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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Exotic pets can be fun, but if animals become too big, too costly or too difficult to manage, the enjoyment may disappear and owners may start looking for ways to make the animals do the same.
Unfortunately, some of these pet owners turn their critters loose in the wild – that’s one reason Florida has more invasive reptile and amphibian species than any other place on Earth. In fact, the Sunshine State is now home to so many Burmese pythons that earlier this year officials held a competition to capture and remove the huge constrictors, which are blamed for decimating native wildlife.
To discourage future releases of unwanted pets, the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences has partnered with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to present the area’s first Exotic Pet Amnesty Day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday, April 16.
The event is free and open to the public. Animals will be accepted with no questions asked at the Straughn IFAS Extension Professional Development Center, 2142 Shealy Drive, just off S.W. 16th Ave. near the UF College of Veterinary Medicine.
Simultaneously, there will be an educational display on the J. Wayne Reitz Student Union colonnade.
Organizer Steve Johnson, an associate professor in the wildlife ecology and conservation department, said he hopes to educate local residents on the perils of releasing pets in places where they shouldn’t.
“It’s not good for the welfare of the animal and it’s certainly not good for the Florida ecosystem,” Johnson said.
Jenny Novak, an FWC wildlife biologist who coordinates Exotic Pet Amnesty Day events around the state, said she predicts Gainesville residents will bring in reptiles, fish and possibly invertebrates such as tarantulas and scorpions.
“I expect we’ll see mainly see animals that students could keep quietly in a dorm room or an apartment,” she said.
Donors are asked to have their animals caged or otherwise confined, Novak said.
Pet owners who are unable to attend the event can donate pets by calling FWC’s adoption hotline, 888-IVE-GOT1.
Donated pets are examined by veterinarians, she said. After being certified healthy they are offered to previously screened, knowledgeable adopters.
FWC officials encourage other agencies, universities and conservation groups to consider hosting Exotic Pet Amnesty Day events. Those interested are asked to contact the Exotic Pet Amnesty Program coordinator at 850-617-9554.
Writer: Tom Nordlie, 352-273-3567, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: Steve Johnson, 352-846-0643, email@example.com
Jenny Novak, 850-617-9554, firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo cutline: In this 2007 file photo, Steve Johnson, an associate professor with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, holds a Cuban tree frog, one of many exotic amphibian species now established in Florida. To discourage pet owners from turning loose exotic animals that have become burdensome, Johnson has organized an Exotic Pet Amnesty Day event, which takes place 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday, April 16 at the UF main campus in Gainesville. Owners can drop off exotic pets with no questions asked; the animals will be checked by a veterinarian and then placed with volunteers. UF/IFAS photo by Josh Wickham