It seems like these days, people are no longer satisfied with “ordinary” pets. Dogs and cats remain popular, but there are several other pets that are gaining popularity. I myself have a variety of animals sharing my home with me, including cats, birds, a lizard, and perhaps the most exotic, sugar gliders. Our suggies have been living with us now for about two and a half years. I love them dearly, however, I am now starting to see the trouble in having such an exotic animal as a pet, and I may even be feeling a sense of regret as I write this blog. Let me start from the beginning.
A fellow student in my mammology class in college had a sugar glider, named Pascal (leave it to a science major). One day, he brought Pascal into class in a pouch in his backpack (Sugar gliders are nocturnal, so Pascal was fast asleep until my classmate brought him out to show us). He was ADORABLE! Those big, nocturnal eyes were so cute. That night I told James all about Pascal, and how much I then wanted a sugar glider.
James and I began researching sugar gliders as pets, and found both positive and negative information. First of all, they were really expensive. $500 just for the glider, plus around $100 for a cage, and the food was also pricey, along with toys and accessories. What drew us in though was how “Needy” they are. Several websites said that sugar gliders bond to their human companions, who must carry them at all times in a little pouch. Sugar gliders are marsupials, so this simulates the rearing done by mothers after birth. Initially, that was what excited me the most, but I would learn that that is actually a horrifying aspect of sugar gliders as pets.
We decided that the expense was too great, and that we would add sugar gliders to the list of animals we would have when we were older and better off. A couple years went by, and we were at a pet store, and there was a bonded, sister pair of sugar gliders. They were two years old, and had to go together. Perhaps the most amazing thing was the price. It was $700 for both gliders, and the cage, and everything in it. We talked it over for a little while, and James decided to get them for me as an anniversary present. We were so excited to take them home, and begin bonding them to us. James agreed we could name them Fossey and Jane, after two out of three of Leaky’s angels. However, it didn’t take long before we found out that they are far more high maintenance than we knew.
For starters, Fossey and Jane were a little too old to bond to us. They are perfectly bonded to each other, but they are not as attached to James and I. They would jump back and forth between us, and then proceed to run around the room. They are so quick, and very hard to catch once they get away. When you do catch them, they bite, and their teeth are razor sharp, just like their nails. They are also very picky eaters, and will go through periods where they refuse to eat what I give them unless it’s live mealworms. They are also not very well potty trained, and poo and pee EVERYWHERE, including all over you. The smell is interesting as well. In addition to this, they bark at night, almost like a little dog. This is more cute than annoying, but I guess that all depends on how light of a sleeper you are.
About a year after we got them, Jane began dragging her hind legs, like they were paralyzed. I was lucky enough to find a vet in our town that would see sugar gliders, as they are not easy to handle. I have read online that many other people with suggies have trouble finding a vet. This is crucial, and it is something that James and I should have investigated BEFORE taking them home that day. Jane’s paralysis was only temporary, and now she is back jumping around all night with Fossey as if nothing ever happened. We were very lucky.
I love all of the animals on our home, and I could never bring myself to surrender any of them. But these past couple years with Fossey and Jane have forced me to reconsider how I feel about exotic pet ownership. I will not deny that there was a period of time when I would have wanted a monkey as a pet. Now however, I can’t even imagine it.
There was a show on the National Geographic Channel not too long ago about people who have monkeys as pets. In addition to stories of what happens when the monkeys get older, the program explored where the monkeys come from. Infants are literally ripped from their mothers arms when they are still dependent on them. This is what triggers their neediness towards the humans that purchase them.
This got me wondering: did Fossey and Jane experience the same thing? Is this what all sugar glider breeders do, in order to force the human-suggie bond? All of a sudden I felt this overwhelming sense of sadness for the two beautiful girls I had myself. It also saddens me to think of where all of my other animals came from. While James has forbidden me to get any more animals (With good reason, eight is enough), we agreed that any animals we get in the future will be adopted, no questions asked. At least this way, we know that we won’t be forcing any babies from their mothers, or encouraging the deplorable conditions in places like puppy mills and bird farms, not to mention poor travel conditions.
But why have Fossey and Jane been so “high maintenance” compared to all of our other animals? I believe the answer is in the history of domestication. Our other animals, the cats, the birds, and the bunny (perhaps not so much Irwin, our bearded dragon), are all animals that have been domesticated for hundreds, and even thousands of years. They are bred with qualities that make them able to be housed as pets, and live in peace with humans.
Sugar gliders, I believe, are still very wild. In fact, most of the time when I tell someone I have them, they have no idea what they are. This is why I believe, that Fossey and Jane are the only true exotic animals in our home. While most vets and pet stores consider anything other than dogs and cats exotic, I think the definition of a “normal” pet can extend to anything that has been living among humans for a long time. That is, they have tameness bred into them, over many generations.
As I said before, I love all of our animals ad could never surrender any of them. I have found ways to try and make Fossey and Jane’s lives as balanced and enriched as possible. There is a very dark side to both typical, and exotic pet ownership, and I encourage everyone to get all the facts before adding an animal to their home. If possible adopt, there are always animals in shelters unfortunately. Take it from my experience: sugar gliders are too exotic to be kept as pets, and what they must go through in life is certainly not worth it to have a cute little companion. If more people were aware of the troubles these exotic pets face to get to their homes, I’m sure the exotic pet trend would lose momentum.
Nicole is currently employed at a university, caring for lab animals. She has always been an animal lover, and more recently an animal activist.