(US) HI: editorial on exotic pets

cathy goeggel selkie at hawaii.rr.com
Wed Jun 18 07:51:10 EDT 2003

Under the Sun
Cynthia Oi
Wednesday, June 18, 2003
Snakes and lizards and prairie-dog tales

Victor the constrictor lived in a sprawling split-level house overlooking a
pond in northeastern Connecticut. The yard and grounds were well-landscaped
and the home tastefully decorated, reflecting the status of the
upper-middle-class people who owned him.
I can't remember if the family owned other pets, but I remember Victor. He
was kept in the basement rumpus room, his world a glass fish tank measuring
about 2 feet by 4 feet, covered to keep him from slithering off somewhere.

On the whole, Victor seemed well cared for. Lights warmed his tank for his
reptilian comfort. He spent his time coiled around a tree limb propped in
the tank and didn't seem to move more than necessary. About once a week, a
live frog or rat was tossed into the tank as sustenance. Not having to make
his way in the wild, he didn't need much more.

Although technically a pet, no one seemed to have much of a fondness for
Victor. I never saw anyone touch him, much less take him out of the tank. He
was a snake, after all. He was treated as part of the decor in the rumpus
room, something to point out to guests, as in "Here's the wet bar, this mask
we got in Africa, the baskets there are from Bali, and oh, that's Victor,
he's a boa constrictor."

Another family I knew had an iguana and a huge, ugly fish that ate live
goldfish. The iguana was confined to an old butler's pantry. The fish got
attention only when it was fed because the owner liked to see the plume of
gold scales it expelled after swallowing lunch.

I guess I'm a pet bigot because I don't understand why some people are
attracted to these animals. If I had a yen for a pet, I'd get the
traditional dog as a faithful companion, but only if I had space to let it
run and play. I wouldn't choose a cat because they make me sneeze and
wheeze. Birds are cute, though kind of boring, and it would be sad to clip
their wings or not allow them to fly like they're suppose to. Guinea pigs,
rabbits and gerbils would be out of the question for me, but if someone
wants a rodent or a reptile or anything else termed "exotic," fine.

Except when they spread diseases. The recent episode with monkeypox is an
example. The first outbreak of the disease in the Americas apparently
originated from rodents imported from West and Central Africa to sell in pet
stores. Fleas bit the infected alien rodents, then bit domestic prairie dogs
that also were for sale and infected humans who brought them home.

The spread of monkeypox, so called because it was first discovered in
monkeys, is another scary example of what can happen when we fuss around
with things we know little about or don't anticipate. The danger is that the
introduced virus will become established in the United States and infect
wild animals as well as the pet-store variety.

Last week, the federal government did the right thing in banning the sale
and distribution of prairie dogs in the nation and importing of all rodents
from Africa. But the bans are temporary and we don't have a policy that
governs such situations when we ought to.

Monkeypox hasn't spread to Hawaii so people here are generally unconcerned.
Still, monkey-pox ought to make humans think twice about taking animals out
of one environment and plopping them into another. If there were some
compelling reason for having these animals around, I wouldn't have a
complaint, but there isn't. The only reason seems to be that people find
them desirable -- they just want to possess unusual living things for the
sake of having them.

OK, this is America, and as a fellow who was annoyed when I criticized SUVs
as energy-irresponsible says, we're allowed to choose according to our
lifestyles. Too bad Victor couldn't make that choice. After all, he's just a

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