Born free, but not in Florida

By Meagan Meiklejohn

Man’s best friend or biggest burden? Being a pet owner can be an entertaining and rewarding experience. Not only does caring for another teach responsibility, but it can provide a number of laughs along the way. However, being a domestic pet owner is much different than owning an exotic, or non-native, species. Oftentimes, as these species grow, owners feel that they can no longer handle the responsibility of caring for their pet and assume that by setting it free, they are returning the species to its home– the outdoors. The outdoors, though, is made up of a variety of ecosystems with specified habitats for species in different parts of the world; species cannot just be placed anywhere.

Miami, Florida officials and the Metrozoo celebrated their fifth annual Non-native Pet Amnesty Day this past Saturday. On this day, overwhelmed pet owners are able to donate their exotic species and avoid any charges associated with violating Florida’s wildlife laws. Species that are given up at the Metrozoo are then examined by a licensed veterinarian and, if healthy, are adopted by alternative owners who are both willing and qualified to take care of the species.

As an alternative to releasing exotic species into Florida’s wilds, Amnesty Day is extremely beneficial to both the species in question and the surrounding area. When non-native species are placed in a foreign environment and left to fend for themselves, it is not likely that they will survive. If they do, there is a great chance that the species will become invasive and disrupt the indigenous wildlife. If so, these exotic species could threaten those native to the environment, either by treating them as prey or by eventually overpopulating them as they reproduce. Finding an adoptive owner who has the proper credentials, such as having applied for and received the appropriate licence or permit, is necessary to ensure the safety of all species and avoid such disruptions.

Yet, despite this, non-native species still find their way into foreign lands. Whether it is exotic marine life that have been carried over from the ballast water of a ship or barnacles and aquatic plants that have hitched a ride on the blades, hulls or propellers of a boat, there are endless ways for species to enter new environments. Exotic species can even be brought over in packing materials, infesting exotic wood or hiding on the sea weed and plant matter used to pack fruits and vegetables. In addition, through international food markets, exotic animals have, at times, either escaped or been released into Florida.

In those instances the invasion of non-native species is virtually unavoidable, but Amnesty Day addresses the issue with exotic pets being released into Florida. However, adopting such species as pets is just as harmful. It does not matter whether an exotic species is released into an outside environment, such as Florida’s ecosystem, or somewhere inside, such as a pet owner’s house; taking species out of their own habitats places their lives and the lives of other species sharing their habitats, in jeopardy. Exotic species are not domesticated nor are they meant to be. Keeping them as pets endangers both the species and the owner, since such a foreign environment could cause the species to rebel violently against the drastic change. Furthermore, the use of non-native species for purposes such as tourism, education and exhibition, like in zoos and circuses, is to be frowned upon as well. The best place for exotic species is roaming free in their own habitats, nowhere else. That is what Florida should be cracking down upon: enforcing the conservation of original wildlife habitats instead of bouncing species from one owner to the next.

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