Wildlife Are Not Pets: A Number of Reasons Exist for Arizona's Laws

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There’s no denying the fact that wildlife might appear to make for a nice pet, especially the youngsters one might believe can be domesticated.

“There’s no such thing,” said Zen Mocarski, public information officer for the Game and Fish Region 3 office in Kingman. “Yes, wild animals may sometimes appear comfortable around people and some have been taught tricks, but they are never domesticated.”

In a recent case, a Bullhead City man cited for possession of restricted live wildlife led to a barrage of e-mails, phone calls, and website postings. Many of the comments suggested the individual be allowed to keep his “pet” raccoon.

“I suppose the first question I’d have to ask would be: ‘where do you then draw the line?” Mocarski stated. “Next case will be a person with a bobcat or mountain lion kitten, then a bear cub, or coyote pups. They are native wildlife, not pets, and should never be treated as such.”

Mocarski said there are a number of reasons people should not possess live wildlife.

“I know people don’t want to simply hear ‘it’s against the law,’” Mocarski said. “They want a better understanding of why it is not legal.

“There isn’t just one reason. Unpredictable behavior can be an issue with wildlife, especially after reaching sexual maturity. Instinct is difficult to overcome. The most famous case, of course, would be Roy Horn, who was attacked by a tiger he had worked with for years in Las Vegas. Of course there was the case of the chimpanzee that attacked a woman in Connecticut.

“You can go weeks, months, or years without an incident. You just don’t know when or if a wild animal’s natural instinct will surface.”

As for disease, there’s no research on whether vaccines used for domestic animals would be effective for wildlife, whether it be a coyote, bobcat, or raccoon.

“Rabies is nearly 100 percent fatal and a vaccine that works on a domestic dog may not work on a coyote. And let’s not forget it isn’t just how an animal impacts the one individual, but the surrounding neighbors and pets.”

Mocarski added that animals people try to domesticate often end up in zoos because as an animal gets older it becomes clear its needs can’t be met.

However, the biggest challenge to holding wildlife may be meeting an animal’s dietary needs, which can be varied.

“There are elk in the Hualapai Mountains that will walk toward you if you shake a bag of chips,” he said. “Through years of being fed by people, the elk have been conditioned to eat such things. My question is simple: if chips aren’t particularly healthy for humans, what would make people think it is a good dietary choice for elk?”

In 1995 13 deer were killed at the Grand Canyon after becoming hooked on snack food and candy. They lost their natural ability to digest vegetation. Their muscles atrophied and they were starving to death.

“As for the recent raccoon,” Mocarski said, “it was low on calcium and phosphorous, mildly anemic, and was slightly underweight. Dog food and sweet treats should not be a staple of a raccoon’s diet.”

Mocarski said the raccoon was tested at the Adobe Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Phoenix, where it has been given a more natural diet of various fruits, raw meat, and fish.

“Apparently it has already developed a taste for bluegill,” Mocarski said. “The raccoon will likely reach its natural weight as it receives a more balanced diet.”

Mocarski – who has seen the thin, malnourished elk in the Hualapais – remains adamant the laws exist not only for public safety, but for the health of Arizona’s wildlife.

“We have desert tortoises brought to our office every year that have either lumpy or soft shells,” he said. “It comes down to understanding the needs of wildlife. Lumpy shells are often the result of a high-protein diet and a soft shell can result from a lack of ultra-violet light.”

Game and Fish would prefer the public comply with the law so the department is not placed into a position of seizing an animal.

“But, we’ll continue to do so for the safety of the public and the health of the animal,” Mocarski said. “Seasoned biologists with years of experience have a unique understanding of wildlife. The basic message is simple: keep wildlife wild.”