Consider a Pet Llama or Wallaby, Scientists Suggest

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Photo: Pat Gaines

The world is rarely so clear-cut as right and wrong, black and white, dog person and cat person — to the contrary, most of us spend our days navigating moral ambiguities and shades of gray. Also, some people prefer their four-legged companionship in llama form.

And in a stroke of good news for those people, a paper recently published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science recently struck a blow for owners of nontraditional pets: A team of Dutch researchers pulled together a ranking of the best exotic pets, looking beyond the usual suspects to focus on things like camels, voles, and the excellently named screaming hairy armadillo.

The project was a response to the Dutch Animals Act, a 2013 law mandating the types of animals that could be kept as pets in the Netherlands: “production animals” (a category that includes livestock, rabbits, and certain rodents), and species that didn’t require any special knowledge or skills on the part of their owners. The researchers focused on this latter category, compiling their list based on a Dutch survey of the most common exotic pets; after excluding cats, dogs, and production animals, they were left with a total of 90 species (all mammals — sorry, lizard fans — though the authors noted that future research could adapt the ranking system for birds or reptiles). Several different teams of animal-behavior experts ranked the animals on criteria like behavioral needs, whether being kept as a pet would harm their health and well-being, and whether their presence posed any danger to humans or other animals.

At the end, the Sika deer took first place, with two types of wallabies, llamas, and Asian palm civets (a little guy that looks kind of like a raccoon) rounding out the top five. The authors noted, though, that the rankings may be skewed in favor of some less-than-scientific factors. “Scientists may show differences in their assessments, as they may change with time (tiredness), or may unintentionally be related to size, color, cuddliness, or ugliness of the assessed species,” they wrote.

And cuddliness, on a related note, is just one of many reasons why PetSmart is unlikely to be flooded with civets or Sika deer anytime soon. “Dogs and cats are a special kind of pets,” lead author Paul Koene, an animal behavior researcher at the University of Wageningen, said in a statement. “Wallabies” — which clocked in at number 24 — “will certainly not replace them.” Some scientists, meanwhile, have expressed misgivings about the paper, arguing that we have enough trouble just taking care of dogs and cats. After all, not everyone has the time, the funds, and the know-how to properly care for a traditional pet — and it’s a rarer person still who has room in their apartment for a llama.