As Christmas approaches, I find I cannot help but jam to tunes such as “I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas." With so many cute videos of Fiona the baby hippo at the Cincinnati Zoo, this song has a new meaning for me because I really want to put a hippo on my Christmas list this year.
(Isn’t she just so cute?)
As I learned in my Animals & Society class this past semester, exotic animals like hippos really shouldn’t be on my or anybody else’s Christmas list. Although many exotic animals seem really cute and cuddly as babies, they often grow up to become very large and dangerous animals. I was shocked to find out that hippos kill 2,900 people a year, which makes hippos more likely to kill you than sharks!
Exotic animals are wild animals, they are naturally dangerous to the individuals who own them, their neighbors and the community at large. Across the US, many incidents have been reported where privately owned exotic animals have attacked humans and other animals. In 1983, Loreza Pearson’s toddler son was tragically stalked and killed by his pet tiger.
In 2010, Brent Kandra was helping to feed and clean the cages of a bear when he was mauled and killed by it. Although these are only a few of the tragic stories, they help show that exotic animals are dangerous and led to the push for bans on private ownership of exotic animals in Ohio.
If the animals escape, they pose a serious risk to the community. In 2011, 56 exotic animals, including 18 Bengal tigers, were set loose in Zanesville, Ohio. Of the 56 animals loose, 49 of them had to be killed by local law enforcement because they were terrorizing well-populated areas like a highway.
Can you imagine being attacked by a tiger as you drive down the highway? Some of these animals can even show up in your backyard when they escape! I know I would have a heart attack if I saw a tiger loose in my backyard.
Not only can the animals pose danger to their owners, but the animals can also suffer from being kept in captivity. In the documentary An Apology to Elephants, experts answered the age-old question about “What is the problem with the elephant in the room?" Their answer surprised me: “the room."
Since elephants need to be free and moving they should not be constrained in any way. In addition, many elephants suffer from a foot-related disease that is caused by being held in captivity in rooms with concrete or hard floors. Elephants are also very social animals, so being separated from their friends and family (especially their mothers) can be very hard on them. In this way, elephants are not too different from us humans because I know I would also not like to be separated from my family either!
While elephants may seem like a special case, the concerns about keeping elephants in captivity also apply to many other animals, especially exotic ones. Like elephants, most exotic animals are social animals who will need companions, exercise, the ability to move around and proper care to keep them healthy.
This level of maintenance can be difficult for the average person to provide. Considering even owning chimpanzees, this can be very costly with $14,000-$19,000 a year needed to care properly for chimps. As chimps get older they also get stronger, they often can no longer be used for entertainment past 12 years old (although they live to be about 50) making them a costly investment even for the entertainment industry. So in the hands of private owners, many animals can suffer due to poor care because it is so costly to provide.
So keep in mind this Christmas that exotic animals may seem like a great pet, but they are wild animals above all. Owning them can not only pose a danger to you but also harm those innocent animals. Their care is intensive and can be very costly. So if all you want for Christmas is a hippopotamus, I suggest looking into owning a better pet or symbolically adopting an exotic animal through a financial contribution at your favorite zoo.