I myself nearly bought this alligator from the pets section of the Madison, WI Craigslist so that I could truthfully threaten to feed horse abusers to my alligator. However, I decided that a diet of 100% asshole would be bad for the alligator.
All joking aside, exotic animals are a lot more common in the USA than you would think, and that means suffering for equines and other critters alike.
A co-worker of mine just recommended that I watch the shocking documentary "The Elephant in the Living Room." It's about the thousands of people who buy "exotic pets" online or at auctions like this one or this one, or at game farms like this one or this one or this one in Wisconsin, Indiana, Texas, Iowa, South Dakota and other places. It's also about how many of these animals suffer. They suffer in three ways:
1. Canned Hunting
Some exotic animals are bought or bred only to be shot at "canned hunts" by rich hunters looking for an exotic trophy. Click here and here for great articles on canned hunts.
If you want to shoot a zebra for your living room trophy wall, all you have to do is pay $1,000-$2,000 to one of America's 2,000 "fenced-in" hunting ranches. They'll guarantee you your trophy-- the animals are kept in small enclosures to make the hunt easier. Most of the time, the zebras, white tail deer and bighorn sheep are so accustomed to the presence of their human keepers, they don't even run away. Many are even hand fed grain and given vitamins and horn growth stimulants in order to make them larger, more valuable trophies.
This Texas ranch will sell you a whole zebra-hunting package, complete with guest lodge, breakfast lunch and dinner, field dressing and transportation to the nearest taxidermist, all for only $4,200. They'll let you hunt any way you want to as well-- if you're confined to a wheelchair and/or want to kill that zebra with only a handgun, they'll make it happen! I'm not even kidding:
You think that's impressively disgusting? This ranch allows you to hunt a Pere David for $7,000. A Pere David is a weird-looking deer that's actually extinct in the wild. But hey, you can kill one to satisfy your ego, no problem!
Quick note: I'm not against hunting. I'm against the selfish, cruel, idiotic canned "hunting" of exotic animals.
2. Exotic "Puppy" Mills
Some animals are imported directly from their native lands, often dying in droves along the way because of how they're smuggled, but many others are bred here in the USA. The exotic breeding animals suffer because, like in puppy mills, their entire purpose is making babies, year after year, until they die. Since they're breeders, not pets, they're often not handled and live in fear and isolation with little vet care. We're not just talking about actual puppies here, but about monkeys, foxes, skunks and anything else you can imagine.
|Wolf hybrid puppies at a puppy mill|
Exotic pets suffer because their owners want a neat critter, a status symbol or living proof of their machismo, but have no idea how to properly feed or exercise a wild animal, and they don't have the space it needs to thrive. Innocent people suffer when these animals almost inevitably escape or become neglect cases which must be dealt with by cops, wildlife officials and rescues. Remember the 48 lions, tigers and bears that had to be shot in Ohio? Here's a neat map showing the number and location of big cat maulings in the USA in 2011 alone. I had no idea how common this crap was until quite recently. Did you know that around 15,000 primates are owned by private individuals in America? Only nine states ban the practice. 15,000! And that's just apes and monkeys!
The ASPCA has a nice exotic pet FAQ here, and there's an interactive map of the exotic animal laws in each state here. The bottom line is, if you really want an animal, any animal, you can have one.
Several states have no laws against owning dangerous animals; many states have laws that simply require some sort of permit. Few states have any real active enforcement of these laws, and there's no concerted effort to stop the importing, breeding and trading of exotic animals. Although customs officials do their best, they're a handful of guys at an airport. If your redneck neighbor BobbyJo were to bring home a bear or a spitting cobra tomorrow, he'd probably have less legal trouble than the average apartment-dweller trying to adopt a Pitbull.
What's all this have to do with horses? Not much, on the surface. But I feel strongly that we cannot stop horse abusers unless we make a concerted effort to do more for all animals, and exotic animal issues are a great place to start. Exotic animals are a very public issue, highly visible because of the danger involved. If we can stop idiots from keeping panthers in their backyards, it's one step closer to stopping idiots from starving horses in their backyards. We, as animal lovers, shouldn't focus so much on one species. Doing so weakens the cause of animal welfare in general. Why fight hundreds of tiny battles, when we would be far more effective in banding together to fight a war?