Unique pets are TikTok stars, however consultants say that is an issue: NPR

Lance Corporal, a four-year-old fox who lives in Florida, has nearly 2 million followers on TikTok. Troy Hoffman hide caption

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Troy Hoffmann

Lance Corporal, a four-year-old fox who lives in Florida, has nearly 2 million followers on TikTok.

Troy Hoffmann

Lance Corporal made his TikTok debut in 2018, seemingly shaking to high-tempo music and then jumping quickly to playfully nibble and rub his face on its owner’s hand. Later a post from the now four-year-old White Fox – who dug a hole in his favorite couch to hide – went viral and received 6.5 million views.

Today the fox is a TikTok star with almost 2 million followers. Its owner Troy Hoffman, a disabled veteran with nine pets, posts videos of Lance playing with his best pit bull friend, napping in random corners around the house, or barking that he’s hungry, lonely, or scared.

“He’s got this really good smile and a positive attitude,” said Hoffman. “So we just use that to try and make only positive content.”

TikTokker banish boredom with cute cats, dogs and rabbits. But viewers are increasingly captivated by videos of exotic pets such as servals, raccoons, kinkajous, and foxes, which have garnered millions of views.

Experts say these enticing videos trick TikTokker into buying exotic pets without considering the responsibility that comes with owning those animals.

“For a minute on TikTok, we can only show the good, not the bad,” said Nancy Coyne, a wildlife rehabilitation specialist. “Nobody on TikTok will show if the animal turns and bites someone. So you only get the sweet and cozy, you don’t get the other side of it. And the other side is usually as they mature. “As these animals get bigger, they become more difficult to handle.

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Hoffman, on the other hand, said he did extensive research and planning before deciding to buy Lance from an exotic pet store in Pensacola, Florida. And he’s still learning about his behavior. When TikTok asked him to join the app, Hoffman found a community of fox TikTokers like @Juniperfoxx, @napkinsthefox, and @kikithefox_ who shared tips on how to care for their foxes, such as using corn cob shavings in their litter boxes to keep the animals from going there you will not be poisoned if you ingest the food hidden in it, a common behavior in fox pets.

A TikTokker shows viewers the reality of exotic pet ownership

Asha, an African serval, has nearly a million followers on TikTok. Felicia Wilson hide caption

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Felicia Wilson

Asha, an African serval, has nearly a million followers on TikTok.

Felicia Wilson

There is a huge following for big cat accounts on TikTok, like Luna the black leopard and Messi the cougar, where owners cuddle and play with them like house cats. A serval named Stryker has eight million followers. A video of the TikTok star moaning deeply while holding a whole chicken in his mouth has been viewed over 46 million times.

TikTokker Felicia Wilson pokes fun at the way visitors are immediately put off when they see their two African servals Juno and Asha go viral on TikToks. The servals were saved from negligent owners.

Wilson, a pet carrier, said she happened to post her first TikTok and thought it was a video editing app, but then realized it had become public.

“I said this is a great opportunity for me to share my transports with people because it’s fun and interesting and difficult,” she said. “And then try to educate people a little bit about servals.”

Wilson would like to inform her nearly one million followers about the “ugly truth” of owning an exotic animal like a serval, getting them used to a new home, feeding them their prey, cleaning them up, figuring out their temperament and taking them away specialized veterinarian to treat health problems.

Wilson is careful not to tell her followers where to buy servals because she doesn’t want to encourage her audience to have them as pets. Families should only get a serval if they have an adequate environment, education, she says, and can cope with a lifelong commitment.

Another TikTokker tells her followers that exotic animals are not pets

Animal TikTok is full of lovable and playful kinkajous, popularly called honey bears, who take a nap with outstretched paws, sit on their owners’ backs while driving, wear festive costumes or eat bagged chips. Kinkajous are rainforest mammals closely related to raccoons.

“You see this really amazing view when you really act like wild animals for who they are,” said Alexandra Ashe, exotic animal expert who founded a sanctuary for kinkajous.

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Ashe says some TikTokkers put their kinkajous in dangerous situations where they can bite people or other pets to get more views.

Users searching for exotic pets on TikTok will see a message that partially states, “TikTok is committed to ensuring that our platform is free of content depicting or promoting the illegal wildlife trade and exploitation of animals.”

Alexandra Ashe tells her one million TikTok followers what it is like to take care of kinkajous in her sanctuary. Alexandra Ashe hide caption

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Alexandra Ashe

The “Mother of Kinkajous” advises at the top of her TikTok page that Kinkajous should not be pets as most owners are unable to look after them. Because of this, only 10-15% of kinkajous stay in the homes they start in, Ashe said. Relocating exotic animals like kinkajous can often be a death sentence.

Her account, which has a million followers, aims to educate people about Kinkajous behavior and how such situations can be prevented.

Providing information about exotic species motivates some TikTokkers

Some TikTok accounts glorify owning exotic animals, experts say. Most don’t film the bites, cleanups, furniture damage, and extra expenses.

Coyne, who rehabilitated a TikTok famous beaver named Beave in her home for two years, often gets calls from people impulsively buying a wild rabbit, raccoon, or fox because they saw one but didn’t know about one on TikTok or other social media what it takes to make this animal a pet. This can result in either the owner or the animal being injured, or the animal being given up.

Meet Beave, the most famous beaver on the internet

“When they’re little, they’re cute and cozy, and it starts off great,” Coyne said. “Then they get aggressive and very destructive and they start biting their children and that’s not the animal they started with.”

A community of TikTok raccoon owners they call “Trash Pandas” post videos of their pets running into their arms, walking in a stroller, or eating cheerios. Wilson was part of that community when she rehabilitated a raccoon named Chloe in her home, but later decided it would be best to let her go.

Beave the Beaver, who lived with wildlife rehabilitation specialist Nancy Coyne for two years, has over a million TikTok followers. Nancy Coyne hide caption

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Nancy Coyne

Beave the Beaver, who lived with wildlife rehabilitation specialist Nancy Coyne for two years, has over a million TikTok followers.

Nancy Coyne

A wild animal cannot thrive in captivity and should not be surrounded by people, Coyne said.

While some states like New York have extremely strict wildlife laws, other states like Arkansas allow up to six wild animals in a household without a permit. But viewers don’t know if a TikTok exotic pet is illegally or legally owned, or what state they’re in, unless specifically stated by the owner.

Such pets often don’t get the care they need in a timely manner because it is rare to find a veterinarian who specializes in exotic animals, Coyne said, especially in states with stricter property laws.

“Everyone loves foxes and they think they are the most adorable, but the difficulties of having the fox are unknown,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman wants to show the TikTok viewers how to take care of a “furry child” like the fox Lance. He tells them he has to put a baby door up, he can’t go on vacation because no one can babysit, that he pays $ 90 a week for his food, that he doesn’t chew on things and that he falls asleep at 9:30 pm

“It’s just a way of showing people that there’s a fair bit of us out here that is there for the animals,” Hoffman said. “And many of us didn’t do it to get famous, but to show how to properly care for an animal.”

Dalia Faheid is an intern at the NPR News Desk.

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