Over the years, and even up to the present day, many people have acquired wild animals to keep as “pets”. As we have seen, these animals may come through licit means, as well as via illegal trafficking. However, leaving aside whether it is legal or not, there are other problems coming from the ownership of wild animals. Wild animals have not been and can never be domesticated. The process of domestication is extremely long and it may take centuries to develop in a species. Wild animals have natural instincts which cannot be denied and basic needs which can never be completely covered, even in the best conditions of captivity. These animals should never be kept in a house, away from their natural environment. These animals are not like dogs and cats, which are used to living with human beings, and whose ways are more and more like our own. With wild animals, even when they are raised in captivity, their wild animal instincts will always prevail.
One of the main problems of individuals acquiring wild animals is a lack of information. People generally buy an animal because they like the idea of it but they don’t really have all the necessary information about the species, its behaviour and its needs. This lack of knowledge is usually regarding longevity, size, behaviour, spatial and dietary requirements, attention, etc. So we find that there are people who acquire animals that live longer than expected, so they can’t take care of the animal its whole life. Or those that buy the animal when it’s a baby and when it reaches adulthood it has grown more than they were expecting and they don’t have the space for it (especially true for dwarf rabbits, turtles or Vietnamese pigs). Also, often a lack of exercise and bad diet make the animal’s size increase more than normal, causing obesity which endangers its health.
In the 2014 census there were 2,596 wild animals registered in Catalonia, 2,213 of which were reptiles and 242 were mammals.
As for the behaviour of these animals, there is serious lack of knowledge, such as whether it is a nocturnal animal (which means it will be active at night and asleep during the day) or a social animal (which means it would require more individuals of the same species to feel comfortable). Another common complaint is the noise that an animal may produce, such as a cockatiel or a parrot. People may be aware that the animal squawks, but they are not prepared for its constant noise.
A change in behaviour is also very common. The majority of animals change their behaviour when they reach sexual maturity, they stop being docile and become more aggressive. This is intensified in those animals which are kept in captivity, which may start to develop serious problems in their behaviour, even stereotypies and self-inflicted wounding. However, many develop these types of behaviours merely from being kept in captivity and not being able to develop their most basic instincts or not having their basic needs covered.
Another matter is that wild animals keep their instinct for survival, therefore may attack at any moment, such as if you make a movement which they find strange or threatening. That’s why wild animals tend to have aggressive behaviour, especially when they are adults. Another thing is that they usually get everything dirty, mark their territory with urine and break things.
There are also other factors to consider like caring for them and the economic cost. It is often easy and affordable for anyone to acquire a wild animal, but keeping it is very costly. Vets of exotic animals are few and far between, therefore more expensive, as are the treatments. There are also animals which require very expensive facilities, like reptiles, which generally need terrariums with all the necessary extras which offer the optimum conditions for the animals (temperature, illumination, humidity, ventilation, etc.). There are also animals which have very complicated diets, such as snakes, which need live animals; or sugar gliders, which need to constantly change their diet and are also very delicate (they are lactose intolerant, have a hard time digesting fat and cannot eat too much protein). The latter, as well as being delicate and nocturnal, are also very sociable and get depressed if they are alone. Furthermore, although they are very small, they need space to be able to jump and glide.
You are never fully aware what having a wild animal in your home entails, either for the people who live there or for the animal itself. The end result is almost always the same: abandonment.
Wild animals that have grown up in someone’s home cannot be returned to their natural habitat as they have not developed the necessary survival skills during their captivity. And if they are released into a natural area they will find it hard to survive, therefore in many cases the consequence of abandonment is the death of the animal. If the animal does survive in nature, it creates a serious problem for the environment, because it has been released into a habitat which is not its own. If these animals settle into a specific an area and reproduce, they put the other animals at risk due to the possible transmission of diseases, competition with native species of animals for resources, depredation, etc. They may even end up taking over the natural areas and causing a decline in the population, and even the extinction, of animals which have always been native to that place.