54 exotic animals headed to Zoo Miami on Saturday, looking for a new home.
On the annual Nonnative Pet Amnesty Day, residents who illegally own or can no longer care for nonnative or exotic pets can drop them off at different locations without penalty to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Zoo Miami has been one of the state’s drop off point for five years, previously collecting even larger numbers of exotic critters.
“This number is what we'd expect since we have collected so many unwanted exotic pets in that area,” FWC spokesman Carli Segelson said in an email. “This may also partially be a result us educating people to be responsible pet owners.”
This year, tortoises and turtles, pythons, sugar gliders, and birds of all kind were handed over, with 12 red-eared sliders winning the dubious award for biggest group drop-off. Odd animals that have come through the zoo in the past include a coatimundi, African serval cat, and monitor lizards.
“The overwhelming majority of the animals are the reptiles,” Zoo Miami communications director Ron Magill said, noting that snakes, lizards, iguanas and turtles are popular Amnesty Day guests.
When residents surrender animals at Zoo Miami, staff have first choice of any species they want to add to the zoo’s collection -- in fact, some of the animals at the zoo’s reptile shows have come from Animal Amnesty Day. Second choice goes to pre-approved adopters, with veterinarians on hand to make sure animals are healthy enough to take home.
Nonnative Pet Amnesty Day is especially important to South Florida. Though it began in 2006 to curb the introduction of animals not native to all Florida wildlife, the Everglades has especially suffered from local pet owners releasing pythons into the wild, with studies indicating dwindling populations of bobcats, opossums, and raccoons.
Then there's the terrifying headlines. In 2005, a 13-foot Burmese python burst after trying to swallow a 6-foot-long alligator whole. Last year, a 16-foot python was found with a fully intact deer in its stomach.
The FWC says more than 400 nonnative species of animals are in Florida, with more than 130 of them reproducing.
See a few of the animals brought in to Zoo Miami this year: