Exotic and sometimes dangerous animals, including lions, monkeys and reptiles, have increasingly found a home in urban and suburban America, and in the hands of their sometimes volatile human owners, these creatures can pose a threat to both them and their communities.
Exotic pet owners blinded by love and devotion to their furry friends sometimes don't realize the dangers of keeping a 300-pound tiger or an adult chimpanzee in their backyard. That's where animal welfare advocates Alison Eastwood and Donald Schultz come in. They are animal interventionists who try to tame out-of-control exotic animal lovers. They star in National Geographic's TV show, "Animal Intervention," which airs on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET.
Watch the full story on "Nightline" tonight at 11:35 p.m. ET
"Instead of going in and pointing fingers and saying what you're doing is wrong, we'll hold up a mirror and let them see exactly what they're doing," Schultz said. "That is often all it takes to push them over the edge to try to get help."
Last year, the danger became real for the city of Zanesville, Ohio. Faced with a shutdown, the local owner of an exotic animal farm opened all his cages, setting his wild menagerie free, before killing himself. Police were sent on a bloody safari, and 49 animals were slaughtered, including 18 Bengal tigers, 17 lions, six black bears, a pair of grizzlies, three mountain lions, two wolves and a baboon. Incredibly, no human was injured.
Angela Harter and her husband David used to have their own backyard exotic animal sanctuary called Rescue One in Lancaster, Ohio, but soon became overwhelmed.
"There's a pack of wolves. There's probably 15, 17 tigers. There's a dozen or 15 lions, there's eight or nine cougars here. We have a black bear," Harter said.
She estimated that they went through about 200 to 300 pounds of meat per day to feed the animals. The cages were repaired and patched up with scrap metal. Angela Harter later admitted she felt guilty.
"I have to do the right thing," she said. "I'm not going to live with myself knowing I backed out and left these animals in that shape because I couldn't take it anymore."
That's when Eastwood and Schulz stepped in and tried to convince Harder to give up some of her animals to a better equipped animal rescue facility, but she was reluctant at first.
"It doesn't matter if it has been born and raised in captivity," Eastwood said. "It doesn't matter if you bottle-fed it as a baby. It is still wild animal and it is still capable of really hurting people."
For some owners, being asked to give up their exotic pets seems like being asked to give up their children.
"There's definitely a denial issue for a lot of people on the safety issues and the fact that they think this animal is never going to harm them because they've had it all their life which is a total misconception," Eastwood said.
But often these pet owners do come around. The Harters closed down "Rescue One" and found new homes for their former tenants. It was an animal intervention that helped both the animals and their owner.
"For us, the big thing was going and understanding the people's plight, understanding the animal's plight and seeing how we can help," Schulz said.
- Living Nature
- Alison Eastwood