Damages of Keeping Wild Animals as Pets

5 years ago

While I was feeding my sons lunch recently, we were listening to NPR’s show This American Life. One story had to do with a Cape Cod couple who rescued a baby turkey from the clutches of a red-tailed hawk and raised it like a pet. They let the turkey run wild but treated it like a pet when it hung around their house. The result was a wild animal who became accustomed to humans, had no fear of them, and eventually became a threat to the other people living around this couple.

Image: Ravenelle via Flickr

Before I go off on the animal-loving fools who did this, I will say that I get it. I also am an animal-lover and I understand the very human response of trying to ‘help’ an animal that is suffering. It’s actually a pretty normal human response. But here’s what I know that separates me from people who just blindly run forth to help every living creature: The natural world is designed to work a certain way, and when humans interfere it causes strife for all involved – this story is a case-in-point.

And by the way, did they give any thought to the fact that they robbed another animal – the red-tailed hawk – of its meal? That maybe it needed food to feed its babies and those babies wouldn’t have survived without it? Or are the hawks less loveable or worthy of survival because you don’t see them everyday and you can’t see the babies they’re raising? Can you tell I’m pissed off? I’m really pissed. Even though this happened three years ago I still want to shake these people.

So they saved this silly baby turkey, didn’t treat it like a wild animal, and they raised a creature who caused mayhem all over their neighborhood by becoming extremely aggressive with other humans – dangerously so. While I don’t know the particulars of turkey behavior, I do know enough about wildlife to know that in the wild males have to compete with other males for everything from territory to food to mates. And the behavior that was described in this story by this animal seemed pretty much like a male being aggressive with others for resources. Only the ‘others’ in this case were humans, because it was raised by them and learned to interact with people.

Dear gods, this is SO typical of ignorant people trying to raise a wild animal but having no clue of the consequences of their behavior. You CANNOT habituate wild animals to people – letting them associate us with food, shelter or any other resources, and leave them to run wild. They WILL cause harm to other people. That is why I am such a proponent of all the efforts to “Keep Wildlife Wild”; it’s safer for everyone involved.

There are a few cases I know of people who have raised wild animals for one reason or another, but did so with some understanding of that animals’ natural needs, and kept it away from other people and wildlife. But I’ll say it again, that wild animals do not make good pets! People try to keep wild animals for all kinds of crazy reasons – making them look tough, or different, or just because, and think there’s nothing wrong with it. Well there’s all kinds of wrong with that, and ultimately either the animal, the owners, or other people associated with these idiots suffer the consequences. Ugh. I don’t know what else to say, I’m still fuming.

I’m begging anyone out there who comes by this post – the next time you see a cute baby animal that you think is in need of rescuing, please don’t. Wildlife rehab is a job best left for professionals. As they say, don’t try this at home. Also remember that there are many, many of the 'cute' animals out there; the deer, grey squirrel or chickadee population won’t go into decline if you don’t rescue that one baby. And if it’s absolutely breaking your heart not to rescue that little squirrel or bird, or whatever, remind yourself (or anyone else so tempted) that if and when that little animal dies, it might just save the life of a scavenger or predator who relies on eating other animals to survive . Doesn’t that make you feel better?

For a less emotional perspective on this issue (I’m too riled up to educate right now), Mass Wildlife has a great page on why you shouldn’t interfere with cute baby animals. Their saying is: “If you care, leave it there!!”

I’m going to go and cuddle with my dog now.

Cynthia Menard
Withywindle Blog

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