National Geographic : 2014 Apr
into the United States has been restricted since the early 1970s. Many of the large exotic ani- mals that end up in backyard menageries— lions and tigers, monkeys and bears—are bred in captivity. Today on the Internet you can find zebras and camels and cougars and capuchins for sale, their adorable faces staring out from your screen; the monkeys with their intelligent eyes; the big cats with their tawny coats. And though such animals are no longer completely wild, neither are they domesticated—they exist in a netherworld that prompts intriguing ques- tions and dilemmas. From his experience in providing sanctu- ary for exotic animals in need of new homes, often desperately, Roberts says that exotic-pet owners tend to fall into multiple overlapping categories. Some people treat their animals, es- pecially primates, as surrogate children, dressing them up in baby clothes, diapering them, and training them to use the toilet. Some own exot- ics as symbols of status and power, the exotic animal the next step up from a Doberman or pitbull. There are impulse buyers who simply could not resist purchasing a cute baby exotic. Still others are collectors, like Brandon Terry, who lives in Wake County, North Carolina, in a one-bedroom apartment with 15 snakes, three of them venomous. And then there are wild animal lovers who may start out as volunteers at a wild- life sanctuary and end up adopting a rescued animal in need of a home. Denise Flores of Ohio explains how she ac- quired her first tiger. “I went to a wild animal park one day, and someone put a baby tiger in my lap. My heart melted; it just melted. I was hooked,” says Flores, who ended up caring for eight rescued big cats, including two white tigers so beautiful they looked like fluid ivory. Some people seek wild animals as pets as a way to reconnect with the natural world. They believe their exotics set them apart, the rela- tionship made all the more intense by the unin- tended social isolation that is often the result of having an unpredictable beast as a companion. “Yes, of course my exotics make me feel unique,” Rush says. Though anyone can own a cat or dog, exotic-pet owners take pleasure in possessing an animal that has, for hundreds of thousands of years, refused the saddle of domestication: They take the uncivilized into society and in doing so assert their power. “I wanted something different, something un- usual,” says Michelle Berk, formerly of Palisades, Florida, who bought her kinkajou, Winnie, on craigslist. “She was there for me to make my own. We didn’t get a dog because there’s noth- ing cool or outstanding about owning a dog. A AL AZ AR CA CO CT DE FL GA ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD DC MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA RI SC TN TX UT VT VA WA WV WI WY SD AK HI SPECIES INVOLVED Animal Human (82 deaths) TYPE OF INCIDENT Zoo 28 Circus 6 Private 66% OWNERSHIP OF ANIMAL INVOLVED Ban* Partial ban License or permit required No license or permit required Laws on private ownership of exotic pets Primates 16 Big cats 19 Reptiles 32% Death 14 Human injury 24 Animal escape 42% Other grAPHIc: LAwSOn PArKer, ngM STAFF; MArgAreT ng SOurce: BOrn Free uSA Exotic-pet incidents 1990-2013 Born Free uSA has tracked 2,000 incidents involving wild animals held in captivity. Due to incomplete reporting, the database is limited. *Animals covered by bans vary by state.