The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency recently took away a Gallatin man’s pet raccoon, igniting a controversy that has reached the Governor’s office.
Mark “Coonrippy” Brown petitioned the Governor to make the TWRA return Rebekah, a raccoon he raised as a pet.
A video of Brown dancing and even showering with the raccoon went viral on the internet and attracted national attention.
It also attracted the attention of the TWRA, which dispatched an officer to Brown’s home and confiscated the raccoon. Rebekah was taken to Walden’s Pond, a refuge in Joelton for abandoned and injured wildlife, from where she will eventually be returned to the wild.
The TWRA enforced a long-standing Tennessee law: “No native species may be taken out of the wild and kept as pets.”
That’s completely clear, not open to any loopholes or contrary interpretations.
There are numerous reasons for the law. The most obvious is that wild animals can be dangerous to humans. They can transmit serious diseases and some species – including raccoons – are especially prone to carry rabies. (Brown said a previous pet raccoon died; the obvious question would be, “From what?”)
Another reason for the TWRA’s hard-line stand against possessing wildlife is to deter its commercial sale. If capturing wild animals for “pets” were allowed, such a practice would quickly turn into a wide-scale commercial operation. Hundreds, if not thousands, of animals would be taken from the wild and sold.
If one person were allowed to capture one raccoon for a pet, that would open the flood-gates for others to capture an unlimited number of other wild animals.
Such debates tend to be emotional. Earlier this year a similar case involved a “pet” deer that a couple had illegally captured and raised. When wildlife officials became aware of the situation, they ordered the deer released.
That ignited some criticism of the wildlife agency, just as has the case of Rebekah the raccoon.
What wasn’t reported in the pet deer story were the many instances in which such “pets” have injured their owners. In one extreme case a fawn that had grown into a mature, antlered buck, killed a caretaker who entered its enclosure.
I suppose legislators could negotiate a compromise in the regulations that would permit the ownership of a single wild animal under certain conditions, including mandatory vaccination for rabies and inspection by a veterinarian for any other diseases or parasites. That would discourage the wholesale capture and possession of wild animals.
As it stands now, however, the regulation is law, and the TWRA has a duty to enforce it.
If Brown were allowed to keep his pet raccoon, others – perhaps inspired by the video – might be tempted to capture his or her own raccoon, with dire consequences. They could be scratched or bitten, and contract the rabies virus or other diseases.
Wildlife diseases and parasites can also be transmitted to domestic pets and livestock.
Wild animals, especially when they’re young, look cute and cuddly, but it’s wise to leave it at that: look, but leave them in the wild where they belong.
It’s not only wise, it’s the law, and it’s there for good reasons.