Other Exotic Animals
Other Exotic Pets on the RunAccording to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, more than 250 exotic species have been reported in the wild in our state since cataloguing began in the 1800s. Some of these non-native species were brought here to serve as farm animals, like the wild pigs introduced to the state by the early Spanish settlers. However, most of the exotic residents in Florida are released pets and their offspring.
Some of the populations of exotic animals in Florida have died out. Other populations are expanding. A few of the rapidly growing species are threatening to human safety and/or our environment, so these animals often receive media attention. Most Floridians are well aware of the dangers posed by Nile Monitors and Burmese Pythons, and the trouble caused by iguanas and Muscovy Ducks.
Other exotic pets on the loose in Florida that many residents remain unaware of include a common pet turtle, small alligators called Spectacled Caimans, a giant toad, a toxic aquarium fish, three species of monkeys, prairie dogs, and a giant African rat.
Red-eared Slider Turtles
If the pet turtle doesn’t die while still a juvenile, it grows too large for a typical home aquarium and often finds itself “set free” in a foreign habitat. The negative impact of invasive Red-eared Sliders on native habitat has been reported worldwide. Many countries have banned pet turtles from import, including the European Union.
In Florida, the Red-eared Slider is interbreeding with native turtle species. Recently, breeding these pet turtles was outlawed in the state and ownership is now regulated. However, most parents who decide to buy their children a cute little pet turtle do not understand the laws and the reasons for them.
Potential pet owners are also unaware of the fact that turtles bred on turtle farms may carry salmonella, a disease-causing bacteria. Children, elderly people, and those with immune system illnesses should not handle such pets with their bare hands.
If you see a large gator in your yard or neighborhood, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Nuisance Alligators Hotline: 1-866-392-4286. It is difficult to differentiate a Spectacled Caiman from a native alligator, but either way, you should report your sighting. Large reptiles are dangerous on the loose in suburban neighborhoods.
Like all toads, the Cane Toad has glands that secrete toxins for use in attacking prey and foe. The Cane Toad’s toxin is powerful and can prove fatal to dogs and other small animals.
These toads have spread to 20 counties, where they outcompete native frogs and toads for food and territory. They are prolific breeders and the population is wildly out of control. In South Florida, veterinarians treat dogs with Cane Toad poisoning on a regular basis.
To keep these huge toads away from your pets, make sure you keep them out of your yard. When you erect a fence, be sure to embed it deep in the lawn. Never feed pets outside or leave food in the yard.
Venomous glands in the fin spines produce potent toxins, and a sting from one of these exotic fish can cause pain, tingling, headache, vomiting and heart palpitations. The sting of the Red Lionfish is dangerous.
In recent years, this exotic fish has been reported off the coast of Palm Beach and Jacksonville. The numbers sighted in the Atlantic have been increasing rapidly. These fish outcompete native fish for food, and they consume the various species that keep our endangered coral reefs clean.
Wildlife biologists are concerned about the growing population of Red Lionfish. If you see one when swimming or snorkeling, report your sighting to the US Geological Service.
This is only one of a number of species dumped in our waters by residents unaware of the serious consequences of their actions. Pet owners are releasing fresh water fish, salt water fish, snails and other aquarium species from around the globe, and some are thriving. This poses an unseen threat to Florida’s native wildlife.
If you have an aquarium in need of a new owner, donate it to a local pet shop, school, office building or friend. Never dump your fish in any body of fresh water or sea water in our state.
If your kids want to own an aquarium, convince them to do some research first. Tell them to find out what it will take to own and operate a successful aquarium. You might want to buy them a book, too: Iguana Invasion! Exotic Pets Gone Wild in Florida explains in simple words and photos what your children need to learn about the consequences of exotic pet ownership in our state.
Monkey BusinessThere are three species of monkeys living and breeding in several areas in the state of Florida:
Troops of monkeys are noisy and large. Dozens of monkeys in a suburban neighborhood are definitely a nuisance, especially when they eat up all the fruit, seeds, insects and small animals, then turn to humans for handouts. But Rhesus Monkeys can pose a more serious threat. Permitting is required to own a Rhesus Monkey in the state of Florida, but many pet owners are unaware of this law.
Rhesus Monkeys are often used in medical experiments and can carry fatal diseases. Thousands of these monkeys were kept on two private islands in the Florida Keys until public complaints forced the medical research corporation responsible to move them. Macaques are currently a popular pet in the Miami area, where owners do not realize they may carry a deadly hepatitis virus. Since the virus does not make the monkey ill, pet owners are unaware of the danger. Exotic mammals can prove especially dangerous because humans are susceptible to the diseases carried by monkeys and other mammals.
Several troops of macaques have been living in Central Florida along the Silver River since the 1930s. Escapees from an old tourist attraction, they sometimes behave aggressively to hikers and boaters. Additional macaques have been reported living in colonies in Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
Squirrel Monkeys are also on the loose in several counties in Florida. These little rainforest animals are excellent climbers and jumpers, impossible to recapture once they are let go in the wild. Only 10 inches tall and weighing less than 2 pounds, Squirrel Monkeys can travel in loud troops of 500 or more.
Releasing exotic pets is illegal but common when small petting zoos and roadside attractions find they are unable to sell off their unwanted animals. Individual pet owners also may dump an aggressive juvenile monkey once their cute little baby develops the more hostile personality of a typical 3- or 4-year-old monkey. This is unfair to the animal. Monkeys do not belong in our homes. They should be living in the open areas and rainforests to which they are native.
Certain European nations have outlawed private ownership for monkeys and other wild animals that may infect humans with diseases. We should do the same here in Florida. You can protest the ongoing sales of pet monkeys and other problematic species in the state of Florida by sharing your opinion with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Email your letter to: Commissioners@myfwc.com.
In the meantime, if you have a monkey and wish to find a new home for your pet, do not let it loose. Check out the details about Exotic Pet Amnesty Days hosted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission: www.myfwc.com. Or bring the animal back to the pet store where you purchased it.
If you ever see a monkey on the loose in your neighborhood, call 911. Never attempt to capture the monkey or feed it. Monkeys are wild animals and they will bite.
Prairie Dogs and Gambian Pouch RatsPrairie dogs are native to the western states, and were first brought to Florida in the 1970s during a brief pet fad. Once the craze wore off, many were released in the wild. Prairie dogs dig in the soil constantly, which is a necessary function in their native ecosystem. Here in Florida, these burrowing mammals are out of place.
In 1995, five cases of plague were reported, each associated with prairie dog pets. A few years later, prairie dog pet owners were sickened with a disease caused tularemia. In 2005, pet store prairie dogs were infected with monkeypox, a rare African virus. Trade and sale of prairie dogs were banned in the U.S. In 2008, the ban was lifted. Recently, a teacher in Palm Beach County was bitten by a prairie dog burrowing on school grounds.
The world’s largest rat is the Gambian Pouch Rat, an African rodent the size of a raccoon. For a few years sales were banned due to outbreaks of monkeypox. A handful of the pet rats were released on Grassy Key, where they have established a breeding population.
Exotic PetsLet’s face it, wild animals do not make good pets. They may become aggressive and can bite. Some carry serious, even fatal diseases. It is difficult to feed them properly and care is expensive, especially as the animal reaches adult size.
A life in captivity is not good for animals. They do not receive the sunlight, nutrition and exercise they need. Species can have trouble adjusting to a non-native climate, and they do not like living in confinement. Many die in captivity. Wild animals should be left in their native habitat with members of their own species. In their natural habitats, wild animals fit specific ecosystems and help to maintain environmental balance.
Animals are not here specifically for our entertainment pleasure. Are we so selfish that we think the many wild animals on our planet exist solely to amuse us and our children?
The international pet trade is a massive wealth-producing industry. Every year, hundreds of millions of animals are imported legally and smuggled illegally into the U.S. The popularity of imported pets is growing and new pet fads are introduced on a regular basis. Pet dealers and breeders always have interesting new animals to sell. Whenever these pets lose popularity, non-native animals are released in the parks and woods around the U.S.
Here in Florida, some of these animals are surviving. Some are breeding. Some have become a nuisance. Others are invasive and pose a threat to the health and safety of our state.
Next time your children ask for a new and exciting pet, you can buy them a book instead. Iguana Invasion! Exotic Pets Gone Wild in Florida explains in simple words and photos what your children need to learn about the consequences of exotic pet ownership in our vulnerable state. Your family may decide not to bring a wild animal into your home, a wise and safe decision for you and for Florida.
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