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Florida Has 6 Invasive Species Every 500 Square Feet!

June 10, 2010

Okay, the above statement is not based on real science.

When my husband and I first moved to Key West we lived in a condominium complex where they doused the mono-cultured lawns with pesticides. Obviously, we saw very little wildlife there. Finally, a few years ago, we into a tiny bungalow with a 500 square foot yard with a small fishpond. I have been amazed at the number of invasive species that have showed up in my little backyard. Granted, I might not see all of them at the same time, but at  any time of day, I can go outside and find an invasive species without looking very hard.  There are 6 invasive species I have noted repeatedly in my 500 square foot yard.

Cuban tree frog: Eats and displaces the smaller, more shy native Florida tree frog.

Green iguana: eats the host plant of the endangered Miami blue butterfly.

Tokay gecko: this Asian monster is larger and more aggressive than native reef geckos

The other three invasive species I have  seen in my yard but have not photographed are Cuban anoles, ashy geckos, and of course, the famous Key West gypsy chicken.

Florida has a HUGE problem with invasive species. Burmese pythons are wreaking havoc in the Everglades, competing with the ecosystem’s apex predator, the America alligator.  Giant Gambian pouch rats, escapees from a poorly maintained backyard breeding facility, scare the beejeezus out of folks living in Grassy Key.  These rodents compete for resources with native critters like the Key endangered Key Largo wood rat and Lower Keys marsh rabbit.

Though some  invasive species swim in from nearby islands or hitchhike in goods shipped from foreign places, many of the most destructive invasives are the direct results of the pet industry.  Florida’s laws are rather lax as far as exotic pet ownership and breeding, which seems foolish given the sensitive nature of its ecosystem and the fact that most anything can survive in Florida’s  subtropical weather.

Personally, I have owned or fostered several exotic pets which would have been better off as wild animals, though I did not buy them in pet stores or from breeders.  Why should I, when there is a limitless supply of abandoned or escaped exotic pets in need of homes?  One of my favorites was Mayhem, a black-tailed prairie dog found wandering after Hurricane Wilma.  Another beloved pet of mine was Sonic the Richardson’s ground squirrel, who lived under a local bakery before he came to live with us.

These animals were, most likely, taken from the wild as babies (they do not often breed in captivity) and could not successfully be returned to the wild. I loved Mayhem and Sonic but I would not have chosen them as pets: they were high-maintenance, destructive, and finding information on how to properly care for them as well as knowledgeable vet care was difficult.

I don’t doubt that there are many responsible, caring, intelligent keepers of exotic animals, but I’d argue that the number of exotic animals who are improperly kept, neglected, or surrendered to nonprofit rescues (i.e. Tampa’s Big Cat Rescue) far outweigh the few responsible, knowledgeable exotic animal owners.

Just because you CAN have an exotic animal as a pet doesn’t mean you SHOULD. By failing to create and enact laws to prohibit exotic pet ownership, Florida’s leaders allow situations which are neither suitable for the animal nor for the ecosystem.

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4 Comments leave one →
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