This week’s entry: Exotic pets
What it’s about: You can keep your dogs, cats, and tropical fish. Some pet owners aren’t happy unless they own an arctic fox, marmot, or cassowary. Any animal can be a pet if you’re determined enough to keep it in your house, and anything you can’t get food for at Petco is considered an exotic pet. Wikipedia has an eye-opening list of some of the most popular ones.
Strangest fact: People actually keep skunks as pets. Skunks are often used for their fur (second-strangest fact), and fur farms will often sell excess skunks to pet stores. Their scent glands are removed at 4 weeks old, although that practice has been illegal in the U.K. since 2007. In the U.S., however, animal shelters and breeders can be licensed to handle skunks and find them homes as pets. Despite their infamous smell, they’ve been kept as pets for centuries, first by some Native American groups, and then by American farmers who used them to kill rodents. If you can get past the smell (or have the glands removed), Wikipedia reports they’re “sensitive, intelligent animals,” and can be taught to use a litter box.
Biggest controversy: There’s a reason most people have dogs and cats—those animals’ nature lends itself to domestication. Nearly every animal on the exotic pet list remains wild no matter how long it lives among humans (the tamed silver fox, made tame by a Soviet selective breeding process, is one of the only exceptions), and therefore most species can be dangerous. While the U.S. averages only three deaths per year from exotic pets, injuries are numerous.
Thing we were happiest to learn: Apparently, there are dingoes out there that won’t eat your baby. The animals are believed to be the descendants of domesticated dogs who went wild again when brought to Australia. Dingoes can also be crossbred with domesticated dogs, although the practice has led to a 70 percent decline in purebred dingoes in recent years.
Thing we were unhappiest to learn: Fucking alligators are at the top of the list. Apex predators that lived through the K-T extinction, physically unchanged for millions of years, because they’re the perfect killing machine. Or maybe that’s crocodiles. Either way, that terrifying revelation just proves that there are real-life Bond villains out there somewhere.
Also noteworthy: Only nine states prohibit keeping primates as a pet, although it’s frowned upon pretty much everywhere. The Centers For Disease Control banned their import in 1975, but enough animals are bred from the existing population that nearly 15,000 primates—monkeys, sure, but also endangered species including tamarins, baboons, chimpanzees, Diana monkeys, lemurs, and gibbons—are kept as pets in the U.S. Despite what you may have learned from the oeuvre of Clint Eastwood, large primates do not make good pets, as they have “complex emotional and social needs and other highly specialized requirements,” and also may bite your fingers off. Also, Wikipedia warns us that you can give potentially fatal herpes to your pet monkey. In hindsight, we should have led with that.
Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: Any one of the numerous obscure and fascinating animals on the list makes for good linking. There’s the binturongs, a Southeast Asian mammal whose name in Greek means “bear weasel.” The axolotls, also known as the Mexican walking fish, are fishy looking amphibians. Kinkajous, a tree-dwelling rainforest creature that resembles a ferret or monkey, is the only animal in its genus and therefore not closely related to anything.
Further down the wormhole: Did Stephen Colbert teach us nothing? There are people out there keeping bears as pets! “Bear” has also been used as a nickname, and Wikipedia’s nickname page includes not only many lists of nicknames, it also links to a page that is itself a list of lists of nicknames. Things get even more confusing, as that page links to the tangled knot at the center of Wikipedia itself, list of lists of lists. We’ll celebrate the 100th Wiki Wormhole next week by watching Wikipedia devour itself.