Think Twice Before Purchasing Exotic Pets
Many pose health risks to unaware owners
Eric Bortz obviously loves animals. He studied animal science and conservation in college, worked in zoos and helped care for small animals before joining the staff at the Park Ridge Animal Hospital last year.
But he may have taken his love and fascination for exotic pets too far.
The 25-year-old Fair Lawn man was bitten Monday by a cobra he recently purchased, and remains in critical condition at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx. Fair Lawn police said Bortz bought three snakes—an albino monocled cobra, a copperhead and a timber rattlesnake—from a Pennsylvania dealer to add to his collection of exotic pets, which included a tarantula, several scorpions and two other snakes.
Bortz was told by the dealer that the cobra underwent a procedure to render it harmless. That information proved wrong.
Forget the fact that it’s illegal to own copperheads, rattlesnakes and cobras in New Jersey. The Division of Fish and Wildlife has established specific guidelines regarding the sale and possession of these and exotic animals in the state.
Don’t bother asking why on earth this guy had them at all, or what he planned to do with them in his apartment.
What bears mentioning are the health risks involved with keeping exotic animals as pets. And they don’t have to be deadly snakes to pose a potential problem.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, parents are discouraged from exposing young children to reptiles, including lizards, turtles and non-venomous snakes because of the risk of salmonella.
About 11 percent of salmonella cases in children can be traced to contact with these non-traditional pets, and even in some cases hamsters, which may also carry the disease that results in diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps. The danger of contracting disease, however, is not confined to children.
Certain species of rats and mice may carry monkeypox (not chickenpox), which appeared in an outbreak in the United States in 2003. Rodents also carry the hantavirus, which causes acute respiratory distress.
The Journal of Internal Medicine reported that about 800 people have been sickened since 2000 with tularemia, a virulent disease that can be contracted from rabbits.
Prairie dogs and hedgehogs (neither are native to New Jersey but have been imported from other states) can carry plague. Monkeys (herpes B virus) and those cute little baby chicks (salmonella) also can carry disease and exotic species of birdlife and fish, while beautiful to behold, can pose a real health threat through spread of bacteria that grows in tanks or cages.
Aside from the spread of disease through fecal matter, there is always a danger of being bitten or scratched, which can quickly send germs, and in the case of Bortz, poison through the bloodstream.
Health officials in Fair Lawn and elsewhere have strict regulations about obtaining a license for pet ownership, or not granting permission to own them at all. The rules are in place for good reason.
The story of the Fair Lawn man gained immediate national attention, and maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe the next guy will think twice before taking such a chance.