For purposes of discussing sustainability, exotic animals are those not historically found naturally in our region. Invasives are plants or animals not historically found naturally in our region AND also causing harm to our ecosystem when they are present. Not all exotics are invasives, but all invasives are exotics. Some exotic and invasive animals were introduced, meaning humans brought them here, while others came into Florida on their own by natural range expansion.
Exotic pets kept in appropriate conditions and monitored by their owners are not generally harmful to our environment. However, owning an exotic pet may require a level of training or familiarity with the behavior of the animal in order to ensure this. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission provides a list of animals requiring a permit and those not requiring a permit. Common exotic pets include parrot species, Red-Eared Slider Turtles, Boa Constrictors, and many aquarium fish. It is very important to know that becoming an exotic pet owner is a great responsibility; owners must be prepared to care for the animal for 10 to 20 years in some cases, and exotic birds may require care for decades more.
The most common way for exotic animals to find themselves in natural areas is by people releasing exotic pets into the wild. According to ECISMA, more than 80% of the non-native reptiles and amphibians in Florida arrived here through pet trade, and invasive plants and animals cost Floridians more than $500 million each year. Releasing exotics into the wild is illegal in any wildlife management area under 68A-15.004 of the Florida Administrative Code. Owners may not release exotic pets in the City of Fort Lauderdale. Releasing an exotic animal into the wild can reduce the habitat of the native animal population, disrupt the food chain, bring parasites or diseases into the natural environment and speed the extinction of endangered native species. Why are exotic animals so harmful to our environment? There are many reasons. They generally adapt to our mild climate easily. In new habitats, they have few natural predators. They may reproduce very quickly.
Exotic pet owners who are no longer able to care for their animals have options. If you are interested in surrendering an exotic pet that you can no longer care for, the FWC has an Exotic Pet Amnesty Program. Exotic pets including reptiles, amphibians, birds, fish, mammals and invertebrates can be dropped off, no questions asked. Domestic or common pets such as dogs, cats, guinea pigs and rabbits are not accepted and should be surrendered to local animal foster care agencies or Broward County Animal Care.
Individuals who would like to become exotic pet owners are encouraged to adopt through the amnesty program only. This limits the exotic population in our City. Learn more about the types of exotic pets available for adoption at amnesty events and exotic animals prohibited in the state of Florida.
Exotic Animal Guidelines
These guidelines are provided by Everglades Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (ECISMA):
- Do your research before buying exotic pets. Learn about laws and regulations regarding nonnative species.
- When you are out on the water, inspect your boat and equipment before returning home. Remove any plants or animals.
- Do not bring into our City any fresh food, plants or animals which you obtain from outside our region. Do not bring into the country plants or seeds from other nations. Do not bring animals in from other countries.
- Learn to identify invasive and nonnative species and report sightings by calling (888) IVE-GOT1.
When You Can No Longer Care for your Exotic Pet
You made a commitment to care for the animal, so please do what is necessary to ensure that your pet remains happy and healthy and under human care.
- Never release pets into our City parks, waterways or any other area.
- If you have a pet that you can no longer care for, call the Pet Amnesty Hotline at (888) IVE-GOT1.
- Seek advice from an expert. Sometimes a few tips will give you all you need to be able to keep your pet.
- Reach out to your friends, to schools, rescue groups, shelters, sanctuaries and zoos to attempt to find your pet a new home. You can even contact the store or breeder where you acquired the pet and ask for placement assistance.
- Consider euthanasia. This is not the preferred alternative, but in extreme cases where no other options are available, it is better to consider this choice than it is to release your pet into the wild where it cannot fend for itself and can harm our ecosystem.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is a state agency that works to preserve and protect Florida's native wildlife, fresh, and saltwater fish. They have an extensive website on invasive animals and plants. There you will find information on applicable laws, instructions and locations for Pet Amnesty, profiles on invasive species. There are videos and other instructional media for teachers, as well as a way to sign up for updates in your area.
The following websites and agency can also be of assistance:
Veterinarians.com provides a directory of qualified exotic pet veterinarians. You can search by zip code.
The Florida Exotic Bird Sanctuary provides permanent sanctuary for exotic birds that cannot be adopted.
Southeastern Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation is an organization of scientists, naturalists, government representatives and citizens that are devoted to the preservation of amphibian and reptile populations in the southeastern United States.