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Pssst! Want a Hedgehog? Florida Wildlife Officials Seek Exotic Pet Owners

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

When exotic pets get too big, noisy or hungry to handle, their owners sometimes feel they have no choice but to release them into the wild.  

That’s the main reason Burmese pythons and other big snakes got a foothold in the Everglades, where they're wreaking havoc on native ecosystems.  But help is on the way for South Florida's overwhelmed exotic pet owners.

The Palm Beach Zoo is teaming up with state and federal wildlife officials for an"Exotic Pet Amnesty Day" on Saturday, October 4th.  It gives pet owners an opportunity to surrender their snakes, birds, turtles or other high-maintenance animals – no questions asked.

The vast majority of animals turned in have been reptiles since the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission began sponsoring the events in 2006. But at Palm Beach County's last Exotic Pet Amnesty event in 2012, about 10 small mammals were surrendered.  

Cute, nocturnal mammals like sugar gliders, prairie dogs and hedgehogs are a novelty among many pet owners at first, but eventually turn out to be too much to handle.

“They don’t necessarily want to be handled during the day. So it can be hard to build a relationship with that animal when it wants to be handled at night," says FWC Pet Amnesty Coordinator Liz Barraco. " After you come home from a long day of work and you've had dinner and you're ready for bed, that's when your hedgehog is finally ready for some attention."  

The animals are examined by vets and then put up for adoption by pre-screened applicants.  Nearly 2,000 animals have been surrendered since the Exotic Pet Amnesty program began eight years ago.

If you go:
Palm Beach Zoo Exotic Pet Amnesty Day
When: Saturday, October 4, 2014, from 10 am to 2 pm.
Where: The former Garden Club building in Dreher Park
4800 Dreher Trail North, West Palm Beach

Exotic pet owners who can’t make the event can turn in their animals by calling the state hotline at 888-IVE GOT 1   (1-888-483-4681)

For more information, contact Liz Barraco, Exotic Pet Amnesty Program Coordinator for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at (954) 577-6409.

Christine DiMattei is WLRN's Morning Edition anchor and also reports on Arts & Culture.
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