The Exotic Pet Lifestyle – Think Twice

Photo: Sheree Daniel’s exotic pet African Lion of 22 years

East Texas – Most family pets are fine living in the house and being a part of the household. However, some pets can kill you if not handled properly. Though the number of people killed by exotic pets is small, around five people died last year, it still underscores the problem of trying to domesticate wild animals.

It doesn’t matter if the animal is a tiger, deer or lion they are still dangerous in captivity for those who really don’t know how to handle them. Just last year, a man in East Texas was killed by a red stag deer that he had fed for years.  “The enclosure was so small he didn’t have any room for retreat and he couldn’t get out of the way of it when it became aggressive,” says Smith County Game Warden Chris Green.

Others like Sheree Daniel, a Biology Professor at Trinity Valley Community College in Terrel, TX and owner of the Rose Lane Kennels, has had a pet African Lion name Cruizer for over 22 years.  “The relationship with the lion and myself has lasted longer than a lot of people’s marriages,” Daniel’s says.

Even though there are responsible exotic pet owners, Terri Werner, Director of Operations at the Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge doesn’t think it is a good idea to keep a lion or tiger as a pet.   “You are never going to domesticate these guys. You are never going to take their natural reactions out of them,” says Werner.

“You can’t tell when one of these animals is going to turn around and get you,” Daniel agrees with Werner … owning an exotic is not for everyone. They’re very emotional, the lions with their female keeper. They’ll kill a man. When I want to talk to him or communicate, I’ll sit on the cement next to him, he’ll lie down and I pet him and he’ll lick me through the fence. They have round pupils like a human and not elliptical like a house cat and it seems like you can look right into the depth of their souls when you look in their cages.”

Daniel has spent thousands of dollars on safety equipment, food and, of course, permits to keep her pet lion. However some exotic pet owners treat their animals poorly by using cattle prods, beating them, or putting dogs in their cage to fight them.

Some animals come to the Refuge beaten and underfeed.  “They had been hit and beat a lot,” says Werner of tigers Amara and China who were taken by Smith County authorities from their owner.  “Because of his (owner’s) aggression, he made it worse. He would hit them with a cattle prod to get them to other parts of the compound. Down the line, that owner was going to get hurt or someone was going to get hurt.”

Daniel says she will not be getting another exotic pet after Cruizer is gone. “When he’s gone, I’ll probably turn his cage into a parrot cage.”