Exotic Animals

PAWS does not take in exotic animals, such as parrots, hedgehogs, Boa Constrictors, and other animals not living naturally in Washington State. If you need to find a new home for an exotic animal, please search for an organization near you at Petfinder.com or contact the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.

Not good pets

PAWS believes that exotic animals should not be kept as pets because of the inherent risks to human health and safety, and the cruelty involved in keeping such animals in unnatural environments. These include animals such as monkeys and other non-human primates, reptiles (iguanas, etc.), "pocket-pets" (such as prairie dogs and sugargliders), and non-domesticated canines and felines.

With the Internet, exotic animals are easier than ever to obtain. In addition, pet stores that sell these animals have no obligation to verify the legality of private ownership with buyers. Often purchased when they are young and easier to manage, exotic animals may pose a threat to the public as they mature and begin to exert their natural behaviors, such as biting, attacking and scratching.

In 1999, PAWS helped find sanctuary for an African Serval after the 40-pound cat bit the family's young daughter. Read other harrowing stories about exotic animals harming people from across the nation.

The law

A majority of U.S. states and many cities and counties, have regulations against possessing exotic wild animals. In Washington State, it is illegal to possess potentially dangerous wild animals, such as monkeys, bears, tigers and venomous snakes. It is also illegal to possess any wild animal who naturally lives in Washington State (ie., squirrels, crows) unless you are transporting the animal to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Visit Born Free's website for information on other state laws.

The animals' well-being

Exotic animals, even those bred in captivity, still possess innate social and physical needs, and require mental stimulation that cannot be provided in private homes. Many animals naturally live in colonies, yet are kept as single pets. They are unable to express normal behaviors like grooming one another, foraging for food, mating and rearing young that would occupy their time and attention in the wild. They become bored and depressed, and this can lead to self-destruction, aggression and illness. Climate differences can also create stress on animals and diminish the quality of their lives.

The average person lacks the expertise to provide proper nutrition, medical care, and husbandry to an exotic animal. Animals are often housed in places such as basements and garages, environments completely lacking stimulation or enrichment. Finding a veterinarian for these animals can prove difficult.

Some animals grow so large their guardians cannot afford to feed them adequately and the animals suffer hunger and malnutrition. To keep the animals from inflicting serious harm, they are often declawed and defanged, which are painful procedures.

When the guardians tire of the cost and care, it is often difficult to find suitable placement for an animal. Most zoos are unwilling to take privately owned animals, especially hybrids, and few sanctuaries exist. Animals released into local habitats may spread diseases to native species or domestic animals. Local animal control agencies routinely euthanize exotic species due to lack of resources or alternatives.

Disease transmission

Zoonotic diseases can be transmitted between animals and people. They may be bacterial in nature, such as Salmonella; fungal, like ringworm; parasitic, like tapeworm; or viral, such as herpes B--usually fatal to humans.

It is estimated that up to 90 percent of Macaque Monkeys carry the B virus, which may be shed in saliva. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the extremely high prevalence of B-virus along with their behavioral characteristics make the Macaque species unsuitable as pets. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommend that children under five years of age and immunocompromised persons avoid contact with reptiles due to Salmonella risks.

"Even an animal that is friendly and loving can be very dangerous. In Animal Care's experience, unsuspecting children and adults have been seriously injured or killed, even when the animals involved were only playing."

- Position Statement on Large Wild & Exotic Cats
   Animal Care/APHIS
   US Department of Agriculture

Additional reading

Animal Underworld: Inside America's Black Market for Rare and Exotic Species
by Alan Green, published by Public Affairs

Born Free USA united with Animal Protection Institute

Humane Society of the United States - Should Wild Animals Be Kept as Pets?