Primate Rescue Center

Wild Pet Problem In Wildcat Country

Erika Fleury November 17, 2015

Kentucky may be Wildcat country, however you don't think of wild animals living with humans. Despite strict laws in Kentucky, Fish And Wildlife said wild pets are a growing problem, especially with the help of the internet.

Rhesus macaque Andi at the Primate Rescue Center
"A lot of the dangerous species, lions, tigers, bears that sort of thing," said Steve Beam, the Wildlife Division Director for Kentucky Department of Fish And Wildlife.

Beam said the examples listed above, are some of the many animals considered inherently dangerous and illegal to own in Kentucky. The problem is, some of these illegal animals are being kept as household pets.

"We have exotic animals from all over the world that are traded on the black market. And we also have native wildlife species that are often taken from the wild," said Beam.

It's a danger wildlife officials said they have a tough time tracking. Despite Kentucky wildlife laws changing back in 2005, and becoming some of the best in the country, other surrounding states are much more lenient.

"It tends to be a growing problem because of the ease of trade. I think the internet has really changed that," said Beam.

Wild and exotic animals are often bought online from neighboring states. In a matter of minutes, LEX18 News found several trading posts in Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana. Officials said they actively track these trading websites, however many times they don't know the animals are locked up or lurking in homes, until they get loose.

"We keep turning up more and more strange creatures as pets," said Beam.

Back in September, a monkey was caught climbing in a tree in Bath County. Before that, several alligators were found in Kentucky creeks. Plus, last December an unforgettable mountain lion was chased by a dog into a tree. Kentucky Fish And Wildlife said they were forced to euthanize the animal, because of public safety concerns.

When asked if they knew where the mountain lion came from, Beam said "the evidence leaves us to believe that it was brought here."

Experts said people often think the animals will be domesticated like a cat or a dog, however once they grow up, they quickly realize the animals are wild.

"They are cute when they are babies and they can take care of them, but when they are adults they get into problems," said Kara Baird, a trainer with the animal care staff at Wolf Run Wildlife Refuge in Jessamine County.

Baird, along with Eileen Dunnington, the manager at the Primate Sanctuary in Jessamine County, rescue these creatures after they have been held as pets in unfit captivity.

"They can bite individuals in the home, or they could even escape and be a danger to the community," said Dunnington.

Aggressive behaviors, and the spread of deadly diseases, are all things these sanctuaries are equipped to handle.

"They're wonderful, but they can be dangerous?" asked LEX18 reporter, Hanna Mordoh. "They can, which is why we have them in these enclosures," said Dunnington.

Rescuers know how to care for the animals, and how to keep them safe. Many times they said the animals are malnourished and behaving in unhealthy manners when they arrive at the rescue centers. Experts said having these animals as pets, is just as dangerous for the wildlife as it is for humans.

"As people are wanting pet monkeys, they don't always see the big picture," said Dunnington.

Kentucky Wildlife Laws are rated as some of the best in the country. Still, people caught with these animals will only face misdemeanor charges. So, with little risk of ending up behind bars, the question is what can be done?

"Just educating people," said Baird. "Giving them a warning of what they would be getting into."

Here is a full list of exotic animals prohibited as pets in Kentucky. Here is a full list of native animals prohibited as pets in Kentucky. If you have any questions about what animals you can have or transport in Kentucky, you're asked to call Fish And Wildlife at 800-858-1549.

Wildlife experts said until the people in wildcat country change their wildlife ways, either "pets" or people will get hurt.

"Very often these exotic pets, it ends up being a very bad end," said Beam.

- Lex18

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