watching the Ellen DeGeneres show one day during
the holidays. Her guest that day was Steve Harvey, who is a comedian.
When asked about Michael Jackson, who Mr. Harvey supports unequivocally
in his present dilemma, Mr. Harvey said "Michael Jackson is so rich, he
has giraffe money! Imagine, someone with enough money to buy himself a
Unless that giraffe has a law degree, I don't think he
will be of much help to Jacko in this dire time of need. But the comment
begged the question "Why would anyone buy a giraffe for his backyard?''
But this is Michael Jackson we are talking about and we frequently
wonder why he does the things he does. Thankfully, his proclivity for
giraffes has not caught on with his minions.
But there are many other exotic animals that have found
their way into millions of American homes, much to the chagrin of animal
rights activists who have long held that exotic animals suffer
tremendous abuses during their journey to the pet stores and beyond.
Statistics show that the trade in reptiles is the fastest-growing
segment of the pet trade in recent years. So maybe it's time to look at
this from another angle. Perhaps appealing to the health and well-being
of the people who buy these animals makes more sense than attempting to
argue on behalf of the animals.
Consider this: The Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
reports that the frequency of salmonella infections (salmonellosis) from
contact with pet reptiles has increased over the past 15 years. Most of
the cases occur with infants and young children, and quite a few have
involved serious complications. Two infants developed salmonellosis by
contact with pet iguanas, resulting in the death of one of the infants.
In light of this, the CDC issued a statement warning parents of young
children that pet reptiles, (iguanas, snakes, turtles and other
lizards), be kept out of households with kids under five or with people
who have immuno-suppressed systems.
But although the popularity of reptiles has grown, the
list of exotic pets doesn't stop with reptiles. Other popular exotic
animals include hedgehogs, macaws, lizards, rodents, monkeys. Mike Tyson
"owns" white tigers, but luckily, Tyson's popularity has faded of late
and his penchant for white tigers has not caught on with whatever fans
he has left. Most exotic animals are federally regulated. These laws
provide criminal penalties for people who own exotic animals without
proper permits. However, these laws are not in place to protect animals,
but for the protection of humans from animals who can carry
transmittable diseases. For example, people can contract diseases like
tuberculosis and hepatitis B from monkeys. Snakes and lizards transmit
salmonella bacteria to humans. Animals such as raccoons, hedgehogs,
rats, sugar gliders and ferrets can transmit distemper, ringworm, mange,
intestinal parasites, and bacterial and viral infections to domestic
animals and humans. Giardia can easily be transmitted from parakeets,
cockatiels and parrots.
So what is an active activist to do? Here are some facts
that may help you win an argument:
A captive life amounts to capital punishment for exotic
animals because of the lack of proper nutrition, environmental
necessities, abject loneliness, and the stress brought on by their
imprisonment. The trade in exotic pets is even more fatal to animals
that don't make it to our pet stores; for each animal who does make it
to the auction or the pet store, incalculable others die en route.
The sale of birds, fish, reptiles, "pocket pets" and
other mammals is, of course, legal. However, the trade in these animals
is the result of illegal smuggling and support of an illegal trade in
exotic animals. Caged birds are smuggled into the United States more
than any other animal. In her book, All God's Creatures Priced to Sell,
Anastasia Toufexis reveals that, prior to shipment, birds are force-fed,
their wings clipped, their beaks taped shut, and they are crammed into
all kinds of inadequate habitats, from spare tires to suitcases. It is
quite common for 80 percent of the birds in one shipment to die, which
explains the enormous price they bring. Snakes and lizards are sedated
and crammed into containers with false bottoms. Needless to say, the
rate of death of these animals is also very high.
Need more? How about the environmentalists point of
view? Let's look at the result of all this smuggling on the ecosystems
from which they come. The population of the South American hyacinth
macaw has dropped 75 percent. The Argentina trappers have annihilated
thousands of quebracho trees while snatching fledgling macaws in their
nests. In Philippine waters, poachers spray cyanide to capture brightly
colored tropical fish. And in the movie "Instinct," we watch in stunned
horror as poachers shoot primates, especially nursing mothers, because
babies cling to their mothers' dead carcasses in fear. Anthony Hopkins
character may have been fictitious, but the portrayal of "harvesting"
monkeys was frighteningly factual.
There's more! There's also the moral consequence. What
happens to iguanas who grow to six feet? We drop them off at the zoo, of
course! Sorry, not an option. The American Zoo and Aquarium Association
advises zoos to refuse exotic animals from people who are unwilling to
care for them. Jack Cover, a curator at the National Aquarium in
Baltimore, says, "We'd have to have two or three warehouses to handle
the donations we get calls on." Zookeepers have found animals that have
been sneaked into exhibits, which puts the existing population at risk
for infectious diseases. When found, these animals are euthanized.
Irresponsible owners have even attempted to return
unwanted animals to their "natural environment" -- which simply amounts
to abandonment in rural areas. Without suitable rehabilitation, however,
these animals will become prey, will starve, or will die at the hands of
cruelty, indifference, the elements, or traffic. And if that doesn't go
far enough to convince people not to support the exotic pet trade,
consider this sobering statistic: Of all the all exotic animals who are
purchased as "pets" 60% die within the first month of ownership 20
percent die within the first year, 10 percent are still alive by the end
of the second year.
Don't fall into the trap that you are "rescuing" an
exotic animal from the pet store because he looked (pick one) lonely,
hungry, cute, desolate, forlorn, helpless or needy and you knew you
could take care of him better; the very second you walk out of the pet
store with your "rescue", he will be replaced by another, and the cycle
of misery will continue because of your patronage.
And don't even get me started on giraffes!
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