The pet industry has been expanding by leaps and bounds, hitting a record $81 billion in sales in recent years with pet owners paying for everything from pet magazines to pet yoga classes. The number of pets in China has reportedly grown by 28 percent in the last five years, and similar trends have been noted in Russia, India, and Mexico.
Though the attraction is universal, people of different cultures do have different tastes in pets. Dogs and cats are the most popular pets in North America, but in Japan, ferrets are among the most popular pets, and in Mexico, it’s the parakeet that gets the most attention. Among the hundreds of millions of pet owners worldwide, there are a huge number of exotic pets. Some are dangerous. What’s surprising is that some owners managed to domesticate these normally wild creatures – sort of. Check out these unusual pets.
Jessica the Hippo
After flooding in South Africa in 2000, Tonie and Shirley Joubert found Jessica on the bank of the Blyde River. She was only a baby then, just hours old, but already weighed approximately 16 kilos. Realizing the hippo needed help, the couple brought her back to their home and nursed her to health. She remains with them today as their pet. Jessica has a fan club and even her own web site.
Rocky the Flying Squirrel
U.S. Olympic Wrestler Ellis Coleman earned the nickname “Flying Squirrel” because of his signature takedown move, in which he somersaults over an opponent’s head to take him down. After U.S. Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas got the same nickname in 2012, Coleman decided to go out and buy himself a real flying squirrel, which he named “Rocky”.
Surprisingly, keeping freshwater crocodiles as pets is not entirely uncommon in Australia. Rhett Walker, owner of the Lorella Springs Station eco-safari park in the Australian Outback, tells about being so comfortable with his pet croc that he would take a swim with it in the river.
Babou the Ocelot
Though he’s a long time gone, no list of exotic pets would be complete without Salvador Dali’s infamous ocelot. Babou accompanied Dali almost everywhere he went for a brief period in the 1960s. The ocelot wore expensive collars, lounged on fancy pillows, was seen in at least one expensive Manhattan restaurant and later with Dali aboard the luxury ocean liner, the SS France.
Bandit the Raccoon
Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler shared on The Late Show that he grew up with a pet raccoon named Bandit that his family kept in the backyard in Massachusetts. Tyler says he would put it on his shoulder and go fishing with it every day. There are actually more than three dozen celebrities who also keep raccoons as pets.
Bucky the Wallaroo
The rapper known as Vanilla Ice has talked publicly about several bizarre pets he’s owned. The most famous is undoubtedly the wallaroo, Bucky Buckaroo. In 2004, Bucky and another Vanilla Ice pet -a goat named Pancho – got lost and wandered around St. Lucie County, Fla. for two weeks until they were picked up and eventually reclaimed by their owner.
Lala the Penguin
Perhaps the most independent pet on this list is a king penguin named Lala. Trapped in fishing net and found by Japanese construction worker Yukio Nishimoto, Lala refused to leave even after he was nursed back to health. Nishimoto allowed him to stay, even building a refrigerated room in his house for the penguin. Lala is very well-mannered and has been seen wearing a tie and backpack while walking to the fish market for a mackerel.
The Carr-Hartley family of Nairobi shares its home with eight Rothschild giraffes. The pets even stick their heads into the breakfast room in the morning for treats. The family’s home is also a hotel, affectionately known as “Giraffe Manor.”
Former boxing heavyweight champion Mike Tyson is notorious for the Bengal tigers he owned several years ago, but what many people don’t know about is his passion for pigeons. Tyson says he’s been raising pigeons since childhood and at one point owned 350 of the birds. One of his ex-girlfriends actually cooked and ate one. Needless to say, they’re not dating anymore.
Brutus the Bear
Though he’s well aware of the dangers of getting too close to a grizzly, naturalist Casey Anderson has become quite attached to the 800-pound pet he keeps at his Montana wildlife sanctuary. Anderson found Brutus in at an overpopulated preserve in 2002 and brought him home. Since then, Brutus has enjoyed everything from family dinners to a dip in the family pool.