EDITORIAL: The best gator aid? Don’t bring ’em to Chicago

Please, people, could we stop dumping potentially dangerous wild animals — brought to the Chicago area as pets — in our waterways and woods?

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An alligator swims in the Humboldt Park Lagoon, Wednesday morning,

An alligator swims in the Humboldt Park Lagoon, Wednesday morning,

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

We wish the best to the alligator seen swimming in the Humboldt Park lagoon, which authorities said will be taken to a zoo for a veterinary examination.

But please, people, could we stop dumping potentially dangerous wild animals — brought to the Chicago area as pets — in our local waterways and woods?

Every parent who likes to bring their toddler on a sunny day to the Humboldt Park beach — a short alligator crawl from the lagoon — is hyperventilating today at the thought of a four- to five-foot toothy creature prowling around what they had considered a safe space for a family outing.

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Too often, people buy exotic animals that appear cute and cuddly only to find they are too hard to care for when they grow larger. We don’t know where the Humboldt alligator came from, but many of the exotic animals on the loose in Chicago were pets that escaped or were abandoned by their owners.

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What to do with unwanted exotic pets

  • If you are no longer able to keep your exotic pet, contact the pet store or other source where you purchased it.
  • If you can’t return it to the pet store, try to find it a new home, possibly with the help of rescue groups, animal shelters or nature centers.
  • Contact your local animal control agency, which may be able or willing to help or offer advice.
  • Contact your state wildlife agency. Getting advice is always better than breaking wildlife laws and risking fines by turning your pet loose outside.
  • If you cannot find anyone to take your pet, you may have to consider humane euthanasia by a qualified veterinarian. You should not release a pet into the wild under any circumstances.

SOURCES: University of Florida, Southeast Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation

Unfortunately, it’s alarmingly easy to obtain everything from monkeys to kangaroos online, at trade shows and through social media, though Illinois law prohibits ownership of primates or dangerous animals. As a result, National Geographic says the exotic pet trade has become a multibillion-dollar industry involving tens of millions reptiles, amphibians, fish, birds and mammals.

Sometimes, these onetime pets become invasive species.

Florida’s Everglades, for example, are overrun with Burmese pythons, which have decimated the area’s small-mammal population. At other times, they become a danger to people. Last month, an escaped nonnative wild cat called a caracal attacked a mother and daughter as they walked through their downstate Bloomington neighborhood.

Alligators have been released in Chicago for years, though they are unlikely to survive the winter. In fact, they’ve turned up in the Chicago River as far back as 1902, according to Snopes.com.

Exotic pets are exotic for a reason: They don’t belong here.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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