Not as Simple as They Think

The editors of the Tulsa World think that Lawmakers should adopt stronger wildlife laws. That’s fair enough in light of the tragedy in Ohio where exotic predators like lions, tigers, and bears were released by a suicidal keeper. But the editorial’s structure left much to be desired, in my opinion. They do have a good opening:

It’s understandable, and in most instances maybe even OK, for Oklahomans to own and keep certain kinds of unusual critters on their homesteads, even in the city. There’s nothing wrong with a few chickens or an occasional horse or donkey.

But tigers and bears? Allowing people to own and keep large, sometimes-predatory animals on their premises is just asking for a tragedy to occur.

This next part looks all right on first reading, but there is a problem when it is paired with the ending of the editorial:

But in many parts of the state, a tiger can be kept as a backyard pet without the approval of any agency. And too often, the results are predictably tragic.

“These animals are being bought and sold at the hands of people that have no business owning them. I have seen what happens to them in private hands, and the animal loses,” said Dr. Kay Backues, director of animal health and the senior staff veterinarian at the Tulsa Zoo.

“It’s horrifying,” she said. “It’s tragic. And nationally, there are a good number of people that are killed every year or injured by exotic animals they’ve kept as pets.”

Once we get to the end, things have gone from the specific focus and into the completely general:

Micah Holmes, who’s with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, which licenses native-animal breeders, perfectly summed up what ought to be the Legislature’s marching orders: “First thing we’re going to say is that wildlife belongs in the wild.”

This is a potential problem with a simple solution. Let’s address it before another tragedy occurs.

Do they really want to advocate a simple solution of all wildlife belonging in the wild, that is, that no one can be allowed to have any animal considered wild? They don’t clarify what, exactly, their “simple solution” is supposed to cover. I thought of falconry first. Then in composing my response on their site, I discovered that one of their authorities quoted, Dr. Kay Backues, herself owns exotic wildlife that could be at risk under an exceedingly broad wildlife ban. How far might that go? Many people keep aquaria stocked with exotic wildlife, many species of which are obligate predators. It seems to me that the legislative response to the Ohio tragedy either is going to be more complex than the editors claim, or a lot of people are unexpectedly going to find themselves at the wrong end of a simple law.

Here’s my response in a comment left on their site:

As the saying goes, every complex problem has a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong. The editorial starts with a more specific thrust concerning large, predatory exotic animals capable of killing humans, but ends with an incredibly broad statement about all wildlife as the “marching orders” to the state legislature.

Hopefully the “simple solution” eventually advocated is just complex enough to permit falconry to continue to be practiced in Oklahoma. Falconry involves always-predatory and sometimes large animals kept by people for the purpose of hunting. The falconry community acted to conserve endangered raptor species when pollution threatened those populations, which sounds to me like the wildlife won in that case, contrary to the import of the quote in the editorial from Backues. Of course, Backues may have been more circumspect and nuanced in what she said than what the editors chose to pass on to us. In fact, given that Backues herself owns an exotic pet (an umbrella cockatoo, according to Anne Brockman’s article), one would expect that she must have done so. Does Backues agree with Holmes on the exceedingly broad dictum, “wildlife belongs in the wild”? I’m unaware of any successful release into the wild (success meaning that the released animal lives out the remainder of a normal lifespan there) of an umbrella cockatoo, especially one that has spent 25 years in the care of man.

The legislators might want to talk to the folks at the Oklahoma Falconers Association to figure this issue out, at least as far as falconry is concerned. There may be other stakeholders, such as Dr. Backues, who would also be negatively affected by too-broad a “simple solution”. And if the editors want to advocate a simple solution to the problem, maybe a little more care ought to be invested in saying what they think the simple solution is, since “the regulation of exotic wildlife” leaves quite a bit unspecified.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

One thought on “Not as Simple as They Think

  • 2011/10/23 at 2:06 pm

    I doubt Rusty would be happy living anywhere else!

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