As tempting as it might be to adopt an exotic animal—one that is super cute or that you’ve never seen before— there is a long list of reasons why this isn’t a good idea, for you or the animal. Why not get that rare African tortoise, the Serval cat with the beautiful coat, or that adorable Fennec fox you saw on the Internet, which seems to be part cat, part dog, and all ears?
Each of these unusual creatures exists in the wild and was never meant to live in your home. They all have specialized needs that most pet owners could never begin to accommodate. Only professionals are equipped to properly care for them. It’s a problem that continues to grow as pet owners look for the rarest, cutest, or most unusual animal to take home—and it has the potential to threaten the very existence of some of these species.
This article is the first in a series about the drawbacks of owning an exotic, wild animal as a pet.
Keeping It Wild
The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert, throughout its 46 years, has housed many such animals on its 1,200 acres. A zoo and botanic garden combination dedicated solely to the deserts of the world, its mission is desert conservation through preservation, education and appreciation.
The programs there provide environmental education, native wildlife rehabilitation, plant propagation and habitat restoration, and captive breeding of African and Sonoran Desert species, including our area’s iconic desert bighorn sheep. The organization has participated in various species reintroduction programs, including returning Arabian oryx, an antelope, to Oman, located on the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia.
Desert Tortoises in Danger
Many species of endangered animals live at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, including warthogs, lions, jaguars, giraffes, zebra, gazelles, hummingbirds, and golden eagles.
But desert tortoises, California’s state reptile, represent one of the most threatened populations at the zoo, and it’s one that they are committed to educating the public about. Wild desert tortoises face two very serious threats: being captured and contracting deadly diseases from captive, domestic tor-Toises that are released into the wild by irresponsible pet owners.
For thousands of years, the wild tortoise has played a vital role in the overall health of the California desert. Removal of these creatures from their natural habitat disrupts the delicate balance of nature in the desert and can have a serious impact on the overall population. But the greatest threat to the wild tortoise is captive desert tortoises often carry contagious diseases that are fatal to wild tortoises, especially an upper respiratory tract disease that can prove deadly. Common in captive tortoises, the disease is one of the most deadly threats to wild tortoises today.
Educating the Public
In addition to its participation in species reintroduction programs, The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens is home to Living Desert University (LDU), an environmental learning center with programs for all ages. Offering fun learning experiences for just about everyone, the LDU sponsors programs of on-site instruction for students, families and adults, as well as trips to destinations both local and across the globe, with Namibia on the schedule for early 2017.
Want to Help?
If you’re interested in getting handson, The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens has plenty of volunteer opportunities for both teens and adults. Whether it’s manning the petting zoo or conducting tours, volunteers are the primary link for helping educate guests about the zoo.
Don’t miss the next article in our series, where we’ll continue to examine the difficulties of adopting exotic animals—whose very lives depend on living in the wild—as pets. And meanwhile, consider a visit to The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, where you can observe and learn about these unusual wild animals as they thrive in a safe and healthy environment.