Editorial: Keep the wild things wild, not as pets

By DAVID HITZIG
guest columnist
September 24, 2006

There are illegal aliens living amongst us, but I am not referring to the two-legged kind.

The ones I speak of are feathered, scaled, slimy and furry that are wreaking havoc on the environment and changing the face of Florida as we once knew it.

The small brown lizards that scurry across your path that most people assume are native inhabitants were introduced many years ago and have just about wiped out the native population of the cute little green lizards that once occupied our back yards.

But, that is just the tip of the iceberg.

We get dozens of calls each week at the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary from local residents reporting all types of wild aliens running rampant through their neighborhoods. Iguanas, parrots and pythons have become a common site these days, not to mention African wild cats, foxes from the Middle East, ducks, wild pigs, and toads. Yes, toads that can kill your dog! Run for your lives!

Wait, there’s more — wolves living in your neighbor’s bathroom, tigers running loose in residential neighborhoods, and boa constrictors climbing underneath hoods of cars pulling on accelerator cables, causing vehicles to go out of control.

I am no longer surprised these days when I hear about a non-native species being found, it has just become such a common place for illegal aliens of the wild kind to be living in south Florida. The impact these foreign creatures can have on our environment is staggering.

They can out-compete our native animals for food, shelter, and space; the essential elements all living things need to survive. Not to mention what they could potentially do to the human race.

Where did most of these creatures from distant lands originally come from? Many from the pet trade, and others simply hitched a ride on a passing ship. Several of the smaller species of exotic animals were stowaways with shipments from foreign soils.

People have become tired of the traditional dog and cat companions and search for something a little more hip and out of the ordinary. Unfortunately, we have also become a throwaway society and simply discard that which we no long want or need, and sadly that has become true for our beloved pets as well. When someone gets tired of the responsibility of their four-legged, furry, scaly, or feathered friend they just toss it out like a piece of trash.

Florida has many laws that protect animals; both domestic and wild. But, getting caught by the law is sometimes an easy thing to avoid. In the blink of an eye and the acceleration of the gas peddle, an illegal animal is on its way to a new home, or an unwanted pet is left behind to fend for itself and compete with native creatures in the wild.

It is not so far-fetched to say that the introduction of non-native animals will eventually lead to the demise of many species of indigenous creatures. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, our state’s wildlife regulatory agency, is currently considering new laws governing the sale and possession of wild animals, including large snakes like pythons.

Current laws make it illegal own many types of wild animals, or to release non-native species into the environment.

If people would use a little more common sense, and the government was successful in making it more difficult to sell, obtain, and possess these alien creatures to begin with, only the responsible individuals would be allowed to make exotic animals a part of their families.

Editor’s Note: David Hitzig is director of Busch Wildlife Sanctuary

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