Exotic animal possession is an increasing controversy in the United States. The phrase “exotic animals” includes all big cat species, bears, wolves, non-human primates, alligators, snakes and many more. It is a general rule in the country that any animal native to the area cannot be owned as a pet; however, some states do not have regulations beyond that. Nine states have no license or permit laws for ownership of exotic animals, though they may regulate some aspect thereof. The website for Born Free USA summarizes the laws and regulations of each state. Nevada is a good example of where you cannot own mountain lions or bobcats because they are native, but all other big cats (and many other animal orders) are acceptable to own as pets, even without certain permits. A majority of other states do require at least certain permits to own exotic animals.
In Pennsylvania, permits are required to possess bears, coyotes, lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, cheetahs, cougars and wolves, including any hybrid variations of these species. These species are specifically stated in the law, but it is also indicated that other exotic animals are subject to the regulations as well. This is strategic for the sake of the law but leaves a lot of gray area for people considering unusual pets.
“The Elephant in the Living Room,” directed by Michael Webber, is a documentary focusing on the work of one Ohio police officer-firefighter-EMT that battles exotic animal pet situations more than anyone would expect. The deputy, Tim Harrison, makes a trip to a reptile show in Hamburg, Pa. This renowned hub for reptile lovers sells anything with scales and more. While most people that attend this expo are enthusiasts, any everyday person can take home monitor lizards, venomous snakes and even alligators to raise as household pets. Most of the animals are juveniles that can grow into a big problem.
Exotic animals may be owned, but release of such animals into the wild is prohibited in every state. Incidences of unexpected escape by an animal can be dangerous and are never wanted by owners. Unfortunately, some owners release their pets purposefully because they cannot take care of them anymore. Some exotic animals are released into the wild while they’re young; their owners seemingly not considering their potential size as they grow. Because of this, intentional release is most common with large snakes and alligators. In Florida, numerous Burmese pythons have been released, demonstrating the consequences of this illegal action. Although originally native to Southeast Asia, this species can survive in the habitats of Florida and has even become a breeding population. Before long, these snakes could be officially considered an introduced species, completely changing the dynamic of Florida’s ecology. Authorities have instated Python Patrol teams to prevent this from happening. Patrol teams’ jobs are to locate wild pythons, capture them and try their best to find a suitable home. If proper facilities are not found, the officers are forced to euthanize the animals.
“The Elephant in the Living Room,” which is available on Netflix, was released in 2010 when Ohio was battling for stricter exotic animal ownership laws. After many tragic incidents, animal issues in Ohio were addressed and necessary laws were passed a few years ago. The Ohio Dangerous Wild Animal Act went into effect Jan. 1, 2014. Due to this act, it is now prohibited to own big cats, non-human primates, elephants, hippos, alligators, bears, hyenas and more. This is a huge success for the safety of animals and humans alike.