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An Illinois woman and her child were recently injured after being attacked by an escaped pet caracal, a large exotic cat similar to a lynx. Both were hospitalized, and police killed the caracal.

No doubt confused and frightened, this wild animal experienced only the briefest glimmer of freedom before officers were forced to take lethal action.

There is not one legitimate reason why anyone “needs” to keep a tiger in a backyard pen, an alligator in a kiddie pool, a python in an aquarium or a bear in the basement. Like face tattoos, wild animals are procured for the “wow” factor, but the misery that the animals endure and the danger to public safety are both incontrovertible reasons for outlawing exotic animals as pets.

Denied everything that is important to them and forced into close contact with humans, stressed and agitated animals frequently lash out or make a break for it. Countless people have suffered devastating injuries, many losing limbs or their very lives.

A Connecticut woman’s face and hands were ripped off by her friend’s chimpanzee. A Florida toddler was strangled to death by the family’s python. A 9-year-old Texas girl died after being attacked by her stepfather’s pet tiger. This list goes on and on.

Tigers and lions are hard-wired to control vast territories and to hunt and kill. Bears are intelligent, curious and energetic and need plenty of room to roam. Primates and reptiles belong in the jungle, not in a cage.

Wild animals never get “used to” captivity, and their genetic imperatives don’t somehow disappear just because they aren’t where they’re supposed to be. Living beings denied their freedom know they’re missing something crucial to their being. Just like us, animals want and deserve to live out their lives as nature intended.

Laws exist to keep both humans and animals safe, from requiring us to wear seatbelts to banning dogs from roaming the streets.

Yet there is still an entrenched lack of interest at the federal level when it comes to preventing your neighbor from having an 800-pound Bengal tiger who is one high jump away from being on your deck. Even losing populations of native species to pythons dumped in the Everglades has not moved legislators to take meaningful action.

Even proposed restrictions have been gutted.

A few years ago, a bill was introduced to ban the import and sale of nine species of dangerous snakes. But industry lobbyists fought it and succeeded in getting it watered down to four.

Then–Interior Secretary Ken Salazar unabashedly defended the weaker version of the bill, assuring Americans that the compromise was successful for “not suffocating commerce by over-regulation.”

Keeping wild animals in backyard pens and basement cages is like lighting a fuse and hoping that it won’t go off. How many animals must suffer in grossly inadequate conditions, how many people must lose their lives or limbs, how many animals must die in a hail of gunfire before this practice is outlawed?

Jennifer O’Connor is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St, Norfolk, VA, 23510; www.PETA.org.

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