Steph and I went to Eliot’s place to watch a documentary and have dinner.  We took over some berries we got at the farmer’s market.  The food was delicious and the documentary made us think.  We then had an interesting discussion on the topic of the documentary; the ownership of exotic animals as pets.  The documentary focused on a man who had 5 lions, and all the troubles he had to go through with them, and all the things they had to go through being owned by him.  The lions had the much shorter end of the stick, as they were kept in really tight confinement.

The major questions that the film brought up were, what animals are ok to keep, and why?

One reason that was discussed is that the animals could be dangerous to humans, like venomous snakes, and large predators.  This one I don’t think is significant due to the very low number of people that are killed or injured each year by pets.  This isn’t being insensitive about those people getting hurt, but there are a number of reasons I don’t find this significant.  One is that the death rate from exotic pets is less than that for dogs.  Dogs kill 25,000 people per year estimated, with lions coming in at 100.  The next reason is that most of the people who die from these exotic pets are the ones assuming the risk of owning them.  That is a little bit of Darwinism at work.  The last, and most important, is that the death and injury rate from exotic pets is so much lower than that of other forms of preventable injury and death that the returns on addressing it as an issue simply aren’t there.  We have bigger fish to fry.

The second issue they bring up is the environmental factors.  The people who don’t properly contain their pets and the people that “free” their exotic pets can create large problems around invasive species.  The boa constrictor in the Everglades is a great example of this.  They have started breeding in the wild and now are all over the Everglades.  This is a major problem and one that would have to be addressed at a large systematic level.

The third issue, is one of animal rights.  This is to say that animals should have a certain minimum level of care and freedom.  Lions should not live in a horse trailer for 6 months.  They need significantly more space than that.  Animals should also not be left alone for long periods of time.  When done to humans this treatment is called solitary confinement and is looked at as a form of torture or punishment.  This is one of the reasons that I have 2 cats as pets, instead of just one.  Many shelters are also moving towards not allowing single pet adoptions.  With exotic pets there is another level of care that sometimes must be given so that the pet can have a healthy life, and this requires specialized knowledge or training (can be attained from google usually but the effort must be put in).

The fourth that is touched on is the legality and certification issue.  Dogs require tags, but lions and wolves don’t.  This is just that there are no laws regarding lion ownership, but it would be much easier to do a categorical list of animals that require certifications.  E.g. animals that have an expected full grown weight of over 10 pounds must be registered as pets, then keep a list of animal weights when full grown.  This works much better now that we have the internet and databases.

I look forward to going to the documentary night again.