Although the words “exotic” and “wild” are frequently used interchangeably, many people do not fully understand how these categories differ when it comes to pets. It is important to understand the difference between wild and exotic animals and the requirements and responsibilities of owning such animals as pets.
According to Dr. Alice Blue-McLendon, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, a wild or exotic animal is anything that is not one of seven domesticated species: dogs, cats, horses, pigs, cows, sheep, or goats.
In addition, there is an important distinction between wild and exotic animals. “A wild animal is an indigenous, non-domesticated animal, meaning that it is native to the country where you are located,” Blue-McLendon explained. “For Texans, White-tailed deer, pronghorn sheep, raccoons, skunks, and bighorn sheep are wild animals. The important difference is that an exotic animal is one that is wild but is from a different continent than where you live.” For example, a hedgehog in Texas would be considered an exotic animal, but in the hedgehog’s native country, it would be considered wildlife.
Another misconception is the domestication of wild and exotic animals. Many people erroneously think friendly wild and exotic animals are domesticated, when they are actually considered tame. The seven domesticated species are classified by their close association with humans for thousands of years. “If you take a wild or exotic animal and raise it with humans, that doesn’t make it domesticated,” Blue-McLendon explained. “It’s still a wild animal; it’s just one that is more accustomed to humans. Sometimes people confuse a domesticated animal with a wild animal that is tame, and they are not the same thing.”
What kind of responsibility does it take to own a wild or exotic animal? According to Blue-McLendon, it is a big commitment. In addition, there are state laws regulating the ownership of exotic and wild animals. In Texas, people must request a permit to own animals native to Texas, such as a White-tailed deer. It is important for pet owners to do some research before becoming an owner of a wild or exotic pet to ensure they do not own an animal illegally. Furthermore, Blue-McLendon stressed that it is inappropriate to take animals from the wild and keep them as pets. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department website is a good resource to find the specific rules on possessing native species.
“When people choose to take wild animals from the wild and make them a so-called pet, they completely alter that individual’s life,” she said. “It is not appropriate to take animals from the wild for a couple of reasons. One reason is that people usually cannot provide the care that the animal needs. The second reason is that state regulations protect wildlife, so it often illegal for people to possess wild animals, that are, especially, Texas-native wild animals. You cannot possess wild animals native to Texas without some sort of a permit.
Blue-McLendon discourages the ownership of wild and exotic pets, but said “pocket pets” are the exception. “Pocket pets, which are smaller creatures like hamsters, gerbils, and guinea pigs, are the exception,” she said. “Those pets are fine because they are not dangerous, and they are easy to care for. You also do not need a permit for them. I think small pets like that can be good first pets for a lot of kids to learn about the care of animals.”
In conclusion, Blue-McLendon gave one final thought, “People should not acquire non-domestic animals, whether they’re wildlife or exotic animals, unless they really understand how big the animal’s going to grow, what its behavior will be, its diet requirements, and what kind of environmental conditions it needs. However, pocket pets are appropriate exotic and wild animals and can be beneficial to teach young people how to care for animals.”
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.