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Discourse Magazine
Was born of a creative and cultural frustration with South Florida. 
The challenge, and our mission, is toDO SOMETHING about what bothers us and those around us instead of just complaining about it!

South Florida's Exotic Run


by Christopher Brennan

Exotic, egz-ot'ik, a. introduced from a foreign country; not native.-n.a. Anything introduced from a foreign country.

Wild, wild, a. Living in a state of nature; not tame; not cultivated; desert; stormy; furious; frolicsome; rash; extravagant; excited- n. An uncultivated tract.

From 1990 to 1995 the exotic pet trade in south Florida experienced a popularity boom of biblical proportions. The exotic pet community had been around for years but the sudden demand for animals from the public turned many hobbyists into entrepreneurs. The new fascination with exotics was more than welcomed by the pet trade with open arms and happy faces. Animals that could once only be viewed in zoos began to show up in pet stores and people were crazy about them. From iguanas and boas to potbelly pigs and parrots everyone was in search of wild new pets. But now just five years after the pet trade's peak interest is fading, the market is saturated, and fundamentalists and jerks are stepping in with their own two cents making life difficult for the remaining exotic pet enthusiasts.

When interest began to fade nobody foresaw this fad going the way of the pet rock and the objects of interest simply being cast aside. And although there are those "fair weather pet owners" for whom the novelty has worn off most people who were truly dedicated to their animals in the first place still have and care for them. It really wasn't the lucrative aspects that compelled these folks to keep exotics so much as it was their passion for the animals. So if it was only a trend for other people what was the "trend chaser's" motivation to own an exotic pet? A trip out to Vanishing Species answered that question for me. When someone who hasn't planned out their future with their pet goes out and buys something that could be difficult to maintain (lets say... a Bengal Tiger) they often tire of it quickly. So where does one bring his mean as phuck 300 pound Bengal Tiger when the novelty wears off? Jeff Harrid who started dealing with large exotics as a hobby has now turned it into a lifestyle by starting Vanishing Species. Specializing in the housing and relocation of large and somewhat domesticated raccoons, Florida panthers, lions, tigers, and oh my, yes bears, Vanishing Species rescues animals of all shapes and sizes. When we asked Jeff why people look at a full-grown tiger and think "Gee, that would make a great pet." He didn't tell us that it was because they admire the animal's beauty, that the inherent human need to try something new overcomes them, or that they want to create a loving bond between themselves and their new pet. No, non-of these things were even suggested by Jeff. His immediate answer was a dirty little three-letter word "Ego." Jeff also suggested that people who decide they would like to own an exotic pet should consider a snake, turtle, or lizard which make great pets as opposed to a lion or tiger.

The zoos and shelters have more than they need or want, so the chore of relocating these critters has fallen into the laps of nonprofit organizations like Vanishing Species who have adapted to deal with such things. The Sawgrass Herpetological Society formed in 1990 as a nonprofit service to reptile and amphibian enthusiasts. S.H.S. has now taken steps to accommodate people who no longer wish to care for their reptiles or amphibians by running a relocation program that finds new homes for the animals. "Keeping exotics out of the wild is important because it lowers the strain on our native population." Vice President of S.H.S. The matter of the "fair weather" pet owner has caused a great deal of negative publicity for responsible pet owners. One example of this is that the iguana is now a wild exotic in South Florida due to the fact that so many people bought them as pets and released them once they lost interest in them. This leads people to believe that reptile owners are careless with their animals. I can assure you nothing could be further from the truth. Through my dealings with these people I have found that most of them treat their animals better than most people treat their children. They keep cages equipped with locks, feeding charts, thermostats, and heat lamps. Each of their animals are cared for in a painstaking manor that borderlines on obsessive compulsive disorder.

With all these independent nonprofit organizations struggling to maintain the balance you might wonder where the larger groups like the Humane Society are in all of this. When I contacted them on this subject they replied, "The Humane Society of the United States/ Humane Society International strongly opposes the keeping of exotic and non domestic animals as pets." Pretty much washing their hands of it all and thus offering no assistance to groups like S.H.S. and Vanishing Species. It is a very difficult task to shed a positive light on the exotic pet trade with various groups having such malicious opinions of it. Directing its attention on reptiles and amphibians the Humane Society also offers the fact that people who don't know how to properly care for "wild exotics" are allowed to buy them. (Well gosh) Lets not forget those same morons buy hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, fish, birds, ferrets, hermit crabs, rabbits, dogs, cats, all who suffer the same indignities as any exotic pet that is bought by an uneducated person. Those same uneducated people are allowed to buy fast cars that run over educated people's dogs and cats. My point being (to the Humane Society) that this is America "Home of the free" where we as consumers have the right to buy certain products that others might deem offensive. Perhaps if certain larger groups would concentrate on the education of the public like Vanishing Species and S.H.S. has, there wouldn't be the problem of the uneducated consumer or the fair weather pet owner. But I digress. Once again I find myself straying violently from the original subject because another's narrow mindedness has driven me to an enraged rant.

Most people feel that a compromise could be met with a license system similar to that of the one used for dogs and cats. This way in a situation where an exotic animal is found loose in an area they could simply ask the licensed people in that area if they are missing any animals. While not infringing on the public's right to own certain animals a system like this would prevent carelessness on the pet owner's part and keep legislature from passing unreasonable or unfair laws against exotic pet ownership.

Now seems to be a critical time for exotic pet owners to pull together and defend their hobby. With no support from nation wide animal organizations it is very important that those still in the hobby protect their rights to own exotic animals. Perhaps if a compromise could be met between legislature, and pet owners, exotic pet enthusiasts could rest easy knowing that people will always have the right to enjoy these animals as pets. Don't be afraid if you've decided you'd like to become an exotic pet owner. After all I'm sure the first caveman to bring a dog into the cave was met with some kind of resistance. Just be sure you do your homework and understand exactly what you're getting into. Can exotic animals be kept as pets? Yes they can. Although the Humane Society may disagree with me on that point, don't let them scare you. Feel free to contact both sides if you'd like to hear more of the argument. They are both quite dogmatic in their beliefs. The Sawgrass Herpetological Society meets at 7:30PM on the 1st Wednesday of every month at the Fern Forest Nature Center at 201 Lyons Road South in Coconut Creek, Florida. For more information call their hotline at (954) 564-1434, or visit their website at For more information on Vanishing Species Jeff Harrid can be reached at (954)961-6500

For further information on wildlife issues, write to The Humane Society of the United States, 2100 L St,. NW, Washington, DC 20037 

Contact Christopher Brennan at:

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