Expert Voices

Boas, Chimps or Tigers: Wild Animals Are Not Pets (Op-Ed)

chimps playing
Chimpanzees at Chimp Haven, a national chimpanzee sanctuary in Louisiana, grooming and playing with one another. (Image credit: Chimp Haven)

Wayne Pacelle is the president and chief executive officer of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). This Op-Ed first appeared on the blog A Humane Nation, where it ran before appearing in LiveScience's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

For years, The HSUS warned Ohio policy makers about the madness of allowing private citizens to keep dangerous wild animals as pets. They ignored the issue, or what to me is more incriminating, they bowed to the influence and pressure of the rowdy band of exotic animal owners who claimed it was their right to have any animals they wanted.

Pretty much every sane person got clarity on the issue in 2011 after Terry Thompson released nearly 50 large, dangerous, wild animals in Zanesville, just before taking his own life. Law enforcement personnel dramatically hunted the creatures down as dusk enveloped the eastern Ohio town, in an attempt to protect the community from the tigers , grizzly bears and cougars that were on the loose.

The question is, why risk the lives of people and animals just so someone can claim bragging rights by having a big, powerful animal in his control? Hey, I get the human-animal bond as well as anyone, but that can be satisfied with a domesticated dog or cat . Getting your animal fix need not require a chimp or a tiger or a boa constrictor. The risks far exceed the rewards for society. And yes, we are members of a society, with a collective set of rules. It's not a free-for-all, where we do anything we wish, regardless of the consequences.

So this brings me to last Monday's incident, where a 100-pound African rock python escaped into a New Brunswick apartment above a pet store, found its way into a bedroom and killed two little boys by asphyxiating them.

Even though it occurred over the national border in Canada, will this be our wake-up moment in the United States on the reckless trade in large, constricting snakes ? Do we have to witness a mass release of pythons or anacondas in a community, a colonization of a fragile ecosystem and destruction of the native wildlife, the death or injury of more innocent people and the demise of thousands of more large, constricting snakes through the exotic-animal trade in order to get clarity on this situation?

Eighteen months ago, the Obama administration took a half-step on the issue, banning trade in just four of nine large constricting snakes that the U.S. Geological Survey had recommended for listing under the Lacey Act. Amazingly enough, it was the hollering of reptile breeders and snake owners — and their false claims about an outrageously large economic impact — that prevented the White House from taking stronger action.

With the election now in the rear-view mirror, it's time for the Obama administration to complete the job. One of Vermont's largest papers, The Brattleboro Reformer, weighed-in on the issue recently with authority and clarity. The paper has it just right, and it's my hope that the new secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior and the White House will act with all deliberate speed to get a new policy in place. There's no compelling rationale for inaction. We should not wait until crises happen before we enact sensible policies. We should prevent problems before they occur.

Pacelle's most recent Op-Ed was No Matter the Spin, Whales in Captivity Deserve Better. This article was adapted fromYes, That's the Tolling of a Wake Up Call…Again., which first appeared as on the HSUS blog A Humane Nation. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This article was originally published on