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Wild pets are illegal, sometimes dangerous

Larry Woody • Dec 15, 2015 at 2:01 PM

With summer at hand, more folks will be outdoors, interacting with wildlife.

There are often temptations to capture some species for “pets’’ – from turtles and salamanders to new-born animals such as squirrels, raccoons and even fawns – but the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency says it is unwise and illegal.

First, the legal aspect:

The TWRA prohibits the capture and confinement of any wildlife species. In the past the Agency issued permits allowing pet stores to sell box turtles and for people to own them, but has discontinued the practice.

The number of box turtles has declined in recent years and the TWRA has decided to afford them the same protection as other wildlife species. (Some species of turtles can be harvested as wild game, and likewise for bullfrogs. Check the Tennessee Fishing Guide for detailed regulations.)

The TWRA’s general guideline: if there is no designated hunting season for a particular species, then it is protected.

The general public would have little impact in removing a small number of creatures from the wild, but commercial traders could devastate entire populations. That’s why all species, including venomous snakes, are protected.

Another reason for the regulation is to protect the public from wildlife “pets.”

Many species, including box turtles, carry bacteria that can be harmful to humans. Venomous snakes are dangerous for obvious reasons, and mammals can be infected with rabies and other diseases that are transmitted.

Parasites, both external and internal, can be spread through wildlife, and bites and scratches from wild animals can cause serious problems.

During the spring and summer seasons, new-born birds and animals are abundant. When encountered, apparently alone, some well-meaning people “rescue” them from the wild.

That’s not a good idea. Most “abandoned” new-born aren’t really abandoned. The adults are generally hiding nearby, waiting for the human intruder to go away.

That’s particularly true with new-born fawns. The best thing to do when encountering a fawn is to leave it alone and depart the area immediately so that the mother will return.

Handling the fawn or leaving human scent in the area could discourage the mother’s return.

Also, deer captured in the wild and raised in captivity as pets are unpredictable when grown. Bucks, particularly, tend to become aggressive and have been known to harm their captors.

As for injured animals, they should be approached with caution and never picked up. A wounded creature, scared and in pain, may lash out at its “protector.”

The best idea is to inform a park attendant, TWRA official or other wildlife professional who knows how to deal with the situation.

Numerous nature groups and associations are involved in getting youngsters outdoors and that’s a positive thing. But they should make sure the kids understand that the “cuddly critters” they encounter are wild animals and not meant to become pets.

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