Humans don’t always have the best notion of what to keep as a pet. Not all animals can be domesticated like dogs and cats. Keep in mind, even these creatures were bred and re-bred over thousands of generations before they became the household animals which pet owners know and love today. Owning exotic animals may seem like a good idea right now, but not everyone knows that buying a parrot can be an 80-year commitment, or that deer can kick like a horse but can never be trained like one.
In fact, there are brutal animal attacks every year on people who think they can control creatures that were never meant to be kept in the home.
Chimpanzees have a reputation for being friendly because of the number of movies they’ve appeared in. They always seem helpful and easy to train. The problem is that chimpanzees, like other exotic animals, aren’t living in a natural situation with normal social interactions. In 2009, Sandra Herold’s pet chimpanzee Travis mauled Charla Nash. As a result, Nash had to have her face and both of her hands transplanted.
Attempts to domesticate bears don’t result in quite as many injuries as primates do, but they do result in more deaths. Seemingly every year, a bear escapes from a pen and attacks the owner who’s tried to make pets out of them. It may seem cute to raise a bear as a cub, but they grow unmanageable quickly. Often, these deaths occur in ramshackle facilities where owners have had their licenses to keep exotic animals revoked. The deaths of Kelly Ann Walz and Brent Kandra by black bears in 2009 and 2010 happened at such facilities.
While bears aren’t exactly household animals, snakes often are. Toddlers and pythons just don’t seem to get along together well. I can’t imagine why. In 2012, in LeHighton, Pennsylvania, a couple allowed a 3-foot python to play with their four-year-old. Predictably, the animal bit the child on the chest. The family could not dislodge the snake’s hold, given that it had sunk its teeth into the child’s skin. Instead, the parents had to decapitate the snake in front of the child. The four-year old was fine, getting by with only minor injuries. To the family’s credit, they told WFMZ that they would be finding their snakes new homes after the incident.
Two-year old Shaianna Hare was not so lucky in 2009. Her mother Jaren Hare and her boyfriend Charles Darnell kept a pet python in a laundry bag in a tank held close by only a quilt. The snake had escaped 10 times before and was severely underfed. It should have weighed 150 pounds, but weighed only 13. The danger posed to Shaianna wasn’t taken seriously, and the snake suffocated the girl to death in her crib. It was found already trying to eat Shaianna. Even Jaren Hare’s mother testified against her daughter, saying she had urged them to remove the snake from the premises and even offering to buy the animal several times. Both Jaren Hare and Darnell were convicted of third-degree murder, manslaughter, and child neglect. They received sentences of 12 years each.
People sometimes forget that deer can become large, dangerous animals. A kick from a deer can be just as dangerous as a kick from a horse. In 2007, exotic animal owner John Henry Frix was gored to death by a European red deer he kept in a pen. The animal had become more aggressive during its rutting season. Gerald Rushton was stomped to death in 2010 by a 550-pound deer he was keeping as a pet.
Attempts to domesticate big cats result in by far the greatest numbers of injuries and deaths. A four-year-old in Odessa, Texas was mauled by his mother’s pet mountain lion. Cynthia Lee Gamble was eaten by underfed tigers she hired out to movies. Big cats result in a death every year in the United States, and far more injuries.
Like the other exotic animals on this list, big cats can’t be domesticated. They need to roam across a vast area and interact with other animals of their species in the wild in order to be properly adjusted. If they’re still dangerous when properly adjusted, how do you think they are when maladjusted? It may not seem to be a big problem, but the fact is more tigers are kept as pets in the United States than exist in the wild around the globe.
Visitors tend to believe zoos and aquariums take better care of animals than someone who might get mauled by one they keep as a pet in their own backyard. While these places may have a better handle on general feed and care, not all of an animal’s needs are always met by these institutions. Some do a better job than others, and some don’t do much of a job at all.
Elephants at zoos and circuses sometimes throw or crush their handlers. Keep in mind: these are animals who would normally spend their entire lives as part of a social group with dozens or hundreds of other creatures, with a seasonal migration that covers hundreds of miles.
The plight of captive orcas (also known as killer whales) has been better documented with films like “Blackfish.” Tillikum, the oldest orca in captivity, has been involved with 3 deaths: killing a trainer in 1991; the drowning of a man who snuck into the whale’s tank at night in 1999; and dragging and drowning another trainer in 2010 during a show.