Editorial: No tears for this croc––well, cayman

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, Jan/Feb 1994:

The call came late November 16. Westchester Wildlife Sanctuary rehabilitator
Barry Rothfuss needed help in placing a five-foot-long, cross-tempered female cayman, a
close relative of a crocodile, who’d spent her whole life in a pet store aquarium. He’d taken
her in to keep the proprietor from shooting her, as she’d grown too dangerous to handle.
“I can keep her maybe 24 hours,” Rothfuss explained, his six-month-old daughter
in his lap and the cayman nearby, her mouth held shut with duct tape. “I’m not set up to
keep a high-risk animal, or any animal who needs a heated environment, and I don’t know
anything about caymans, but I thought I could at least give her one more chance.”
Two years ago Rothfuss spent a month dodging the law with a few dozen orphaned
raccoons he had immunized against rabies. The New York wildlife department had ordered
rehabilitators to euthanize all raccoons in their possession, ostensibly to slow the spread of
rabies. Rothfuss hid out until he could get the message across that his raccoons were no
threat––and wound up appointed to the state advisory commission on rabies.

The cayman couldn’t have had a more committed champion. We put Rothfuss in
touch with several reptile fanciers and other wildlife rehabilitators who handle exotic
species, and promised to call him back if we had more ideas. But we had little hope. Many
species now scarce in the wild are overabundant in captivity as result of speculative breed-
ing. Naive people buy them for fancy prices, then find they can’t give them away when
they grow too big to keep. The cayman probably arrived at the pet store as a hatchling, or
as an egg to be placed beneath a sun lamp. Her story was that of the typical exotic: poorly
housed, never socialized with her kind, probably not even properly fed. Now she’d
become hazardous to keep, much like the big cats, bears, primates, snakes, and other
creatures who too often share her fate.
A day later, though, we heard from Melanie Roberts of the Summerlee
Foundation, who has a special interest in exotic overpopulation. We mentioned Rothfuss
and the cayman. Roberts recommended calling Lyn Cuny of Wildlife Rehabilitation Inc.,
on the outskirts of San Antonio. We called Rothfuss, he called Cuny, and by the evening
of November 18 the cayman was on her way to Texas.
This case ended happily, sort of. Rothfuss has a huge telephone bill; Cuny has
years of care and feeding ahead of her. And we all know of countless similar situations that
have had far less satisfactory outcomes.
We’ve probed many aspects of the exotic animal boom over the past 15 years,
from canned hunting to wild bird smuggling. With Summerlee support, we’re now looking
into the myth that exotics are profitable. No one, not even the pet shop, ever turned a profit
on the cayman. And that’s how it usually is.
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