January/February 2013

“Zebra #2” from the Affinity series Photograph by Brad Wilson

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 forthcoming memoir Daddy Long Legs: The Natural Education of a Father. A recipient of an NEA fellowship, his work has appeared in The Iowa Review, Hawk & Handsaw, Best Spiritual Writing, and elsewhere. He teaches at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.