Until recently, South Carolina was one of the remaining states that did not regulate or restrict dangerous captive wildlife at all, but the state has now joined 45 other states in banning private possession of big cats, non-native bears, and great apes. This is a big win for wildlife, and for the safety of the residents of South Carolina and surrounding states.

In the past 40 years, around 52 percent of the world’s wildlife has disappeared, and the exotic pet trade is certainly responsible for a good portion of that. This greatly affects the survival of endangered species, and in fact, there are now more tigers kept as pets than there are left in the wild. Moreover, what occurs behind the scenes as these animals are stolen from their families and channeled to unfit homes is harrowing, to say the least, and unfortunately, it is all too easy for inexperienced would-be owners to make impulsive purchase decisions that end up burdening their lifestyles and endangering their families, while wrecking these animals’ lives for good.

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These wildlife will never become truly domesticated, even if they were born in captivity and hand-raised. That’s a process that, depending on the species, can take decades, if not hundreds or thousands of years. As such, their innate instincts and needs are not like those of a common housecat or dog, and many owners aren’t prepared to provide for them as they require, especially in terms of housing space, socialization needs, and the special diets and care their bodies demand. Take, for example, the time when a tiger was found kept in a filthy and cramped cage in a South Carolina citizen’s front yard. For the most part, exotic pet owners aren’t even required to have a special certification or knowledge that would qualify them to care for a wild animal, and when the animals’ needs are not met, these innocents wind up malnourished and can develop a variety of illnesses and disease.

Most of the people who take on these pets also don’t understand how to continue handling the animals as they grow from tiny, adorable, manageable infants into frustrated adults that can become destructive, or even dangerous. In South Carolina alone, there have been situations in which a woman was mauled by a relative’s pet black bear and an 8-year-old boy was bitten by his family’s pet tiger. In other states, people have been strangled by large pet snakes and mauled by pet bears, chimpanzees and a number of big cats. And most often, these scared, frustrated and misunderstood animals are killed on sight for reacting to a situation or experience in which they should never have been involved.

Sometimes owners feel they have no other option, or are doing the animals a great service, by releasing exotic pets into the “wild,” which these days, can often be well within city limits and rarely resembles the animals’ natural habitats. Other times, these so-called pets escape their enclosures. Either event can quickly damage area ecosystems as the new releases compete with native species for food and other resources. It can also lead to the introduction of foreign diseases into the area – such as the Herpes B virus, Rabies, Salmonella, Ebola and Monkeypox – and can cause public safety hazards.

South Carolina made the right move by enacting this ban, and it’s time for the remaining holdouts, which include Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina and Wisconsin, to follow suit – for the safety of their citizens, for the rights of these wild animals and for the preservation of endangered species.

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Image source: Arayan Rattanaphan/Shutterstock