The pet alligator roaming the New York sewer system is an old urban legend, but the scenario isn’t as far-fetched as some might think. People releasing their pets into the wild can create a difficult situation for both the pet and the environment. Invasive species are non-native species whose introduction is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health, according to the USDA. Not all alien species are invasive, and not all invasive species began as pets; however, non-native pets that are released into an ecosystem and reproduce are invasive species.
It seems that there is a lot of misinformation and miseducation about the concept of invasive species. The word itself seems to have become charged, putting domestic animal lovers on the defensive. These animals and plants did not ask to be introduced into a foreign ecosystem, and they are simply striving to survive as any species would.
Artificial introduction, usually by human activity, is required in order to consider a species non-native. Migration is natural and is not considered an introduction. Many successful invasive species do not have predators in this new environment, and the local ecosystems are simply not equipped to handle them. Invasives often out-compete native species, introduce foreign diseases and parasites, prey on native plants and animals, and upset the balance of the local ecosystem.
Most people have heard of the dilemma of the Burmese pythons in the Florida Everglades. It is theorized that many owners released their snakes once they became too large and that these pets began reproducing. These beautiful snakes are devastating the local ecosystem by out-competing the American alligator, preying on the endangered Key Largo woodrat and on the rare round tailed muskrat, and presenting safety and management concerns for local governments. The National Park Service claims that nearly 1,000 snakes have been removed since 2002 and that this number is likely to represent a small percentage of the total population.
Domestic cats and dogs are both in the Global Invasive Species Database since both species were bred from wild relatives thousands of years ago and neither is indigenous to any continent. Both cats and dogs were bred to be exceptional hunters, so their impact on the environment can be substantial. In most regions, colonies of feral cats are more plentiful than packs of feral dogs, so more studies have been focused on feline impact. The American Bird Conservancy offers support for cat owners attempting to bring outdoor cats inside. Since public sympathies lie with dogs and cats, there are independent groups attempting to control their populations.
Iguanas, turtles, fishes, and certain birds have all become invasive species in various parts of the world due to the pet trade. Once a pet is released into the wild, it becomes a part of the ecosystem. No ecosystem in the world is pristine, and it is virtually impossible to remove all invasives. Wildlife managers and conservation groups work to manage populations of these invasive species in order to protect the natural wildlife, and this often involves trapping and killing beautiful animals that used to be pets. The ONLY solution is prevention.
It is humans who caused this problem, but it is the pets and wildlife who suffer. Before you choose a pet, ensure that you are able to provide properly for the animal. Never turn a pet out. Pets are often not well equipped to live in the wild. They are accustomed to regular feedings and life with no threats. If they do survive, they may contribute to the invasive species problem.