What if a tiger lived next door?

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What if a tiger lived next door?



Special to The Sun

12:00 am, October 7, 2007


If your neighbors are keeping a tiger or a bear in their backyard, wouldn’t you like to know about it?

Hundreds of people hold permits to possess exotic wildlife in Florida. Yet, last month, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission decided that exotic animal owners don’t have to let neighbors know about their animals – even if the animals are extremely dangerous.


A rancher in Okeechobee had asked the commission to require such disclosure because she was shocked to learn that her neighbor was keeping a tiger and five bears on his property. An Ohio woman learned the hard way that her neighbor kept bears. Last year, one entered her home, attacked, and nearly killed her.


When hurricane Andrew hit South Florida in 1992, thousands of exotic animals suddenly roamed loose. The escapees included boa constrictors, baboons, iguanas, and wallabies.


Despite these serious risks, the commission ditched a proposed requirement to notify neighbors when a person auires a dangerous animal. Under the commission’s proposal, immediate neighbors would be notified only if an animal escapes.


But notifying next-door neighbors about escapes is simply not good enough: I think all of us would like to know if we live two houses – or two blocks – away from a lion, and if that lion gets loose.


Beyond the captive wildlife notification rule decision, there’s another question about the cruelty of keeping wild animals as pets. The federal government and other states are taking steps to curb the exotic wildlife trade, and Florida should follow suit. The state already prohibits Floridians from keeping certain exotic animals as pets, but it doesn’t go far enough.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently began implementing the Captive Wildlife Safety Act, which Congress passed in 2003 to prohibit interstate movement of lions, tigers, and other big cats as pets. People buy the cats as cubs and are then not equipped to care for them as they grow larger.


Congress is now considering the Captive Primate Safety Act to provide the same protection for monkeys, chimpanzees, and other primates, and the Humane Society of the United States urges swift passage of the act.


In Gainesville on Monday, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is holding a public hearing from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Plant Industry Auditorium, 1911 SW 34th Street.


This is an opportunity to remind the Commission that citizens deserve to know what dangerous exotic animals are lurking in their neighborhoods. It is also time for us to address larger questions: Florida bans some dangerous animals as pets, but allows others. The best way to protect the public and animals is to prohibit private individuals from importing, trafficking or possessing wild animals.


Jennifer Hobgood is program coordinator for the southeast regional office of The Humane Society of The United States.




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