Many of the world’s most invasive plant and animal species (http://www.issg.org/worst100_species.html) started out as pets in an aquarium or as garden plants in the backyard garden or pond. Some of these pets or plants escaped naturally while others were released by their owners into the wild.
Intentional release of non-native (also referred to as “exotic”) pets or plants into the wild is one of the main pathways by which non-native species become established (living and reproducing naturally in the new environment) or even invasive (causing environmental damage). And some of the reasons for intentional release include: 1.) Not wanting the animal (or plant) anymore; 2.) Not being able to take care of the animal/plant anymore (maybe because it got too big or difficult to take care of, or got sick); or 3.) Not knowing what else to do – maybe because of a combination of 1 and 2!
Intentional release is not the right solution, so what are the alternatives?
Recently, some organizations have started exotic pet amnesty programs. Similar to putting animals such as cats and dogs up for adoption with no-kill shelters, these programs seek to find new caregivers for non-native plants and animals (e.g., reptiles, birds, fishes) to avoid intentional release into the wild and further exacerbation of the invasive species problem.
Minnesota Sea Grant recently hosted the first-ever (at least, the first that I have seen) “Aquarium Fish & Plant Surrender and Auction” (http://www.seagrant.umn.edu/news/2016/01/23). The purpose of this event was to both find new homes for animals and plants that might otherwise be dumped into waterways and to provide education about this issue.
Since 2006, various organizations in Florida have sponsored “Exotic Pet Amnesty Day Events” (http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/nonnatives/amnesty-program/events/) whereby generally very much more exotic animals (snakes, tortoises, even hedgehogs) can be turned over to those who can care for them. These events are also great educational opportunities about prevention of invasive species and care of pet animals that might prevent the desire to release.
In the course of researching this issue, I came across another blog about red-eared sliders and amnesty: http://www.matts-turtles.org/red-eared-sliders.html. It is difficult to find new homes for this species of turtle because they are so popular (still for sale – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, anyone?) and long-lived. Supply is much higher than demand. This blog gives some great tips for making care of a turtle pet easier so that they can be kept into their old age!
Amnesty is one great solution to intentional release, but not the only one! Learn as much as you can before taking on the responsibility of a pet. Consider whether or not you can stick with them for the long haul. Try new ways to care for an existing pet. Amnesty takes many resources, is not easy, and can’t be relied upon as the only solution, even though it is a great one.
Photo credit: http://howtotakecareofgoldfish.com/
The goldfish (Carassius auratus) is an example of a non-native fish species that should not be released into the water outside. (Or flushed down the toilet, as was the fate of the author’s beloved pet “Lionel Richie” Gantz (b. 1985, d. 1985. It was not him I was looking for.))