Or a bear? Or a chimp?
I know we are not supposed to bracket our freedoms in the United States based on proving our need or right to do something. I have a big enough libertarian streak in me that I have always chaffed at being told what any of us can do with our own time, money and property, especially in our own homes, by the government or the majority.
It seems like this unwillingness to limit the owning exotics has fallen collectively into this area since lots of people apparently own menageries which rival small zoos. But given the streak of cases involving killings and maimings by and of privately owned exotic animals, it is time for us to revisit this issue.
For years this argument has been framed in several ways, such as environmental impact and the general appropriateness or “rightness” of keeping exotics. Environmental arguments have tended to carry some weight, especially in warmer regions because there are very real examples of damage done to native wildlife by escaped pythons, monitors, even snakeheads and lionfish.
In these cases, the balance between the individual right to own them and the damage to our collective world tips in favor of the collective. In the northern U.S. there has been less of a concern because of the extreme effectiveness of one factor: winter. For the most part any snake, lizard, alligator or fish which escapes is ensured one final hurrah before freezing to death.
The more animal rightsy argument of “these animals just shouldn’t be subjected to captivity” has never held much sway politically. The reality is people like zoos, as sad and creepy as they can be, and private ownership of these animals is arguably just a matter of degrees. Lawmakers have also generally questioned how being kept in a cage for entertainment is worse than being kept in a cage for production and slaughter, a reality which impacts millions of times more animals in our culture.
The one argument which has been effective, since it can be so nebulously applied- just ask a peaceful student protestor right now- is that of “public safety”. Based on public safety concerns, the average person in many places can’t own poisonous snakes, primates, gators, and a variety of other dangerous exotics. But how do you go from being the “average person” to being authorized to own a tiger or a baboon?
It’s as easy as living in the right state or filling out the right form in the right state. Some states, such as Alabama (I know, shocking, right?) have no restrictions at all. You want a tiger? Save up $13,400, go online- no, I am not kidding- to buytigers.com, and be the coolest redneck in the trailer park. Or maybe you live in a really tiny state like Delaware, where you can fill out a permit application and compensate for your small “state” by driving your new chimp around in your new red Corvette (in case you are compensating for something else being small, too). Proudly, he writes facetiously, Pennsylvania is also a “permit state”.
Unfortunately, even the “public safety” concern has been treated almost like a de facto Second Amendment issue. If I want to keep a tiger at home for personal protection, that’s my right. Besides, statistically I know it’s far more likely to kill me or my kid in my own home as opposed to an intruder, right? Big government, don’t tread on me- or my lion!
But with the recent tragedy in Ohio, where dozens of large exotics were released by a suicidal owner and were killed to genuinely protect the public safety, the time has come to once again ask if libertarian leanings are enough to allow the continuation of ownership of exotics which place the caretakers, the public and even the animals at risk.
And the recent Ohio incident was not an isolated example. In 2010, another Ohio man’s bear killed a man at a home menagerie (where he also kept a tiger). The bear was later euthanized. In Connecticut, a woman’s pet chimpanzee ripped the face off another woman before being shot by police. Interestingly, that chimp’s mother was also shot after a rampage. In the past ten years at least seven people have been killed and nearly twenty reported injured by privately owned exotics, exotics kept by accredited zoos, and kept by quasi-zoos. The victims ranged from children to adults, members of the public to highly trained professional handlers and zoo keepers.
Even Roy, of Siegfried and Roy, was not so expert that he was immune from being mauled. In many of these cases the animal was subsequently killed. If accredited zoos and handlers with decades of experience can’t keep these animals from killing professionals and the public, it is fair to assume that Joe-Bob Tiger Owner will probably have a wee bit of trouble, too.
Sure, some may correctly point out that dogs kill far more people every year. But dogs are domesticated animals, not wildlife, and as a percentage of the total population (there are, after all, scores of millions of dogs in the U.S.), exotics pose a greater threat. And when a dog attacks, it is acting outside of the animal’s “nature”. When a bear or tiger attacks, it’s doing what bears and tigers do.
And as an observational aside, all these people with large exotic animal keeping fetishes just seem a little (or a lot) creepy and weird. No offense.
It is time to ban the private ownership of exotic or wild felines, primates, wolves, and their ilk. Keeping these animals is dangerous. It’s dangerous for us and it’s dangerous for them. It’s also a sad and pathetic existence for very magnificent animals.
While we may defend our right to do and own just about anything, I’ll ask again. Does anyone really need to own a tiger? The answer is quite simply, no.