Would you ever expect to see a 500-pound Bengal tiger taking a catnap in your backyard? If not, maybe you should. Exotic pet-ownership is on the rise and that comes with some serious consequences.
Many people aren’t well-equipped to care for an unusual pet like a chimpanzee, a capybara, or a python. But that didn’t stop one woman from letting her exotic ‘pet’ get out into her neighborhood — with catastrophic results.
Across America, exotic pet ownership is on the rise. The appeal of raising a specialty pet, whether a skunk or a stingray, is intoxicating. But people had no idea just how many exotic animals were in the U.S. until recently.
In 2016, the American Veterinary Medical Association released a study reporting that 13% of American households had at least one exotic pet! These animal owners often encounter trouble when raising their unique friends.
See, while caring for a cat or dog is relatively straightforward, most people aren’t trained enough to be taking care of something like a wallaroo; these are still wild animals after all. But many owners encounter a more pointed problem.
A lot of exotic pets can live upward of 20 years, far surpassing the lifespans of the average cat or dog. Some, like the umbrella cockatoo, can even live to be 70 — it might outlive you! Exotic pets can be dangerous, too.
Since 1990, Born Free has tracked over 2,800 incidents in which people have been injured by exotic pets across the United States — seriously, when was the last time you heard about a cuddly boa constrictor? It gets worse.
When exotic pets get loose, they wreak havoc on their communities, often taking over whatever habitat they’re in. It’s basically like inviting a friend to stay with you for a weekend, and they end up kicking you out of your own house.
One study even showed that releasing deer that had been raised in captivity back into the wild could cost communities upwards of $100,000. Still, even with all the warnings in place, people choose to raise these dangerous pets.
Take Liz Rose, a Massachusetts woman, for example. Rose had a 3 1/2-foot Argentine black-and-white tegu lizard named Tiggs. These enormous beasts can be dangerous if not cared for properly.
And Tiggs escaped! Liz couldn’t believe what had happened. What if Tiggs was hurt? Or worse — what if he had hurt someone else? Liz knew then and there what she had to do.
She went out to search for Tiggs. She looked high and low for the lizard, even crawling through the forest to try and get on his level. It seemed he wasn’t going to return so easily.
So Liz then started setting traps around the area, using chicken and quail eggs as bait (apparently she was all out of caviar). When she still couldn’t find the lizard, she called for backup.
Liz contacted a professional tegu trapper from Florida for help corralling her cold-blooded friend. Even with their assistance, Tiggs still wouldn’t show himself.
As days became weeks, Liz feared the worst for her scaly friend and eventually resigned herself to the fact that he was gone forever. That is, until she received a strange phone call.
It turned out, Liz’s neighbor spotted Tiggs in her yard. She was understandably freaked out — imagine seeing a 3 1/2-foot reptile crawling around your lawn — and chased him into a shed before calling Liz.
Relief washed over Liz like the waves of the Amazonian river her lizard was supposed to live beside. Other than being a little thinner than he’d been before escaping, Tiggs seemed to be perfectly healthy.
“Relief,” said Liz about the incident. “I feel nothing but relief. I’m so happy he’s back.” For the agencies that handle situations like this, Liz’s predicament wasn’t entirely unique.
“We get these types of calls at least once a year,” said Lt. Tara Carlow of the Massachusetts Environmental Police. Still, there are bigger problems than reuniting pets with their owners.
Exotic pets take a toll on the economy. Some estimate that controlling these animals costs the United States about $120 billion (with a b!) a year — and over a trillion for the entire world! It’s not just a monetary cost, either.
Exotic pets that become invasive species are devastating to local ecosystems. It’s estimated that of all the threatened or endangered species in the United States, 40% are dying out because of exotic animals.
But there’s still hope. “The best way to address the spread of any animal brought in through the pet trade,” said biologist Christina Romagosa, “is through education, early detection, and rapid response.” That’s why one grandma took matters into her own hands.
Bonnie was a 64-year-old former truck driver who lived in Texas. She was a grandmother who owned a dog and a nice property. By all accounts, she was pretty ordinary. But looks can be deceiving…
Talk to Bonnie for just a few minutes and you’d notice a very different side of things. What was so odd about this seemingly average grandma? It all began the day Bonnie saw her dog heading toward her property with two strange creatures trailing close behind…
She couldn’t have expected what she saw. “I’m sitting on the porch, drinking coffee… and here comes my black dog,” she recalled. “Wrapped behind him are two little black things following him.”
Bonnie didn’t know what she was looking at upon first glance. “I thought they were other dogs,” she continued. “And as they got closer, I went ‘Holy moly, they’re bears!'” That’s right—two bears followed her tiny dog home, and they were quickly approaching her house!
Barcroft Animals / YouTube
Amazingly, the bears didn’t attack her or her dog. In fact, they stuck around! Bonnie didn’t know their backstory, but she decided to keep them as pets, naming them Pebbles and Bam Bam. If that seems crazy, you’ll be stunned to learn what else Bonnie did…
Bonnie was also the proud owner of Anushka, a beautiful white tiger! She housed the big cat in a pen in her back yard ever since she was first gifted the tiger as a cub. Just looking at the two of them together would be enough to make your jaw drop!
Soon enough, Pebbles, Bam Bam, and Anushka were fully grown, and Bonnie since settled into her life as their permanent caretaker. Yet, as with most exotic pet owners, there was a great deal of risk involved. It didn’t scare Bonnie; she took her responsibility seriously.
Bonnie clearly loved and felt comfortable around her unusual pets, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t aware of the risks. “I have tranquilizer guns so we can tranquilize them if we have to,” she admitted.
Still, Bonnie didn’t think it was likely that she’d have to take those measures anytime soon. “Nobody’s going to be hurt, not unless you just climb into the pen and be stupid,” she insisted. She wasn’t shy about detailing her relationship with each of the animals…
“Pebbles can get a little cantankerous at times, and she’s slapped me with her claws, she’s bit at me a couple of times, but nothing, like, attacked me.” Bonnie knew things could get out of hand if she wasn’t on her guard—which made her next actions all the more shocking!
Despite the dangers, Bonnie actually allowed her own grandchildren to play with her pets! The kids agreed that it was risky. “I think it’s a little bit crazy that she likes having tigers and bears,” one of her granddaughters, Clara, admitted.
Another granddaughter, Raeanne, felt a bit differently. “I think it’s really cool. I mean, it’s definitely a different experience,” she said. “Bears are my favorite animal. Like, overall.” Not many grandmas would let their family get in a cage with one, of course.
Interestingly, the grandkids’ relationships with the bears were not the same as the ones they had with Anushka. “I don’t go in the tiger pen,” Raeanne admitted. “Because, you know, it’s a tiger.”
Bonnie’s family members weren’t the only ones who enjoyed her animals. Some people liked to visit them on a regular basis. “My neighbors, they love it,” Bonnie said, adding that they even brought their families along sometimes. While Bonnie seemed accommodating to her visitors, you wouldn’t want to try to get between her and her pets…
What would happen if somebody tried to take her animals away from her? Bonnie claimed she would, “Shoot them. Point blank. Come on my property and try to take my animals? I don’t care if it’s tigers, bears, horses, or dogs, somebody’s going to get shot.” Got it.
Aside from all of those risks, caring for her pets cost a great deal of time, effort, and, of course, money. “You’re looking at $1,000, $1,500 dollars more a month just to feed these animals,” she explained. That was more than some families spend!
Anushka’s carnivorous diet was particularly demanding. “I feed her probably between 14 and 20 pounds a day,” Bonnie said. “And she eats beef, pork, chicken, stuff like that.” Just like any good grandma, Bonnie treated Anushka to exactly what she liked.
Bam Bam and Pebbles, on the other hand, had tastes that were a bit more refined. “These bears…” Bonnie began, laughing. “I’ve tried fish. I’ve tried salmon. They don’t want it. They want their berries, their watermelons, their cantaloupes, their candy…”
They were predators, but that didn’t mean they didn’t have a sweet tooth! “They love cookies, marshmallows, they love anything that’s sweet, and they will almost mug you for honey,” Bonnie said.
Bonnie might have seemed, as her granddaughter Clara put it, “crazy” for keeping bears and a white tiger in her back yard. Still, when she interacted with them, her actions clearly came from a place of love!