July 8, 2014 6:50 pm

Releasing exotic pets, like a caiman, in Toronto can be dangerous

TORONTO – A caiman – a genetic relative to the alligator – was found in High Park Monday after wildlife officials say it either escaped or was let go by its owner.

But letting an exotic animal out into a city can be dangerous to the public and to the animal itself.

Bylaws governing exotic animals can be confusing – they vary across Greater Toronto Area municipalities.

The Caiman, prohibited in Toronto, is a type of alligator usually found in South America.

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“He’s okay.  He’s nervous.  He’s been in the wild, caught and now in unfamiliar surroundings.  That’s normal but he seems good,” Lee Parker of Reptilia, the agency which is now housing the caiman, said.

In Toronto, caimans are not allowed as pets.

“They’re just one of those animals that are wild animals and as they get bigger and bigger can inflict more damage and it’s not if it happens, it’s a matter of when it happens and it will happen at some point,” Parker said.

Releasing an exotic animal into the public isn’t just a potential danger; it can also be potentially harmful to the animal itself.

In the caiman’s case, it could have ended up being attacked by a raccoon or other predator.

But if it managed to get away from predators, Toronto’s winter weather would have eventually killed the caiman, Parker said.

“He would’ve survived through summer but as soon as you get into cooler weather and winter, he mostly likely would’ve perished,” he said.

Experts say many animals and exotic pets end up being abandoned in the wild.

“People will let them go and think they’re going to do okay. They’re not going to do okay,” said Jennifer Ego of Pawsitively Pets. “A domesticated animal will not survive in the wild.”

If you are considering any pet, animal expert suggest you take these steps:

  • Make sure you check bylaws in your city and that you’re complying with regulations. Call officials if you’re not sure
  • Determine if the animal is a good fit for your family and lifestyle
  • If buying an exotic animal, ensure you get one from a reputable establishment
  • Be informed and find out how big the animal will get and what they need to be cared for properly.
  • If you can’t take care of the animal anymore, don’t just abandon it into the wild.  Drop it off at a shelter or rescue organization.

Reptilia will take in exotic animals such as caimans to ensure they are kept out of the public domain.

“There’s tons of shelters and rescue organizations.  The responsible thing to do is contact them and ask for help,” Ego said.

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