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Natural Awakenings Naples and Fort Myers

Respect for the Wild Things: Local Experts Agree: Exotic Animals Are Not Good Pets

Apr 03, 2011 09:18PM ● By Yvette Lynn

Tim Tetzlaff

Like his older brother David, Tim Tetzlaff, director of Conservation and Communications for the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens, grew up around a collection of rare and exotic animals. His parents, Nancy Jane and Larry Tetzlaff, known as Safari Jane and Jungle Larry, managed zoo operations and were internationally recognized expedition leaders who traversed lush Amazonian rainforests and dusty African roads. But they never brought home even one exotic animal for their sons to raise as a pet.

“David and I grew up taking care of our gerbils,” says Tetzlaff. “Mom and dad knew that animals like lions, tigers, venomous snakes and monkeys don’t make good pets, because they can be aggressive and unpredictable, and can never be truly domesticated.”

Anja Kordon, a doctor of veterinary medicine and owner of Animal Health Oasis, a holistic veterinary practice, agrees wholeheartedly. Before opening her practice, Kordon performed veterinary services for an exotic animal clinic in Fort Myers. Offering an education to naive clients at every opportunity, Kordon cautioned that a domestic environment is the wrong place for wild animals. When clients brought in their sick turtles in plastic bowls with plastic islands and miniature plastic palm trees, they frequently asked Kordon if she knew why the turtle quit eating and got sick. “I pointed to nature and told them to go sit by a pond and watch turtles in their natural habitat,” says Kordon, who recommends enjoying nature’s bounty of wildlife where it lives, or at the zoo.

Tetzlaff says the subject of exotic pets is discussed during the zoo’s Safari Canyon Theater shows, and it is common for people to ask if a particular wild animal would make a good pet for their family. “People see these extraordinary animals with a celebrity on TV or at a pet store, and they want one,” he affirms. Tetzlaff understands the emotion because he has been blessed with a lifetime spent with wild creatures, but he cautions that few individuals comprehend what it takes to properly care for exotics or the damage even small animals can do.

Tetzlaff has seen problems arise after someone realized that their teenage fascination for owning a python was over, and they didn’t

Anja Kordon
Anja Kordon
want to care for the snake 20 years later. Or, they woke up to the fact that their parrot or tortoise was going to outlive them. Although many people assume that a zoo or sanctuary will be a grateful recipient of a “free” animal, this is a myth. “The zoo now fields enough unwanted pet calls, that we have the subject as an option on our incoming recorded message,” advises Tetzlaff. “Zoos have limited space and resources to care for wildlife and simply cannot afford to take in unwanted animals.”

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which licenses and monitors ownership of exotic species, cautions people to do their homework regarding state regulations. Visit MyFWC.com, and click on Ask FWC to learn more about regulations governing class-one animals and other captive wildlife.

“The best thing is to not buy an exotic animal, but if you do, ask lots of questions and do plenty of research before making a purchase,” emphasizes Tetzlaff. “That’s common sense when buying anything except a new iPad, which won’t need to be fed, watered, exercised, cleaned and taken to the vet for the next five to 50 years.”


Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens, 1590 Goodlette Rd. N., Naples 34102. Visit CaribbeanGardens.com.

Animal Health Oasis, 6720 One Oak Blvd., Naples 34109. Call 239-297-6519 or visit AnimalHealthOasis.com.

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