Florida Opens Door for Owners to Surrender Exotic Pets

Owners turn in exotic pets that are too hard to handle.

ByErin Mclaughlin
November 06, 2011, 4:02 PM

Nov. 6, 2011— -- Got a Burmese python, a boa constrictor or a red-eared slider turtle that's eating you out of house and home -- and isn't exactly a legal resident in your neighborhood? Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation may have the answer for you.

The FWC held its first Exotic Pet Amnesty Day -- an event for exotic pet owners looking to give up their animals, no questions asked.

In all, 64 animals were turned in, including a leopard gecko, two Madagascar giant chameleons, pythons, boas, turtles, fish, and about 30 Australian sugar gliders -- marsupials from Australia similar to flying squirrels, according to the FWC.

During the event, pet owners can turn in their animals without facing any consequences. But according to FWC officials, most people who turned in animals said they just couldn't keep them.

"In many cases, people said they just couldn't care for them anymore. One of the turtles kept growing and they couldn't accommodate its space needs," FWC's Joy Hill told ABC News.

"Things just got out of control for the woman who impulsively bought a sugar glider and then a couple more to breed with it," Hill said. "She ended up turning in about 25 of them, including a few little babies -- they are prolific breeders."

Veterinarians at the event taught attendees about the animals and their proper care, and all of the animals were adopted by individuals or facilities capable of caring for them, as determined by the FWC.

The main idea behind the event, and the no-questions-asked policy, is to prevent people from simply releasing the animals into the wild once they can no longer care for them -- a practice that can cause some serious problems, Hill said.

"Some exotic species can and have gained a strong and invasive foothold in Florida due in part ot the inviting habitat and climate," she said. "For the sake of these unwanted pets and native Florida habitats and species, it's very important for people who tire of these pets not to release them."

Last month, the release of dozens of dangerous animals from a private farm drew national attention to the problem. Before killing himself, Terry Thompson opened the cages of his dozens of lions, tigers, bears, wolves, and monkeys, many of which were killed while running loose in an Ohio community.

The tragedy in Ohio prompted renewed calls for stricter laws regarding the ownership of exotic animals.

"There's no reason for any private citizen to have a bear or a lion or a chimpanzee or a green anaconda in their home," Humane Society President and CEO Wayne Pacelle told ABC News.

Not all exotic animals are illegal to own, but it is important to make sure you're prepared if you chose to bring one home, Hill said.

"We urge people to learn and study about any potential pet before obtaining it to avoid the heartbreak of one day having to make the choice of giving it up," she said.

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