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Q: Should There be More Regulations Concerning the Ownership of Exotic Animals?

yes

“There should be tighter regulations on the ownership of exotic animals because the current regulations are not sufficient for protecting exotic animals. For example, four states have absolutely no regulations on the ownership of exotic animals as pets, and six states have no regulations on keeping big cats as pets. [1] Aside from some states having absolutely no regulations at all, there are large loopholes that allow basically anyone to own exotic animals. The largest loophole of all is the “USDA Loophole,” where individuals can circumvent their state laws regarding exotic animal ownership by obtaining a USDA license. In many cases, people can claim to be animal exhibitors or breeders to obtain this license, when in reality they are merely keeping these endangered species as pets for their personal pleasure. [2] These loopholes have massive consequences. If literally anyone can own exotic animals with little to no oversight, then this endangers animals and humans alike. [3] Without proper education, owners neglect the needs of their exotic animals, such as the fact that many of these species require specialized diets. Many exotic animals can transmit diseases to humans such as the Herpes B virus, Rabies, Salmonella, Ebola and Monkeypox. In other cases, unregulated owners who feel that they are no longer able to care for their exotic pets will simply release them into the wild. Irresponsible releases often result in these animals starving to death or even becoming an invasive species. Even worse than irresponsible releases, many times these exotic species will escape captivity from their owners, resulting in both human and animal deaths. There have been thousands of reports of exotic pets escaping private captivity, and “people have been strangled by large pet snakes and mauled by pet bears, chimpanzees and a number of big cats.” If an exotic animal has escaped captivity, it will often be killed on sight. Clearly, the lack of regulation on the ownership of exotic animals is harming everyone involved, humans and exotic animals alike. Those who oppose more regulations often argue that exotic animal ownership helps preserve these animals as a species. However, it is clear that exotic animal ownership does not benefit the exotic animals. Without regulation, exotic animals under private captivity often see their needs neglected by their owners, and they can even be shot and killed if they escape. An individual’s property rights do not outweigh the lives of the people and the animals that have died as a result of little government regulation. Having tighter regulations on the ownership of exotic animals is the best way to ensure that the people who do own exotic animals are ones who are responsible, which protects everyone involved.”

Aaron from Missouri

no

“Recently the Netflix series Tiger King has grown in fame, but so have the many moral dilemmas it covers. As the series follows Joe Exotic, an exotic tiger breeder and zoo owner in Oklahoma, the legality of owning exotic animals, especially as they face extinction, comes into question. Animal rights activists, such as Carole Baskins, have been fighting adamantly against breeders like Exotic and Doc Antle. The lobbying power of these activists has become evident; in early 2019, Congress introduced The Big Cat Public Safety Act (H.R. 1380) to end the private ownership of big cats. However, despite any state or federal laws in place, Exotic continued to breed, sell, and showcase his big cats to continue making a living. Based on the personal accounts in the series Tiger King, along with external research, private ownership of exotic animals should not be governed for four main reasons: 1) private ownership has the capability to revive endangered species more effectively than current conservation methods, 2) the exotic animal trade is worth billions of dollars, with consumer demand rampant, 3) the rights of exotic animals should not precede the rights of humans, and 4) the United States was ultimately founded off of laissez-faire economics and individual rights to property. Many exotic species are endangered, so conservation is of huge concern to animal rights activists. Criminalizing the ownership of exotic animals strains the effort to conserve such species. In 1995, Swedish Zoologist Torjörn Ebenhard conducted a study of over 3000 endangered animal populations in which he concluded that “conservation breeding may be the only possible way to avoid extinction.” In the case of Tiger King, Exotic was a breeder with hundreds of tigers at once. Conservation facilities, like Baskins’ Big Cat Rescue, house big cats in similar ways. The issue derives from the intent of each facility and how they make money; in Exotic’s case, illegal wildlife trade was the most profitable and realistic option. Had his private ownership of exotic animals been legally acceptable and supported, Exotic and other breeders could easily contribute to conservation rather than the black market. The breeding of other domesticated pets, like dogs, has ensured a safe population size, so it could be logically reasoned and hoped that exotic animal breeding would have similar results. However, for that to be possible on a grand scale, private ownership would need to be legalized with very few restrictions besides licensing. The current illegal wildlife trade makes it so that the national economy cannot reap the economic benefits of exotic animals. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service states that the illegal trade of exotic animals is a multi-billion industry. However, the individuals making profit in this industry (and fueling it) commonly evade taxes to continue their breeding services. A study done by three professors from Texas A&M University reported that wildlife bans encouraged “crime units to find avenues of bypassing these regulations.” In regards to taxes, the IRS reports and acknowledges that individuals in the black market do not pay taxes — Exotic was imprisoned in part for tax evasion. This could be easily corrected by legalizing the work of exotic animal owners and breeders. Decreasing regulations would create a new stream of federal or state funding — the funding could be used for conservation and awareness efforts to ensure the efforts of activists are reflected. The profitability of exotic animals derives from consumers’ high demand. According to a 2013 survey done by the American Pet Products Association, 19.4 million households in the United States have exotic pets. With that, there are more big cats in households/captivity than in the wild. Banning the ownership of exotic animals does not address how many exotic animals are sought out illegally nor does it mitigate the disturbing statistics of endangered species. It is clear that exotic animals are viewed by consumers as products worth buying and by breeders as products worth selling. The current economic view of exotic animals, even with legal limitations in place, depicts that the focus should be on ensuring ownership is safe rather than preventing something that is inevitable, even if there is moral gray area. While the prevention of owning exotic animals would ensure the most natural path to conservation, and put animal rights first, laws — which are made by the people, for the people — are meant to protect the interests of humans first and foremost. From a legal standpoint, animals do not have the same rights as humans nor were they ever intended to. In a lawsuit against SeaWorld, PETA argued that orcas were being enslaved which violated orcas’ 13th amendment rights. The San Diego judge of that case dismissed it, proclaiming that the rights established in the Constitution do not extend to orcas. For the majority of states, animals are still legally viewed as property, so long as they are not abused. Animals have no concept of laws, making it questionable that so many resources are spent debating the rights of animals when many humans are still lacking their rights. Animal have gained rights quicker than some minorities, which sends a questionable message to the U.S. constituency. Animals should be treated with respect, but laws should first address those that are actually voting and legally being represented. The philosopher John Locke, who was influential in early American ideals, viewed that humans had certain natural rights and that “ no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.” From Locke came the principle of the right to “life, liberty, and property” that is seen in the 5th Amendment and parodied in Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. At this time, and still today, animals were viewed as property. Knowing that the Founding Fathers fought for the right to private property highlights its significance as an American pillar. Thus, if the government were to infringe on citizens’ property rights due to animal lobbyists, it is likely that the Founding Fathers would roll in their graves with disappointment. Along with the principle of unalienable rights, the United States was founded on laissez-faire economics. As seen by the illegal trade of exotic animals, the free market continues to do as it wishes despite government intervention. Government intervention on the free market proves itself to be futile in the case of exotic animal ownership. In the end, the government hurts itself the most by eliminating a source of economic growth and taxable income, while also encouraging unsafe practices by not supporting the inevitable animal trade to join in on conservation.”

Lexi from North Carolina

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– President John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961