BOOKS: Really Exotic Pets

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2010:

Really Exotic Pets
by David Manning
HarperCollins Publishers (10 East 53rd St., New York, NY 10022), 2008.
192 pages, paperback. $19.95.

The Argentine horned frog is little more than a “stomach on
legs,” who tends to wolf down anything in its path, including body
parts like fingers. Would you want this exotic animal as a pet?
Obviously some people do, because David Manning features the
Argentine horned frog in 50 Really Exotic Pets. Tips include feeding
the horned frog dead foods, served on long tweezers.

50 Really Exotic Pets is a how-to guide on living with and
caring for amphibians, reptiles and invertebrates. Descriptive
sections cover a wide variety of animals, such as the axolotl
(Ambystoma mexicanum) a long, narrow, and odd-looking amphibian
native to Mexico. The axolotl has regenerative powers. Damaged
limbs re-grow in about eight weeks. Axolotls are mischievous
creatures and must be kept apart. Otherwise, they will eat each
other. Endangered in the wild, axolotls are available as pets
through captive breeding.
The green iguana, by contrast, is an extremely common
tree-climbing lizard who “grazes on leaves, fruit and flowers in lush
tropical habitats,” according to Manning’s description. Some
Florida gardeners insist that feral green iguanas feast on anything
they plant. Known in Florida for about 40 years, green iguanas are
native to Central and South America. Their claws can “lacerate human
flesh” so keep them trimmed. Mild-mannered iguanas can be walked
like dogs, but most retain wild streaks.
The children’s python is a snake, not really a suitable
children’s pet. This “secretive snake” inhabits northern Australia’s
coastal forests and inland deserts. They are sometimes kept as pets
because of their modest size and congenial attitude. They prefer a
diet of mice and rats. “A few small mice offered every 10-16 days or
so should be sufficient,” Manning says. Packaged frozen pre-killed
pinky mice are now sold for snake-feeding. They should be thawed and
slightly warmed before being given to the snake.
The Indian stick insect is “one of the easiest of all
invertebrates to manage,” Manning believes. If a predator
threatens, bright red markings on the Indian stick insect’s forelegs
flash, while the insects themselves become motionless. When danger
passes, they move around “gently swaying like a twig in the breeze.”
These delicate creatures need special handling. Their tight grip
digs into human hands. Alternately, someone with a strong grip
might squish them. Stick insects eat only plant matter.
The book continues with neat and tidy descriptions of rare
and exotic pets such as the panther chameleon, the plumed basilisk
and the curly-haired tarantula. The writing is concise and the
pictures are colorful and clear.
The research seems thorough and comprehensive, but there is
no mention of Manning’s background. This is unfortunate, because
quotes from reviews by a fictitious film critic named “David
Manning,” concocted by Sony marketing executive Matthew Cramer,
became a major media scandal between 2000 and 2005. This David
Manning is a herpetologist, with a background in the zoo and pet
industries, and now runs Animal Ark, a Western Australia firm that
“coordinates and advises film-makers and photographers and provides
and handles animals for them,” according to online advertisements.
Manning warns people who are interested in keeping exotic
animals as pets to, “Find out if the species is legal or requires a
permit or license.” Communities have widely varying ordinances laws
governing exotic pets. Many species are banned in particular places.
Manning neglects the shady side of the exotic pet trade.
Exotic species are often illegally caught from the wild, and kept in
conditions as deplorable as those of puppy-mills –or worse. A
December 15, 2009 raid on the pet wholesaler U.S. Global Exotics,
of Arlington, Texas, found 27,000 exotic animals suffering from
neglect. Owners Jasen and Vanessa Shaw now face criminal charges.
Manning also neglects the obvious ethical questions. If an
iguana thrives in the jungle, why should we remove it to live in a
Manhattan high rise? If the children’s python is native to Northern
Australia, shouldn’t we leave it there?
Although Manning painstakingly details the artificial
environment each creature needs, it is in each case far removed from
the animal’s original home. Snakes, bearded dragons, tarantulas and
lizards live just fine without human intervention. Admittedly urban
sprawl, growing human populations, war, pollution, and global
warming encroach upon animal habitats, but is there really an
ethical place for exotic animals as household pets?
–Debra J. White

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