Introducing Kids to Wildlife with Pets

For many children, pets are the first introduction to the world of animals. Pets teach kids that about the diversity of species that share the Earth and help them develop a sense of empathy for other creatures. Dogs, cats, hamsters and goldfish are all popular family pets, but there are a lot of other pet options. Before you choose a pet, however, there’s a lot you need to know before taking on the commitment of adding a pet to the family.

The National Wildlife Federation’s Naturalist David Mizejewski joined a friend from Sesame Street on NBC’s Today Show with some exotic pet options for your family to consider. Here’s what you should know before you get these animals as pets to make sure that both you and the animal will be set up for success.

Lop and Lionhead Rabbits
Domesticated rabbits come in many breeds. Lops and Lionheads are just two. Rabbits can be a cuddly pet option and are generally similar in size to house cats. But they are not for first time pet owners. These rabbits need plenty of exercise, so make sure you can give them time to play outside their cage. They also love to chew on anything and everything, so be sure to “rabbit-proof” your room or they might chew through your cords and cables. They are affectionate animals and will play with toys and even cuddle. They can also be trained to use litter boxes, although this training may take time. Rabbits have also been known to live for over 10 years, so if you’re considering getting one as a pet, make sure you’re in it for the long haul!

Bearded Dragon
Native to Australia, the Bearded dragon is a spiny member of the lizard family. In their native country, they live in areas such as deserts and dry woodlands. They are omnivorous pets and will eat fruits and vegetables, but should also be fed insects from a pet store like crickets. As a reptile, they require temperatures in their terrarium around 80 degrees so pet owners should be prepared to get them set up with a heat lamp, as well as available shade. As an exotic pet, they are on the easier side to handle and care for, once you have the appropriate set up for their home environment. bearded dragons live longer in captivity than in the wild and have an average lifespan of between 7-10 years as pets.

Chinchillas are small, fluffy rodents that are similar in size to rabbits and are native to Chile. However, chinchillas are listed as critically endangered due to overhunting for their soft, velvety fur. Pet chinchillas are bred in captivity for sale as pets, but anyone considering owning a chinchilla as a pet needs to make absolutely sure that the animal they are getting is from a responsible breeder and hasn’t been illegally trafficked across borders. Chinchillas are originally from the Andes Mountains, where the climate is arid and similar to a desert. They don’t like to get wet, so instead they keep their fur clean and parasite-free by taking dust baths and rolling around in the dust and dirt. Chinchillas can live up to 12-20 years, which is an extremely long lifespan for a rodent. Potential pet owners should make sure they will have the right environment set up for a chinchilla with a dust bath and everything before considering one for their home.

Blue and Gold Macaw
Blue and Gold Macaws are members of the parrot family and have brilliantly-colored feathers all over their bodies. Native to South America, some describe these macaws as more like having a small child than a pet. Blue and Gold Macaws are amazingly intelligent animals but if they are not properly stimulated, both physically and mentally, they may act out and throw tantrums. Because of this, they are not good pets for first-time pet owners. They require a lot of space for activities and are known to “scream” loudly in the morning and evening, so they aren’t a great option for apartments.
Pairs of macaws mate for life so many macaws develop close bonds with their owners. However, these parrots can live for 50-80 years, so be sure you’re ready for a long-term relationship!

Beyond Pets
Your family might not be ready to take on the responsibility of a pet, and that’s ok. A great way to introduce kids to animals is through the National Wildlife Federation’s Ranger Rick. The award-winning Ranger Rick magazine is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2017 and there’s now a line of Ranger Rick books, apps, and apparel to help your kids develop a love of animals.
Discover Ranger Rick