Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Photo Essay: An Orphanage for Contraband Pets

"The bird with the red felt collar..." I started to ask the front desk attendant.



"Yeah, he started picking at himself, so we had to put him in the 'cone of shame.'"



I suspected as much.



Almost all of the other exotic birds at the STAR Eco Station in Culver City also had pecked at their own chests...



...though they masked their anxiety by being curious and flirtatious when I visited their cages.



We're so accustomed to seeing colorful birds like this as pets...



...it's easy to forget that they're supposed to be wild, and it's illegal to bring some of them into the United States from foreign countries.



But people try anyway, perhaps innocently enough, and the U.S. government has to seize birds like this—as well as exotic reptiles, fish, and mammals—at border crossings and airport Customs departments.



The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service turned over this endangered blue macaw to the Eco Station, so he's technically "rescued," but he has pecked his chest so badly that he destroyed his own follicles. Feathers will never grow there again.



Birds like this are a lifelong commitment. They often outlive their owners, and when their owners die, they are neglected, abandoned, or "set free" into an unfamiliar environment on an entirely different continent than their native home.



People do the same thing to geckos...



...and lizards...



...and turtles (like the red-eared slider)...



...which end up in manmade lakes and ponds in our city's parks, the LA River, or worse yet, crossing the street.



For some reason, people want to keep pufferfish as pets, even though their teeth are sharp enough to scratch the glass walls of the tank that holds them, and getting them to puff up is extremely stressful for them. (They're also poisonous to eat.)



And although i's illegal in California to keep a domesticated hedgehog as a pet, but it's actually worse to set it free in the wild, because it's an invasive species and, with no natural predators, can destroy the ecological balance of insects, shorebirds, etc.

Of course, it's not just tourists innocently bringing little cutie pies as souvenirs from their trips abroad. There are plenty of entrepreneurs who try to smuggle the creatures in to sell them as stateside pets or, as in the case of minks and chinchillas, sell their pelts.

So these little guys are marooned at the Eco Station, which is a cross between a museum and an orphanage. They are used to teach kids and families why it's bad to try to keep them as pets.

They are fed and sheltered and given medical care. But are they really...rescued?

Related Posts:
In Captivity
Photo Essay: The Gentle Barn, Healing Hearts in A Forever Home
Photo Essay: Into the Wild Safari Park
A Safe Place, Far from Home