Owners of exotic pets need more regulation

Many popular exotic species are wild and cannot be truly domesticated.

And everyone thought Siegfried and Roy’s tigers were dangerous. At least those beasts were, theoretically, trained based on principles of animal learning and did not pose an overwhelming threat to the general public. Other privately owned large carnivores – especially exotic species – cannot be so safely labeled. A Minnesota law enacted earlier this year seems to be doing nothing to help the situation.

The law bans ownership and importation of exotic animals, including big cats and primates. However, it allows existing owned animals to be registered with local animal control authorities and be reported to the state. Unfortunately, compliance in this regard has been dismal. Local sheriffs refused to deal with known big-cat owners because of the “hassle.” Meanwhile, these animals continue to be kept in substandard conditions and allowed to be put in situations where they risk harming people.

The reason the law was created was that local governments did not have or enforce exotic animal ordinances. Clearly, the state law is no more effective, as local governments seem to have very little desire to enforce this relatively simple registration rule. Registering an exotic animal is akin to registering a sex offender. Citizens have a right to know if their neighborhood contains lions, tigers or primates.

Unfortunately, even this ineffectual law isn’t enough. Existing owned exotic animals deserve to have their living conditions evaluated, and owners keeping them in dangerous or inhumane conditions should be severely punished, just as those keeping their dogs, cats or horses in such conditions would be – although even in these situations, often the punishment is merely annoying at best.

Many popular exotic species are wild, cannot be truly domesticated and do not make good pets in the first place. But those who choose to keep them as such should be regulated and required to keep them humanely and safely. The state must push for more effective local law enforcement and take seriously the threat these wild animals pose to the public, as well as their well-being in the hands of ignorant or greedy owners.