National Geographic : 2014 Apr
4 editor’s note photo: vincent j. musi The Bear in the Backyard About 15 years ago i had an assignment to photo- graph wild dogs in Botswana’s okavango Delta. A pack had hunted down an impala and dragged the carcass near my Land Rover. i crawled under the vehicle so i would be as inconspicuous as possible while photographing the scene, but an adult male trotted over to me, sniffed my face, and started tugging at my leg. i stayed absolutely still, heart racing, hardly breathing. it was an intimate encounter with one of Africa’s most endangered carnivores but was completely on the animal’s terms, not mine. turning a wild animal—a lion, a lemur, a bear— into a pet creates a different dynamic. the relationship exists on the terms of the human owner, and i question the wisdom of that for both sides. in this month’s story on exotic pets, writer Lauren slater and photographer vince musi take us into living rooms and backyards shared with animals whose natural habitats lie far from the suburbs. undoubtedly, their owners feel an attachment no less profound than what you or i feel for the domestic dogs and cats in our lives. “All my life people have let me down,” a woman who keeps three kangaroos told slater. “my animals never have.” it’s said that the morality of a nation can be judged by the way it treats its animals. But treat- ment is not just a matter of providing food, shelter, and care. it’s whether the animal in question ought tobeapetatall. Boo Boo lived in john matus’s ohio backyard for nine years before her relocation to a colorado sanctuary in 2013. “i miss her a lot,” says matus, who raised her from a cub.