Keep a ferret? For many, a ferret is every bit as lovable and bond-worthy a pet as any cat or dog, despite the naysayers (who’ve obviously never met a well-raised ferret). How about a Cockatiel? I never knew a more lovable bird than my first male Cockatiel, “Sydney.”

Now enter the US government with its proposed stipulations on who can own what kind of animal. Its H.R. 669, the Nonnative Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act, aims “to prevent the introduction and establishment of nonnative wildlife species that negatively impact the economy, environment, or other animal species’ or human health, and for other purposes."

Make no mistake, for all its grandiose verbiage this is a bad bit of law––and not just because of its grammatically challenged legalese. 

Its goal? To keep any non-native wildlife species out of our homes, out from under our ability to set them free to multiply, out of the trade in sensitive species, out of our native species’ habitats where they can wreak havoc. It proposes to make all wild, non-native pets illegal across the board––save for cats, dogs, common economic (livestock) species, and, of course the biggest native habitat home-wreckers of all...humans. 

According to the bill’s supporting documents,

...the term “wild” relates to any creatures that, whether or not raised in captivity, normally are found in a wild state; and the terms “wildlife” and “wildlife resources” include those resources that comprise wild mammals, wild birds, fish (including mollusks and crustacea), and all other classes of wild creatures whatsoever, and all types of aquatic and land vegetation upon which such wildlife resources are dependent.

Aquarium fish, ferrets, hamsters, guinea pigs, many snakes, most lizards, chinchillas, sugar gliders and most any common pet bird you can name––all outlawed in the US. That is, unless a lengthy (and expensive) application process proves that an individual species is sufficiently non-threatening to human health or our native wildlife. 

While its laudable, primary intent is to limit the environmental impact of released species (something we in South Florida know too much about), I have to wonder: Does it make sense to create a Federal standard that affects everyone in every state equally? Is there no room for those willing to seek specialized permits? No concessions for those whose regions could not possibly sustain an escaped lovebird or refrain from freezing their released snake?

Despite my hefty reservations about this bill, it’s clear that we Floridians could use a few more laws to help keep our pets from killing our region’s prized flora and fauna. Consider:

  • pythons in the Everglades eating our threatened birds’ eggs and multiplying with impunity
  • bufo toads marauding in our back yards and threatening our dogs’ safety
  • hordes of gluttonous iguanas chomping down our native vegetation
  • flocks of Macaws, Monk parakeets and other releasees chowing on other birds’ rightful fruit

I’ve seen spider monkeys in my back yard (albeit years ago). My home’s exterior hosted a Tokay gecko for a few seasons. And my mother’s dog keeps attacking those innocent-but-lethal toads. A couple of weeks ago it became clear that I couldn’t even go on vacation in the Keys without having to shoo the iguanas from the resort’s pool area into the mangroves (where they most certainly don’t belong). 

But can anyone in, say, Minnesota, claim the same common sights? I don’t think so. 

Sure, we need some way to limit the human impact on our habitats. We need to stop the trade in sensitive species. We need to go after those nefarious animal traders with poor records and poorer protocols.

But how can sweeping laws like this seem so urgent in the face of continued, wholesale slaughter of habitats through unnecessary human development? How can curbing our appetite for personal pets through legislation solve the underlying problem? 

Laws like this that threaten to impact millions of individual animal owners adversely should be judiciously applied on an as-needed basis. They should be cautiously introduced so as not to decimate innocent industries that do play well with the environment. And they should not be considered an expedient means of saving our native habitats––not as long as the bulldozers keep making their slow progress across more of our terrain. Not while we, as a nation, continue to resist efforts to repatriate our ecological treasures (read: the Everglades and the Florida Keys) with their rightful water sources and native vegetation. 

Come on, now. Kill big sugar and the like, first. Stop the relentless encroachment on these areas. Appropriately protect the habitats we do have. Next up, enforce existing laws leveled against evildoers in the pet trade. Only then will I consider giving up my right to keep a ferret.