Submitted by Wildlife Veterinarian, Dr. Isabelle Paquet-Durand

People often do not realize the risks and long term consequences of everyday actions or habits such as keeping wildlife as pets until it is brought to their attention. I have seen this again and again, and the recent media attention given to racoons, advertised as pets, is very alarming!

The Belize Wildlife Conservation Network (BWCN), an organization established partly to decrease the conflict between humans and wildlife, works closely with the Belize Forest Department, and has been working to develop some basic information and facts that explain why raccoons and other wildlife should not be kept as pets.

First, and perhaps the most important reason for not keeping wildlife as pets is the threat to the health of your family. All animals can harbour certain diseases that can be passed to humans (and vice versa) - the list of possible diseases is long and the consequences of those diseases range from a nuisance (itch) to deadly (herpes in monkeys). A lot of knowledge and expensive care is required to keep wildlife healthy and avoid disease transmission.

One disease raccoons carry that make them especially dangerous, particularly for your children, is raccoon roundworm (also known as Baylisascaris). This disease is very common in raccoons and can lead to severe

consequences in humans, including brain damage, coma and even death caused by migrating larvae. The infective microscopic eggs are in the raccoons feces, and can survive several years in the soil, and can be transmitted via inhalation (when eggs become airborn with dust particles). No treatment is 100 % effective, and raccoons are very smart and agile,so unless safely confined, they will get into anything and everything and contaminate your house - table, beds, floor with feces.

Disease is the greatest risk from racoons and other wild animals when kept as pets. Wild animals can not be treated like domestic animals such as cats and dogs. As they get older, they will no longer be cute and will become more aggressive - they will bite, bringing the typical risks of infected wounds as well as, in some cases, the danger of rabies transmission! Rabies is deadly!

There is also the welfare and moral argument. Any wild animal is by its wild nature undomesticated. Captivity causes stress to the animal and good quality of life for a wild animal in a cage is often impossible to provide. It takes a professional to properly keep raccoons or other wild animals healthy and well. Once an animal has bitten someone´┐Ż it is likely to be treated with caution - abandoned, neglected and mistreated - until it falls sick and dies.

Any raccoon that has become used to humans, or a raccoon that has had extended contact with domestic animals as a pet, cannot be released back into the wild. Most animals released without proper rehabilitation and assessment for releasability by a professional will starve to death or can put the entire wild population at risk of severe epidemics, by transmitting diseases that they have aquired while in captivity.They are more likely to become problem animals, raiding human garbage bins, breaking into houses and chicken pens, and approaching children. These ex-pets therefore become condemned to remain in captivity life long - a lot of work and expenses, or to be euthanized once their owners grow tired of them.

We would also like to remind the readers that under Belize law, it is illegal to keep wildlife captive without a permit from the Belize Forest Department, protecting both the health of wild animals, and human health

So, what is the answer? Do NOT buy a raccoon or any other wild animal for a pet! Do NOT try to raise raccoon babies! Educate your friends and neighbours about this!

BWCN is working on establishing a Wildlife Hotline with the Forest Department to provide this and more advice to you on how to resolve human-wildlife conflicts over the phone. Stay tuned for this hotline to be announced later this year and until then you can find some information, and contacts for people to ask for more advice on the BWCN website or find and join us on Facebook. You can also call the Belize Forest Department at 822-1524.

Click here to read the rest of the article and see photos in the San Pedro Sun