Nice little Python. Cute and crawly. But he grows and grows – too long for the room and somewhat menacing as pythons have been known to squeeze and sometimes strangle unwary humans. What to do? Euthanizing a pet is not fair. The solution: the watery everglades where he can join many thousands of fellow snakes in eternal combat with the other animal discards – alligators.
Florida is undergoing an invasion of exotic animals of all kinds from all parts of the world. Like drugs, they are mostly smuggled into the U.S. and sold to willing customers, many in Florida, where the warm, humid climate makes a suitable home. Regulators are trying to cope since the intruders may soon outnumber the native species who serve as prey and food for the newcomers. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission had just added other species to the banned list, including yellow anaconda, raccoon dog, flying fox and brushtail possum. As in the case of drugs, the law of supply and demand makes the trade difficult to control.
Why do people want such creatures in their life? Dog and cats have become every day, humdrum. Everybody has them. For those ever in search of something new and exciting, exotic pets fill the need. They are also comforting because they’re special. Author Peter Laufer reports a woman who smuggled a monkey from Thailand that she found as “sweet and soft as a newborn child.” But then there was the loving chimp that even made drawings for its owner. On an impulse he attacked and almost mauled to death a visiting friend. These pets can be volatile and unpredictable. That’s why they’re called wild.
Understandably, they’re always trying to escape wherever they’re confined. It’s not a natural habitat. In the process of reaching a customer, they’re torn from the wilds, shoved into crates, bumped from one place to another, leaving them not well disposed toward their human captors. They require strict supervision. Sharing his Florida home with sixty snakes, Albert Killian posts the proper antivenom next to the poisonous ones just in case.
The super-rich are enthusiastic customers. In Luxury Week magazine Sarah Emerson writes: “On social media sites, chained tigers and cheetahs are flaunted next to Lamborghinis, Louis Vuitton bags and luxury yachts, mere accessories to the one percent who can afford them.” Adds Lisa Wathne: “When you see people with tigers on leashes or giant snakes wrapped around their necks, there’s no doubt they’re thinking about themselves far more than they’re thinking about the animals.”
Drug lords have their share. Cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar kept a lion, giraffe, kangaroo, elephant, camel, rhino and hippo at his hacienda in Colombia until he was gunned down. When police raided Teodoro Fino Restrepo’s domain in Mexico City, they found lions, tigers, a panther and a great ape. “Having a Ferrari outside the front door is not enough,” says an exotic expert. “You have to have a chimpanzee or an orangutan in your backyard as well. Then you’re really the man.”
There’s a reasonable substitution for this animal mania. How about exotic people who are more than ever welcome in Florida these days and don’t have to be smuggled in?