7 Animals That Should Never Be Allowed to Go Feral

1. KOI
When contained in Japanese-style water gardens, these colorful carp are a symbol of love and friendship. When released into wild ponds and waterways, they become a destructive terror, outbreeding and outcompeting all the natives. Their resemblance to goldfish is also problematic, especially for children. Boys and girls who snag one of these giant bottom feeders during fishing trips may believe they’re about to land a largemouth bass. What they find instead is the emotional equivalent of a puppy with a hook through its mouth.

Animal rights advocates repeatedly warned us that if these birds were ever allowed to truly grasp the gross abuse of their species by American agriculture, they would start a Planet of the Apes–style uprising and slaughter us all. The threat appears to be growing along with the increasing popularity of “free range” fowl that occasionally enjoy such luxuries as sunlight and the full use of their beaks. Give them an inch . . .

I’m talking the morbidly obese specimens with the floppy ears who can’t stop hyperventilating. Signs that your Peter Cottontail may be breaking bad: An ominously calm demeanor, a disinterest in eating “pellets,” and a new interest in eating the cat’s meaty wet food. Also, social isolation, including lurking in the cold shadows behind the toilet. You’ll know for sure when, during a midnight bathroom break, it viciously attacks your naked calf with its teeth and claws while screeching like a raptor. The result will be permanent scarring, and therapy.

Like a bad tattoo, the purchase of one of these “pets” usually involves alcohol, and soon inspires regret. Perhaps it’s all the effort that goes into keeping it out of the baby’s crib, or the emotional drain of feeding it creatures you previously knew as “Mrs. Frisby” and “Stuart Little.” Whatever the reasons, owners are often inspired to release them into seemingly friendly snake habitats such as the Everglades, where they have already wiped out possum and raccoon populations. You might ask, Does the world really need any more raccoons? What you should be asking is, Does Florida really need any more giant Burmese pythons? It has enough trouble handling elections.

The eggs of these small, aquatic crustaceans “from the age of the dinosaurs” are sold in a state of diapause to unsuspecting parents, and can remain so for over twenty-five years. Keep them there. Triops kits inexplicably remain a popular Christmas gift—apparently Santa (and every distant relative) continues to ignore parenting chat rooms clearly warning that these prehistoric freaks will cannibalize each other right in front of your traumatized children. It shouldn’t take three eyes to see how messed up that is.

Once escaped from its cage, this beloved pet quickly begins to act something like a rodent (which of course it is), scratching around in the walls at all hours, nibbling through electrical wires, spreading foul nuggets throughout the kitchen, and nesting in your underwear drawer. Like elephants in the wild, escaped hamsters all tend to die in one place, usually in or near a basement furnace so the family can smell their decomposing bodies throughout the house for days and mourn properly.

Once known for creating Democracy, the Golden Rule, and the Land Ethic, this species is now the reigning poster child for devolution. Signs of a potentially dangerous, feral human include: a forehead strangely free of wrinkles, an unusual attraction to chairing committee meetings, and a corresponding dislike of polar bears and the poor. Their mating call often involves some combination of these phrases: “free markets,” “energy independence,” “secure borders,” and “stand your ground.” Translation: I will eat your young. If confronted, do not look them in the eyes. Call Pest Control.

John T. Price is the author of the several books including Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships and All is Leaf, and the editor of the nature anthology The Tallgrass Prairie Reader. His nonfiction writing about nature, family, and spirit has appeared in many journals, magazines, newspapers, and anthologies including OrionThe Christian Science Monitor, Creative NonfictionThe Iowa Review, and Best Spiritual Writing 2000. He is a Professor of English at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where he directs the nonfiction writing program. He lives with his wife, Stephanie, and three sons in the Loess Hills of western Iowa.


  1. Various studies show that cats kill anywhere between 100 million and 4 billion birds a year in the U.S. alone. I’m surprised that cats did not make the top 7.

  2. Kudos to John for including Triops, which is even more voracious than most suspect. In Valentine, Nebraska these little beasts ravaged a fishery pond of baby trout, it isn’t often we find the invertebrates on top of the food chain. Even more insidious are the other things that hatch when that little bag of “Triassic Triops” is hydrated. My microscope revealed one batch crawling with Naegleria fowleri, the brain-eating amoeba. Get just one of these little beasties far enough up your nose and you have just one week to settle your earthly affairs. What a swell activity for kids!

  3. How about a list of wild things that should NEVER become pets, but be left alone, including pythons and several other kith on your list.

  4. Of course none of the feral creatures comes even close to the planetary destructive capability of “civilized” humans – the only species which has brought the Earth to near total geo-biological collapse.

  5. I’m also surprized that feral/outdoor cats are also not on the list, as this year, my bird friends are extremely few in numbers, and I have only one visiting squirrel. If my neighbour goes away for a few days (which is a rare event , do I get the pleasure of having some bird friends visit.

    My mistake, I feed a feral cat daily, for a few years, but that was not good enough, as he still prefers a fresh kill.

    Lesson learned, if you have cats, keep them indoors. Thank you.

  6. According a study published Jan 29, 2013 in the journal Nature Communications, led by Scott Loss of the Migratory Bird Center of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute at the National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C, cats kill between 1.4 billion and 3.7 billion birds and between 6.9 billion and 20.7 billion small mammals, such as meadow voles and chipmunks, every year (2/3 of the kills are by feral and stray cats). The entire population of North American land birds is estimated to be just 10 to 20 billion.

  7. If more areas are willing to practice TNR of feral cats we can start to decrease the (over)population, therefore, lessening the negative effect on birds and small creatures alike.

  8. Funny and true — every word of it. John T. Price is a national treasure. I’m happy he has been allowed to run wild in magazines all across North America.

  9. Ha, well done. Except I disagree about humans. The ones you describe are the *hyper-domesticated* ones, NOT the feral ones. Feral humans are misunderstood and usually harmless until threatened. They tend (1) to do badly in corporate America because they can’t stand to sit in a cubicle for 16 hours a day (2) to prefer moonlit roads to boardrooms, and (3) to not be found on Facebook despite advanced searches and pattern recognition technology. Viva feral humans!

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