Esmerelda the serval has been a long time favorite of guests and volunteers at Big Cat Rescue. She is going on 20 and in her last few moments of life in this form with advanced renal failure. We have been giving her supportive care and her appetite and attitude have been pretty good up until last night. It rained all morning and when keepers found her out in it and soaking wet they decided to bring her into the cat hospital to dry off and warm up.
Gale coaxed Ez into a carrier, then she and Jen loaded her onto the cart
Jen and Gale speed Esmerelda serval to the onsite Cat Hospital
"Zoom, zoom," says Anasazi bobcat who wonders when the next cart to warm and dry comes
Esmerelda the serval back when she was younger
ValPak Team paints barricades at Big Cat Rescue on Saturday
It rained all day so we didn’t get many photos, but our volunteers were here making sure the cages were cleaned and the the gift shop stocked. No matter what the weather, we can count on Big Cat Rescuers to put the cats’ needs first. It reminds me of a quote: “A crown is merely a hat that lets the rain in,” by Frederick The Great.
Back in the 1990s it was legal to own Servals, a Cheetah like cat who is built for speed and can leap 12 up in pursuit of birds, as pets. Thanks to those who have spoken out to protect exotic cats, it is no longer legal, but anyone who had such cats prior to the ban were allowed to keep them until they died of old age. Chris bought five cute little serval kittens from the now defunct Latham pet store and took them home with the intentions of providing them with life long care. She loved her pets, but quickly learned that they would escape at every opportunity of an open door and that servals are built to spray urine all over everything to mark it as their own.
Before long the five servals, Zoul, Zimba, Zoulexxa, Santino, and one who has since died, were relegated to the basement, where a drain had been installed in the floor to facilitate cleaning. Another serval, Doodles, became an unwanted housepet of a man in FL and joined the cat clan in NY. They were to spend more than 12 years in the basement, eating a canned diet called ZuPreem and shredding newspaper for fun. Chris tried to alleviate their boredom with pumpkins for Halloween, eggs for Easter and Christmas trees as enrichment, but they perilously fat for their slender legs due to the small size of their enclosure, which was only 12 feet wide and 25 feet long.
When Chris began battling cancer her home went into foreclosure. Her sister ran off and left her three children behind and Chris was the one to step in to rescue them. Knowing that she is about to be forced out of her home, with three more kids in tow, she knew that she would never be able to rent an apartment if she were to keep her five declawed servals. Having no Internet connection she enlisted the help of her friend Vicki to try and find a sanctuary for her beloved pets. As you can imagine, there was no place that could take in five more hungry mouths to feed with the economy being what it is. It was looking like her only alternative would be to put the cats to sleep and just the thought of it was almost more than Chris could bear.
Thanks to all of our wonderful supporters, Big Cat Rescue can help these five servals. We can join two of our existing 1,200 sf cages and add a room addition so that these cats will have appx. 3,000+ sf of space. From end to end they will be able to run and chase each other, lizards and butterflies for about 200 feet at a time. They will be able to feel the soft earth beneath their feet and roll in the grass for the first time ever. They will awaken to birds singing in the trees over head, feel the breeze on their faces and go to sleep under the stars with crickets singing their lullabies. Most importantly, they will never be in want again of a place to call home. We can make this happen, but we need your help.
Growing up, the only pet I wanted to own was a Mogwai.
The adorable singing, baby-squawking, furry little star of Gremlins had everything I could want in a pet — a cuddly and unique alternative to the average cat or dog that I was sure I could manage, even with all those pesky rules to keep my little guy from birthing or turning into, literally, a monster.
Of course, my dream wasn’t a reality, but it fell in line with the concept of owning a pet monkey or playing with tigers and even alligators. Movies and television shows dedicated to the alien and unusual species of animals around the world brought these creatures directly into our local Cineplex and living rooms, romanticizing the idea of calling these animals our own. And who doesn’t recall that indelible image of Michael Jackson and his beloved chimp, Bubbles?
It’s that idea that helped spur the market for exotic animals as pets. From the “Sugar Glider” Joey and badgers to literally lions and tigers and bears, the market for exotic pets is wide open and business is booming. You may not find these critters at Petsmart (PETM) or PetCo (CENTA), but here’s where you can hunt them down.
Where the Wild Things Are
The exotic and wild animal trade industry in the United States is conservatively estimated to be worth $15 billion annually, according to the Humane Society. The trade in wild animals worldwide is worth many billions of dollars.
And the variety of species is astounding. Interested in a hedgehog (around $125), hyena (roughly $5,000), or kangaroo (about $1,800)? No problem. Looking for a serval — described by one seller as an unusually small wildcat (males get up to 45 pounds) adapted for hunting prey in African tall grass that feeds chiefly on large rodents or birds? It’s available (for just $2,500!).
Besides reptiles and birds, monkeys have become one of the more popular exotic pets of choice.
“Monkeys are probably what I sell the most of,” said Mac Stoutz, owner and operator of exoticpetco.com. “Capuchins, spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys, and Macaques … there is a very wide variety of clientele, from families that have several kids to those who can’t have kids. I’ve sold them to couples whose last child went off the college and they had the empty nest syndrome.”
An Unfriendly Pet
State laws vary greatly, but most people can easily find an exotic pets dealer like Stoutz via any quick online search. Animals can range in cost from a few hundred dollars to thousands for large breeds like tigers and baboons. Based on statistics from the Captive Wild Animal Protection Coalition, estimates of such creatures currently here in the United States include at least 3,000 nonhuman great apes, 5,000 to 7,000 tigers, 10,000 to 20,000 large cats, 17.3 million birds, and 8.8 million reptiles.
Among those reptiles are Burmese pythons, which have become a serious problem in Florida. In July, 2-year-old Shaiunna Hare was strangled to death in her crib by a nine-foot Burmese python kept as a pet, illegally, in her house near Orlando. Since then, legislators and animal rights activists are trying to get a handle on the thousands of pythons that are pervading the Everglades.
“There are these huge yellow pythons that are too big to be handled, and they wreak havoc on the native wildlife,” said Don Anthony, communications director for Animal Rights Foundation of Florida. “The basic problem with exotics is that first of all, simply based on the word itself, they don’t belong here.” Providing the right care, housing, diet, and maintenance that exotic animals require can be overwhelming. Animals like pythons that prove too difficult for owners to care for have been known to languish in cages or small pens in backyards or are often abandoned or killed. Malnutrition, stress, trauma, and behavioral disorders are common, according to the ASPCA. Medical care can also be a problem in that not all veterinarians are like zoo vets and they don’t have the ability to handle exotic animals. And sometimes symptoms are difficult to detect.
There’s No Place Like Home
While many of these exotic animals are bred here (including Stoutz’s monkeys), those that aren’t usually hold on to the instincts they learned in their natural environments. According to the ASPCA, monkeys, birds, and wildcats normally travel several miles in a single day in their natural habitat and big cats like tigers need major territory to roam, something the average backyard can’t provide.
“People see these animals when they’re small and just a few inches long and then they get bigger and bigger and they don’t know how to take care of them or feed them,” Anthony said. “It’s not fair to owners or the animals themselves.”
A lot of states, including Florida and Michigan, will offer exotic pet amnesty days throughout the year, where owners who can no longer handle their rare animals can drop them off with authorities, who turn them over to professional caretakers.
And that’s also why Stoutz is careful about what he sells to whom.
“I’ve had someone offer me $12,000 for a tiger and I wouldn’t sell it to them,” Stoutz said. “Larger animals like a lion or a tiger, if I get it from a zoo, it’ll go to another zoo, because I just don’t feel like someone should have a lion. It’s just an accident waiting to happen. And most people don’t have what it takes to take care of an animal that size.”
Stoutz also says that although he tries to stay on top of state laws, most potential buyers need to do the same. “A Capuchin monkey is $7,000. Nobody wants to buy a monkey, bring it home, fall in love with it, and three months later have authorities come and take it away from you and now that agency has to find a home for it.”
Beyond a state’s requirements, one also has to consider the possible risk of disease, as most animal organizations point out. Many exotic animals can carry diseases, such as hepatitis B, salmonella, monkeypox, and rabies, which are communicable — and can be fatal — to humans, according to the national animal advocacy nonprofit Born Free USA.
Still, the fact remains that proper channels are in place in states all across the country for those looking to own an exotic pet, so the trade goes on. Stoutz lauds Florida laws that essentially require a specific class of permit depending on what animal a person has, which allows the state to basically document every exotic pet in its vicinity. And yet, everyone seems to agree that there are still people that own these animals illegally.
“I’m sure there are plenty of people in California who have monkeys that aren’t supposed to,” Stoutz said. California is among states with the strictest rules against exotic pet ownership. “I’m sure there are plenty of monkeys in places they shouldn’t be. But if somebody wants something bad enough, they’re going to get it.”
This story was written by Danielle Samaniego for Divine Caroline.
By Merrie Long Posted December 2, 2009 at midnight
Opened in 2001 and named for prominent Knoxville lawyers Lindsay Young and Mark Williams, Young-Williams Animal Center’s executive director, Tim Adams says that the center utilizes 40 employees, 100 volunteers, 25,000 pounds of food, 25,500 gallons of Trifectant, and thousands of chew toys for the roughly 18,000 animals per year.
Upon arrival, all information known about each animal is entered into the computer, they are scanned for a microchip, and checked for any other identification. Each is vaccinated according to its species, weighed and evaluated for temperament. Animals are held for a minimum of three days, and Adams says that unfortunately “only 8-9% are reunited with their owners. Every dog and cat who gets adopted here at the center is microchipped, but chipping is not always effective because often, owners do not keep their information updated with the microchip service.”
Adams says that many people are not aware that the center also offers a free spay/neuter program and a free pet food pantry for Knox County residents.
Adams explains that “probably 70 percent of the animals we receive are strays and the rest are owner-surrenders. Many do not realize that we turn no animal away,” says Adams. “We get mostly cats and dogs, but also rabbits, mice, rats, birds, and just about every kind of pet imaginable. We’ve even had iguanas, goats, horses, pigs, an alligator, an emu and a couple of servals.”
Get to know your town as photographer Merrie Long explores spots that are hidden, off-limits, exclusive or uncharted in this bi-weekly column.
A missing exotic animal, an African wildcat, that escaped from its owner in the St. Paul-Lucas area last week was found Monday about a quarter-mile away from its home.
The missing serval was spotted in a wooded area and reported to authorities around 4:30 p.m. Monday, according to a Collin County news release. It was then captured without incident by animal control and taken to a local veterinarian for examination.
The 40-pound animal, which has a heart problem, is privately owned. Authorities have said it is not considered dangerous. Its owners passed an inspection in August to ensure that they were outfitted to house an exotic animal.