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Published: Friday, 7/31/2009

They're wild, not pets

THE recent discovery of an alligator sunning itself beside Toussaint Creek, north of Woodville, underscores the problems that occur when people keep potentially dangerous animals as pets.

Nobody seems to know how the 4-foot-long gator, which was captured and is being kept at African Safari Wildlife Park in Port Clinton, got to the creek. Alligators, after all, aren't native to Ohio and whoever owns this one hadn't shown up to claim it as of Tuesday. A reasonable guess is that it either escaped from its owner or was released because it had gotten too big or aggressive or both.

But however it got free, one thing that's clear is that some animals just aren't meant to be pets. Alligators were once such popular aquarium pets - and were so often flushed down toilets when they tried to eat their owners' fingers - that stories about sewers teeming with huge reptiles were common in many big cities.

Those tales, of course, were urban legends, but there really are thousands of Burmese pythons in Florida's Everglades that are probably the offspring of snakes released when they grew too big for their owners to handle. These Asian constrictors - which can grow to be 20 feet long - pose a threat to nearly every animal that calls the Everglades home, including several endangered species.

Worse, however, are the frequent stories of people being attacked by their exotic pets. Earlier this month, a 2-year-old Florida girl was strangled to death by an 8 1/2-foot python her mother's boyfriend kept as a pet.

Don't blame the python. It was only doing what pythons do. In the same vein, while chimpanzees are cuddly as babies, they can be aggressive, even violent, as adults. Witness Travis, the chimp that attacked a friend of its Stamford, Conn., owner, nearly ripping off her face before police shot the animal to death.

Some animal species can be domesticated and make acceptable, even loving, pets. Others cannot be tamed and are time bombs waiting to explode on an unwary owner or anyone who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Simply put, wild animals are better left in the wild or in the care of professionals.

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