Personally, I wouldn’t want to keep a tiger or a lion as a pet – but there are those that do, and there is quite a booming trade for people wanting them. Some flaunt their wealth by doing so, and backyard breeders might be in business to provide them. Owners could find them an exciting and stimulating challenge; caring for them invites a profound understanding of their behaviour and their needs.

The pros and cons

Most exotic animals don’t need walking, and perhaps some are good for people with pet allergies. Some are best kept in cages, and for many city dwellers who live in tiny apartments, cats or dogs just aren’t options. A small mammal, reptile, or bird that can live in a cage might be a more feasible choice. Bearded dragons are one of the most popular exotic pets and for a good reason – these friendly and docile lizards make great pets for beginners.

Unfortunately, some animals sold as exotic pets may have been taken from the wild, and perhaps transported in terrible conditions. They’re often crammed into small cages, along with other animals and even different species, and they get stressed. They may get sick and spread viruses - placing other animals and humans who come into contact with them at high risk.

Take turtles, for example. When they’re taken from the wild, some are taped up so they can’t come out of their shells, then pushed into socks with lots of other turtles. And when they’re so close to each other for that long, diseases can spread quickly among them and potentially to other species.

The ‘Not A Pet Campaign’ organisation, who address the illegal trade of live wildlife as pets, estimates that for every baby chimpanzee that becomes a pet, ten are killed in the process.

What can be classed as an exotic pet?

At what point does an animal become exotic? The definition of ‘exotic’ according to Britannica Dictionary is ‘very different, strange, or unusual, of a plant or animal: not living or growing naturally in a particular area: from another part of the world’. How about parrots? Hairless cats? Pygmy Goats? Snakes?

An exotic pet is one that is relatively rare or unusual to keep or is generally thought of as a wild species rather than as a domesticated pet. The definition varies by culture and/or location - and over time, as some creatures become firmly enough established in the world of animal fanciers they may no longer be considered exotic.

It is seemingly easy to obtain an exotic pet. There are internet sites offering sales and care advice, and chat rooms are available where those interested can haggle over a price. There is even an Animal Finders’ Guide, which carries ads from dealers, private parties, breeders, ranchers and zoos, offering exotic animals for sale.

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Are they really pets?

Many exotic animals do not make good companions. They require special care, housing, diet, and maintenance that the average person may not be able to provide. Sometimes in the hands of private individuals, they may suffer due to poor care, or pose health and safety risks to people coming into contact with them.

In my opinion exotic animals — lions, tigers, wolves, bears, reptiles, non-human primates — all belong in their natural habitats and not in the hands of private individuals as ‘pets.’ By their very nature, these animals are wild and potentially dangerous and, as such, do not adjust well to a captive environment. Did you know that there are apparently more than 5,000 tigers alone held as exotic pets by private individuals across the world? Apparently, there are more tigers held as pets than are roaming free in the jungles.

When it is realised that their cute little cub for instance has turned into a full-grown animal with ingrained instincts that might make them dangerous, it might be possible - but not guaranteed - for them to be rehoused in zoos or sanctuaries. Or cruelly, they might also be mutilated by tooth removal or declawing for safety reasons - or worse, be euthanised or abandoned.


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan