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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Zeke Bryant Students in Ivy Tech’s exotic animal care class have made a field trip to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.

  • Amanda Hubbard teaches Ivy Tech’s new exotic animal care course. Hubbard said she decided to start the class after seeing a need for it in northeast Indiana.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016 7:02 am

Call of wild for Ivy Tech

Tara Zwick | For The Journal Gazette

Jaina Eguia owns seven pet lizards and hopes to have a career with animals.

It’s one reason Eguia decided to take a new course at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast on exotic animal care.

Amanda Hubbard, an Ivy Tech graduate and a former intern at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, where she worked with giraffes, designed the course when she couldn’t find classes at area colleges that taught about exotic animals, zoo careers and conservation.

The exotic animal care course, which was approved last year and is now in its first semester, explores wildlife species, agriculture, nutrition and preservation as well as zookeeper, curator, horticulturist and veterinarian careers.

The course is offered at a time when a growing number of people are looking to own exotic animals – particularly monkeys, snakes and big cats. However, these animals often are surrendered, abandoned or confiscated from lack of proper care because their owners weren’t prepared to own them.

"Most people have a desire to own exotic pets because they become very interested in a certain species," Hubbard says. "The majority are very unaware how to care for them or of the potential risks."

To get some up-close observation, students took a field trip to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, learning about many species, including stingrays and ostriches.

"We learned a lot about the animals and their behavior, as well as how they are cared for," Eguia says. "I learned how zoos are actually quite necessary in the conservation of exotic animals and endangered species."

The class is planning to take a private tour of Black Pine Animal Sanctuary in Albion.

Black Pine’s "mission is to reduce the number of unwanted/displaced exotic animals and to educate on responsible animal care and conservation," executive director Lori Gagen says. She says animals that arrive at the sanctuary live there for the rest of their lives.

"We accumulate 70 percent of our animals from private owners due to surrenders and 30 percent from roadside privately run institutions due to confiscation," Gagen says.

The sanctuary houses 60 species, including exotic birds, reptiles, wildcats, wild dogs, primates and black bears.

There are generally three reasons people want an exotic pet, Gagen says: ignorance, ego and greed. There are many dangers to owning an exotic pet, Gagen says.

"Black Pine Animal Sanctuary (especially) does not condone ownership of nonhuman primates, venomous reptiles and wolves," she says.

In Indiana, laws already exist to control, or at least monitor, the ownership of wild and exotic animals. But it is legal to own creatures such as bears as long as the Department of Natural Resources approves and the owner has the proper, state-regulated structure to house the wild animal. City ordinances, like those in Fort Wayne, can be stricter.

"Indiana laws restricting the private ownership of exotic animals are almost nonexistent, but possession permits are required for wild animals, unless the owner is a licensed commercial animal dealer approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture," Hubbard says.

Exotic animals should never be captive-owned unless proper research is conducted on their diet and natural habitat, Hubbard says.

"It is important to know their space needed for exercising, and what and how much they can consume," she says. "For example, guinea pigs and canaries need a wide variety of produce in their diet."

There is a common misconception that an exotic pet is domestic, Hubbard says.

"This is false. These animals still, and will have, their natural instincts. What someone means is that the animal is tame," she says.

Hubbard says even zookeepers who have a special bond with a wild animal are still at risk.