Archive for the ‘exotic pets’ Category

He eats!

Mosiro ate his first fuzzy rat (pre-killed, frozen,and then thawed) in my care. It took all of 5 seconds for him to bite, and 30 minutes later he had a lump in his belly.

mosiro eats.jpg

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Big Cat Wars


I was not surprised when I heard the news that “Joe Exotic” had been indicted for hiring a hit man to take out a “Jane Doe.”  I figured the “Jane Doe” would have to be none other than Carole Baskin, Joe Exotic’s bête noire.  This, I suppose, is the end of their long-standing feud. Joe Exotic is probably going away for a while, and he won’t be posting ranting Youtube videos. He also won’t be posting his professional wrestling videos either, and we won’t be seeing his country music videos either.

Yeah, Joe Exotic is a kind of renaissance man among psychos. When I first heard of him, he was known as Joseph Schreibvogel, and he was running a roadside zoo in Oklahoma. CNN, I believe, brought him on to discuss the Amur tiger that escaped its enclosure at the San Francisco Zoo back in 2007. I thought he was an interesting figure with his bleached-blond mullet and eye shadow, but then I found his Youtube channel.  It was quite an experience!

Now, I had known about Carole Baskin for a long time. Back in the Dark Ages, when I was a political science graduate student and Google had its own video streaming service that definitely was not Youtube,  I spent several evenings watching Big Cat Rescue’s videos about different cat species, which often featured an animal that was said to have been rescued from dire straits.

If two personalities were ever going to conflict when it came to the issues related to exotic cat ownership, it would be these two. Baskin is the heiress of a Tampa real estate magnate, and she initially got her start as an exotic cat breeder. She has since changed her mind and now actively campaigns to ban exotic cat ownership.

Schreibvogel, though, saw himself as renegade, who was going to fight like hell to hold onto his big cats and to defend the institution of the roadside zoo. This institution was legion throughout the country, especially in the flyover states, where little boys and girls first laid eyes upon their first tigers and monkeys. When I was a boy, one of my favorite places to visit was a roadside zoo near Parkersburg, West Virginia, where the owners kept several tigers and monkeys. I had seen tigers at “real zoos” before, but I sort of liked the idea that I didn’t have to go to Pittsburgh or Columbus to see a tiger up close.

So here we have two egos that were very likely to clash and class badly. Both believed they had the best interest of the cats at heart, but their interests were in total conflict.

I can see a lot of good reasoning on Baskin’s logic. When I was in high school, there was a lioness kept in a cage in an adjacent county, and it was common for people to make special detours to see the cat in her cage. Then, the floodwaters grew too close to her enclosure, and the authorities killed her to spare her from drowning.

Her life was spent in a prison, and it ended so ignobly for a creature thought of as royalty among beasts.

I am also sure that many big cats live lives that are totally horrific and inappropriate for their species. Baskin’s logic is simple. Big cats should not be in private hands, except in established sanctuaries or accredited zoological institution. Some people of this school of thought even oppose the zoos, because there are no realistic attempts to reintroduce endangered big cats to the wild.

But at the same time, I can see where this logic would become problematic. I, after all, own an exotic snake, a constrictor at that, and I’ve seen some groups push for the banning of all captive constrictors, even though it would be hard to make the case that a ball python would ever be a danger to a person.

And so we fall into one of those debates between personal freedom and animal rights/animal welfare issues. It is one of those debates that becomes instantly polarizing, and in my weird position, I can see the merits of both arguments.

The best expositor of allowing for a little more liberality in exotic ownership comes from the zoologist John Burchard, who wrote the following at Querencia. 

I firmly support the right to keep “exotics” in captivity and/or partial or complete liberty (our wolf lived free in the desert on weekends, and our coatis mostly lived free in our very normal residential neighborhood, for example). Much of my professional life has been devoted to the study of animal behavior (and its relevance to human behavior). One of my principal mentors in that work was the famous Austrian zoologist Konrad Z. Lorenz (best known to Americans perhaps for his charming books King Solomon’s Ring and Man meets Dog).

I worked with Konrad in his Institute in Germany for seven years, during which time he shared a Nobel Prize for his work. None of that work would have been possible at all without being able to keep all sorts of “exotic” creatures under quasi-natural conditions and often at partial or complete liberty.

My own entry into that field would also have been impossible without similar childhood experiences – some of them, even then, probably already illegal under U.S. law. As a schoolboy I had all sorts of free flying, tame (because hand-reared) wild birds flying around outside our house. (Read King Solomon’s Ring to get an idea of what is possible, and indeed necessary, in that direction). My own childhood, thanks to exceptionally tolerant parents, was somewhat similar, though my most special interest was snakes. I gave my first public lecture – on snakes, of course – to the Rotary Club of Newport, VT – at the age of 7– 73 years ago next month. One of the snakes escaped, and slithered under the piano, during the singing of the “Star Spangled Banner” at the end. Highest marks for patriotic heroism of the lady piano player, who persevered wide-eyed but without a quiver while I rounded up the wayward reptile.

Watching animals on TV is not an adequate substitute for actually living with them. We now have wonderful, amazing natural history shows on TV. They are almost too good. And they are not the same as lying in a very small tent beside a remote Swedish lake, watching a moose pass within three feet of our noses on his way down to the lake to eat water plants. It’s not the same as walking through the forest with a tame Goshawk on your glove, learning (by watching the bird) how it constructs its world by remembering successes (a rabbit from *this* branch, at 4:17 pm) and failures (an empty field *here*, at 3:22 pm). You learn to see the world as they do.

Without that, you understand nothing.

Of course, I don’t think anyone would argue that Joe Exotic was engaging in the scholarship of John Burchard or Konrad Lorenz.  He made claims that he was submitting DNA to various studies, but I haven’t seen evidence of these studies, largely because I haven’t looked. He also defended breeding ligers and multi-generational lion-tiger crosses because they had hybrid vigor, and that they may have. However,  it is difficult to see what hybridization would do for the conservation of either species.

For Joe Exotic, keeping tigers was almost an exercise in becoming something more than he was. By his own accounts, he had a rather rough life as a young man. Growing up gay in Oklahoma 40 odd years ago must have been a horror of a life. He did drugs, and he lived an unmoored life.  When his brother died, he worked with his parents build the park, and in building that park, he found meaning.

The park was opened in 1999, and that was pretty much within the last two or three years that roadside zoos could operate without much public scrutiny.

So here, you have a man who lived a pretty troubled existence finding meaning in something and then suddenly finding himself in the storm of controversy. Lots of complaints about the park were circulated. Many investigations.

For whatever reason, Joe Exotic thought it was a good idea to set up a traveling display of big cats and call his show “Big Cat Rescue Entertainment.” That led to the lawsuit by Carole Baskin’s organization, which is called “Big Cat Rescue.”  And there was a $1 million judgment against him for this infringement.

And that’s when things went really sideways. In 2016, Joe Exotic ran for president as an independent. He lost, in case you didn’t notice.  His husband was killed last year by an accidental gunshot.

And then he ran for governor of Oklahoma as a Libertarian, and he came in a distant third.

And while he was between elections, he apparently decided to spend $3,000 on a hit man to take out a Jane Doe in Florida. (I didn’t know hit men were so inexpensive!)

We don’t know that Carole Baskin was his intended target, but she claims that she was. It makes sense. Joe Exotic has done nothing but make threats against her for past few years, and at some point, he just lost whatever good sense he might have had.

If Joe Exotic is found guilty, which seems awfully likely, then this part of the big cat war will be over.

The debates that fired the passions of the two individuals involved, though, still rage on.  Are we willing to let a lion die in a pen along a West Virginia creek bed? Or are we more willing to take away a troubled man’s sense of purpose and meaning? Maybe it is better that children learn to leave the wild things in the wild, or maybe the exotic pet industry has a great value in keeping us alienated primates passionate about the other creatures on the planet.

I am struck by the need for nuance, a nuance I wish could have led to a better understanding before this tragedy hit.

We can all be passionate about our love for animals, but this story is an allegory for how it’s all going down. We have two sides that cannot compromise. Neither side sees the other as a human worthy of love and understanding, despite disagreement.

And the mania of the passions pushes us further apart, which leads to a man dehumanizing his opponent so much that he offers death threats in online videos and then goes full-out and hires a hit man.

At what point does that outrage and mania just consume a man?

For Joe Exotic was truly consumed, and it has ended with this indictment for something this heinous.








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I got to new pet. Jenna bought me a pastel ball python from Nussman Reptiles. I am calling him Mosiro, after a clan of Akie hunter-gathers in Kenya.

His glamor shot:



mosiro arrival

mosiro closeup

He’s eating frozen, and I think he’s gorgeous.

I’ve always wanted my own python, though I’m glad it’s of this smaller, more docile species.



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monongahela river caiman

From WBOY:

The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources received information that a reptile, possibly a caiman, was in the Mon River between Fairmont and Rivesville.

DNR officials said people were contacting them about an alligator, although based on descriptions the DNR has received, it was believed to be a caiman, which is a member of the alligator family.

DNR Wildlife Resources learned Friday afternoon that the caiman had been captured and killed by two fisherman Friday morning. Marion County Natural Resources Police Officer Jeremiah Clark said the fisherman planned to eat the reptile’s tail.


It seems we have an epidemic of crocodilians being released in this state.

Just a few weeks ago, an alligator was killed in Southern West Virginia.

I know of a pet store in Marion County that used to sell alligators and caimans, which are not regulated in West Virginia at all. I was shocked to see them available for purchase.

I’m amazed the rivers here in summer aren’t full of these inappropriate pets.

Of course, this caiman would have frozen to death in just a few weeks, so it’s almost a good thing that its tail is now on the menu.

Update: I’ve been informed that this animal is most likely an American alligator, not a caiman. It looks more like an alligator to me, too. However, I was trusting the WVDNR’s judgment here.

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Ab4458 the Edwardian lynx. Photo (c) Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. From Tetrapod Zoology.  

An errant Canada lynx was killed in the English county of Devon in 1903.

Darren Naish writes in the Tetrapod Zoology blog:

For over 100 years, a potentially significant dead cat has been sat in storage in a British museum. Specifically, the specimen – the lynx Ab4458 – has been at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery ever since it was added to the collections there in February 1903, and what makes it significant is that it was shot dead after living wild in Devon, southern England. As revealed in a new paper published by Aberystwyth University’s Max Blake and a team of colleagues (myself, Greger Larson, Charlotte King, Geoff Nowell, Manabu Sakamoto and Ross Barnett), the specimen represents a historic ‘British big cat’, though with ‘big cat’ being used very much in the vernacular sense, not the technical one (Blake et al. 2013).


For over 100 years, a potentially significant dead cat has been sat in storage in a British museum. Specifically, the specimen – the lynx Ab4458 – has been at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery ever since it was added to the collections there in February 1903, and what makes it significant is that it was shot dead after living wild in Devon, southern England. As revealed in a new paper published by Aberystwyth University’s Max Blake and a team of colleagues (myself, Greger Larson, Charlotte King, Geoff Nowell, Manabu Sakamoto and Ross Barnett), the specimen represents a historic ‘British big cat’, though with ‘big cat’ being used very much in the vernacular sense, not the technical one (Blake et al. 2013).

A lynx of any species would not technically be a big cat. The term “big cat” in the taxonomic sense applies only to the cats in the genus Panthera (the tiger, the lion, the jaguar, the leopard, and now, the snow leopard) and the two species of clouded leopard. All other cats are technically “small cats,” which means that the cougar, the largest of the small cats, is actually larger than the smallest of the big cats, the mainland clouded leopard.

This particular lynx caused quite a stir before it was it was killed.

Accession documents at the museum describe how it was shot dead by a ‘Mr Heb’ (the handwriting in the accession catalogue is difficult to read and this name might be wrong) after killing two dogs. It was then donated to the museum by a Mr J. Niblet of Newton Abbot, Devon. The geographical origin of the specimen is given as ‘Newton Abbot’. Foreign specimens are clearly marked with a place of origin, so we have to conclude that the cat really did come from Devon.

No one really paid much attention to this cat until 2011, when Max Blake, a student at the University of Bristol, found it while doing volunteer curatorial work at the museum. The animal was quite clearly not a Eurasian lynx, as everyone had initially assumed.

Blake, who was then studying zoology, knew it either had to belong to one of the two New World species of lynx, the bobcat or the Canada lynx.

But the animal appeared to have a mixture of both Canada lynx and bobcat features. The cat had just enough facial markings to suggest that it was a bobcat, and thus, it could have belonged to one of the northern subspecies of bobcat.

When I initially heard of this case back in 2011, I thought it was a northern bobcat, not just for those reasons, but because it is virtually unheard of for a Canada lynx to attack dogs. Bobcats, however, are much more aggressive animals, and in the wild, the larger subspecies are known for hunting mule and white-tailed deer. Canada lynx are rangier than bobcats, but they are actually lighter in weight than the largest subspecies of bobcat. And their diet consists of almost nothing but snowshoe hare. (Canada lynx are about the most bizarre cat species I can think of).

The researchers were unable to extract any DNA from the specimen, but the museum did still have its bones on file. After a careful morphological analysis of its skull, it was determined that the cat was indeed a Canada lynx.

This lynx had very worn out teeth, which suggests that is was of advanced age when it was killed. It also might explain why it was so willing to attack the dogs. It was desperate for some sort of sustenance, and dogs may have been the only suitable prey available.

Analysis of the teeth revealed it likely hadn’t been living on its own for very long:

Examined with all of this in mind, Ab4458 lost its incisors during its lifetime. New bone then overgrew the alveoli*. Thick build-ups of calculus are present on its lower and upper premolars. Based on this data, we conclude that Ab4458 suffered from periodontal disease and – based on all that calculus – lived a life of 10 or 11 (or so) years in captivity during which it fed on soft, non-abrasive foods. In conclusion, we couldn’t find any evidence here that the animal lived for a long time in the wild. Rather, it had been a captive animal for years (Blake et al. 2013).

So someone in Devon had been keeping a pet lynx for quite some time. It then was either released or got loose when it was about 10 or 11 years old.

My guess is this cat came from Newfoundland. Devon and Dorset were the English home counties for a large number of fishermen who fished off Newfoundland’s Grand Banks.  Newfoundland English is heavily influenced by the dialects from that part of England, where the people sound like stereotypical pirates.

Perhaps a Devon fishermen brought home a lynx kitten for his children as a souvenir from his travels. The cat was probably a beloved pet for a few months. Then maybe it got a bit aggressive, and its owners moved it to the backyard, where it remained for the rest of its life.

Until it escaped or was set free.

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There are two basic reasons:

The first is that fennec foxes don’t have the same musk glands as other vulpine foxes.

That’s actually quite a plus.  Other foxes– especially red foxes– are known for producing an odor that smells something like that of a skunk.

Fennecs don’t produce that odor.

The other is that fennecs live in packs.

They don’t live in packs to hunt larger prey, but their family groups have essentially the same dynamics as a wolf pack.

A wolf pack is based upon a mated pair that have an intense pair bond, and virtually all the other animals in the pack are their grown offspring, which stay behind to take care of their younger brothers and sisters.

This same dynamic exists with fennec foxes.

With more than two adults to forage over the desert, the young fennec kits get more attention and more food than they would get if only their mother and father were caring for them.

Humans have already domesticated one dog species that has this particularly social arrangement.

It’s actually been suggested that reason why humans domesticated wolves so easily is that both humans and wolves have similar social arrangements. Both wolves and humans may have recognized as similarity in this regard, and the two species were able to form very close relationships.

Maybe something similar could happen with fennecs.

It’s certainly true that most fennecs in captivity today are derived from ancestors that were dug out of dens.

In North Africa, people have kept pet fennecs for centuries, but it’s been only in the past few decades that anyone thought of keeping them in the West.

They are still wild animals. Not all individuals have docile temperaments, even when bottle-raised.

But it seems to me that as these animals become a bit more established in the pet trade, there will be attempts to breed them with more docile temperaments.

Although we have domesticated populations of red and arctic fox, these animals are not widely available on the pet market (for the reasons I mentioned earlier).

But fennecs could become the second canid species to become established as a domestic animals.

All it will take is a large enough gene pool of captive individuals and a concerted effort to selectively breed them to be suitable pets.

This may sound a bit far-fetched, but when I was a child, it was impossible to buy golden hamsters– even those with fancy colorations and coat lengths– that were naturally disposed to be tame.

All of the hamsters I owned bit me at least once, and most bit at least once a month.

Today, you can go to a pet store and buy hamsters that have been selected for “low reactivity.”

Hamsters have been bred away from the grumpy little things that they are in the wild.

And what’s more, pet golden hamsters derive from only a single litter that was captured near Aleppo, Syria, in 1930.

They are perhaps the most inbred of all domestic animals, but even though they are inbred, they have been able to produce just enough genetic variation to produce unique coat lengths and colors and just enough variation in temperament to produce very gentle strains.

Captive fennec foxes have a broader genetic base than golden hamsters, so it may be possible to begin another canid domestication process.

We’ve done it before.

We can do it again.







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When we were kids, all the children in our family would buy hermit crabs as “living souvenirs” of our annual trip to the beach.

The crabs were not native. They were imported from the West Indies and sold in massive cages at the various “gyp joint” souvenir shops that unfortunately pollute most vacation spots.

When we bought the crabs, we always bought the little crab terrarium that came with them, as well as a several shells that we were absolutely certain the crabs would move into once they outgrew their current domiciles.

Of course, they rarely liked the new shells, and I remember one of them dying because it couldn’t find a shell that suited it.

On the Outer Banks, virtually every gift shop has hermit crabs for sale.

I wonder if they might start carrying glass shells for them.

Those tourists who live inland really do need a better selection of shells for their crabs, but it’s next to impossible to get unbroken marine snail shells this far inland.

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From CantonRep.com:

Eric Blackshear wasn’t sure what he was going to find when he was called about 8:30 a.m. Wednesday to remove a dead animal from the roadway.

As a 17-year veteran of the Canton Street Department, Blackshear has received his share of calls to pick up different animals — coyotes, foxes, one time even a wolverine: “And I thought, ‘yeah, right.’ ”

This time, he was told it was a dead leopard that might have been struck by a vehicle in the 1100 block of Navarre Avenue SW.

“When I hear these things, I still have to go down and check it out and see what it is,” he said.

Indeed, Blackshear found some type of cat, and he brought the animal to The Repository before delivering it to the city service center, where it was to be bagged and eventually disposed of in a landfill.

“It was a beautiful creature,” said Kevin Monroe, the city’s superintendent of public works. “It had been declawed, suggesting it had been someone’s pet.”

Monroe said his crews remove about a half dozen dead animals a day from city streets — usually squirrels, possums and other such critters.

“This created a bit of a stir because it’s an unusual type of cat,” he said. “Everybody wanted to see this one.”

Monroe said his staff notified the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife and the Stark County Wildlife Association.

The ODNR’s Jamey Graham said it was difficult to tell exactly what type of cat the animal is based on photos emailed to her by The Rep. It could be an African serval, she said.

A serval is a medium size cat that is strong yet slender with long legs and a relatively short tail.

Another expert, Pete Mohan, director of animal operations at the Akron Zoo, also looked at photos and figured the cat is most likely a Savannah — a hybrid between a serval and a domestic house cat.

“There’s actually a Savannah cat breed,” said Mohan. “These cats are typically raised as pets.”

There are several breeders of Savannahs in the Stark County area.

The Akron Zoo has lions, tigers, jaguars and snow leopards, “but nothing closely related to these guys,” Mohan said, explaining that it’s difficult to identify the type of cat with 100 percent certainty without seeing it in person.

I think it’s likely a pure serval, but it could be a savannah with a lot of serval blood.

If you’re going to produce savannahs, you have to have serval or two around.

See related post:

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These wome keep monkeys as their perpetual children, even when the monkeys bit their real children!

I don’t think monkeys make particularly good pets. The potential zoonoses alone should make one really think carefully before bringing a non-human primate into the home.

But to make one your ersatz child, that’s a somewhat–um– pathological.

And, as you’ll see, when the monkeys are bad, they call in the “monkey whisperer” to get them under control!

(See Part II and the rest here)

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This Russian family has a pet fishing cat. To keep it entertained and obviously well-fed, they allow it to catch catfish in the bathtub and pluck whole chickens in the living room.

Judging from the pics, I don’t think you really want one.

"You taste very good."

Fishing for a catfish in the tub.

Dragging the kill across the floor. Not making any mess at all!

Now for some chicken.

Fishing cats don't eat feathers.

(Source for images)

Fishing cats belong to the leopard cat genus, Prionailurus. Although their size varies greatly,  they are  often significantly larger than leopard cats, and they are much more specialized.

They live almost exclusively on fish, which they catch out of rivers and mangrove swamps.

These cats are distributed in disjointed populations throughout South and Southeast Asia, including Sri Lanka.

The IUCN considers this species endangered.

One would hope that this particular specimen belonged to zoo that was engaged in propagating the species.  Perhaps it does belong to such an institution, but it was hand-reared and is just visiting its raiser’s home again.

But this is Russia, and just about anything can be purchased for the right price.

Very few fishing cats exist in captivity, and in European zoos that are involved in the species survival plan, the entire population of breeding fishing cats derive from twelve unrelated individuals.

These cats are not particularly easy to breed in captivity.   Like clouded leopards, male fishing cats can be quite aggressive towards females when they are first introduced. I remember seeing a show that featured a zoo putting spending weeks and weeks allowing a male and female fishing cat to become acquainted with each other only to have the male kill the female in the end.

If this animal is a pet, I’d be worried about the safety of that domestic cat.

The two species likely can hybridize.  The domestic cat and the leopard cat are commonly crossbred in captivity, and the fishing cat is not that distantly related to the leopard cat.

But the aggression that male fishing cats exhibit and their relative rarity in captivity precludes the possibility of anyone breeding aquatic Bengals.

The truth is that the fishing cat is in trouble in the wild, and the captive population has real issues with genetic diversity.

Every captive individual has valuable genes.

These genes are being squandered when people keep these animals as pets.  This fact becomes particularly more tragic when one realizes that most exotic cats that are kept in homes are neutered in an attempt to reduce spraying. (It usually doesn’t work.)

So although these photos are amazing, one should be concerned about ethics of keeping such a valuable animal as a pet.





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