It's a zoo as Floridians seek new owners for exotic pets

From the Associated Press

Tearful goodbyes alternating with barely contained impatience, more than 100 South Floridians surrendered their exotic animals Saturday at a zoo event designed to give owners an alternative to simply turning them loose.

The canopied plastic tables at the Miami MetroZoo became exhibits of their own as passers-by hoisted children and snapped pictures of the snakes, scorpions and turtles being handed over in laundry baskets, food-storage containers and pillowcases.

Of the more than 150 pets handed over on Exotic Pet Amnesty Day by people who could no longer care for the beasts, all but six found new homes.

Among the more bizarre submissions were a rhino iguana, a spotted African serval cat and a coatimundi -- a racoonlike mammal found in South America.

"This is garden-variety stuff," said exotic-pet veterinarian Thomas Goldsmith, who examined the submissions. "This is Miami. People have sloths and leopards and God knows what else."

Ray Padilla, 17, came with seven snakes -- Burmese pythons and Colombian boas -- each in a pillowcase knotted at the opening. He started collecting them as pets when he was 5 and said, simply, "No more room," and, later, "Eh, new hobby."

Regulations on owning exotic pets have tightened in the last year and will continue to get stricter, said Scott Hardin, who works in the nonnative species division of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Tighter restrictions usually mean that more animals are released into the wild, which can be difficult for those animals -- not to mention their new neighbors.

Burmese pythons eat the rare Key Largo wood rat; parakeets cause power failures because they nest in transformers; iguanas consume landscape vegetation.

Months before the event, wildlife workers held a drive to register adopters and start what they hope will become a statewide database.

The process wasn't easy for some of the owners. Debbie Kupferman cried as she left behind her iguana.

She recalled her fear of the pet when her son brought it home from college. He had adopted it after some drunken neighbors in his apartment complex threw it off a balcony. But then he handed it off to her, saying he couldn't take care of it any more.

She nursed it back to health -- it had a bone disease -- and grew quite attached.

"I have three dogs, two cats and I'm getting older," Kupferman said. "Somebody's going to spend more quality time with him," she added, wiping her eyes.

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