Do wild animals make good pets? I get a lot of questions from people who have captured local snakes, lizards, frogs and the like. Most of these questions are about proper care and maintenance of the animals.
Local laws prohibit the commercial capture and sale of local fauna, so none of the animals would be legally available for purchase in Manitoba. But individuals are allowed to capture some species and keep them for their own personal use.
Probably the most common wild pets are garter snakes and frogs. Kids out at the cottage or camping happen across an animal and become enamoured with the idea of keeping it as a pet. Accepting the responsibility for the care and feeding of any animal is a great learning experience for kids of all ages, but caring for animals from our climate is a special challenge.
Most of the pets we sell come from regions that are either tropical, or at least do not have a winter that includes hibernation as part of their life cycle. Providing a habitat for these animals is quite easy, as the temperature range they require is around our room temperature, or slightly higher. With the use of safe, easy to use heating devices, and controlling the humidity, we can satisfy their needs quite easily.
Not just habitat, but foods can be an issue as well. Captive bred and raised animals are generally ones that thrive on easily available diets. Some eat prepared foods, others eat fresh fruits and greens, many rely on feeder insects like crickets or mealworms, and the rest have a diet of rodents, live or frozen/thawed. These are all easily obtained through your local pet store, or along with the rest of your groceries (I've had more than one person remark that having a bearded dragon has meant that they keep a much better selection of fresh foods in the house, and it improves their diet! Who knew owning a reptile would make you healthier).
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for most native fauna. Both habitat and diet can be hard to replicate. Our extremes of weather mean that most animals would have a hibernation mode to their annual cycle. As the weather starts to get colder, they feast, getting ready for winter, and then find a spot that they will hibernate in, and then emerge in spring to feast again. Some adjust to a steady year round temperature, but many have their internal clock disturbed, and get confused as to whether they should be eating or not, as well as other metabolism disruptions. Once winter has started, though, we can no longer release these animals back into the wild, as they are not able to cope.
Because their diet is from the wild, it can be hard to duplicate as well. The specific insects or worms that they generally feed on may not be available reliably all year, and they may not be easily converted to a diet that is. Too many times, we find that the animals slowly starve to to point that they cannot fend for themselves, even if released back to the wild.
If keeping a "found pet" is something you want to do, there are way to make it work, for you and the animal. Limiting captivity to a short period, a weekend, a few weeks, or at most a month can reduce the stress of locating appropriate diets. Keeping them just during their normally active period, and releasing them in time for them to properly prepare for winter is also a key. Give them at least a few weeks, if not a month before it starts getting cold, so they can put on hibernation weight and find a winter home.
Wild animals are not really meant to be pets, but if done properly, with their health in mind, keeping them for a short time can be a very educational experience.