What are the pros and cons of having exotic animals as pets?

The positive is that exotic pets are a real conversation piece. And other people are generally interested in something out of the ordinary. The more you learn about your pet, the more you can inform others. A side benefit is that you can counsel someone who may be thinking of acquiring one of these animals, if you see that they are really not suited for the responsibility. Another plus, in the case of parrots anyway, is that they are very good company. And very amusing. They enjoy a good conversation, and will often take part, or start one of their own. Of course, you cannot force one to contribute at your command, but when comfortable in their surroundings they will often carry on to the delight of all.

The downside is multifaceted. First, some of the exotic animals have very long lives, and therefore acquiring one is a very long commitment. Lifestyles change, often eliminating the accommodations that the exotic pet needs for optimal care. Finding a suitable home for an exotic that you can no longer care for is difficult. Every pet requires periodic veterinary care, and finding an exotic animal vet is not as easy as finding a regular dog/cat vet. The regular vets don't necessarily have the training or education to deal with the specific problems of the exotic pet. Providing the appropriate feed for an exotic may be more time consuming (going to a special store) or more expensive.

Finding pet-sitting service is much more difficult than asking a neighbor to feed your cat while you go somewhere for a weekend. The exotic animal has specific needs that must be met on a regular/daily basis, and there are few who understand the needs well enough to be trusted with their care. The average house guest does not have the common sense to know how to behave around an unusual animal. Often well-meaning guests will reach their hand out toward a bird who could break their finger. Another risk is that people for some reason feel free to offer food to pets. What they don't know is that several common human food items are considered toxic to the exotic birds. So there is the constant vigilance of protecting the pet from the innocent gestures of strangers.

Answer To add to the astute observations of the previous commentator:

To me, the downside of exotic pets is so overwhelming that I can't justify having one. Consider the fact that the state of Florida now has breeding populations, in the wild, of constrictor-type snakes like boas and pythons. These reptiles grow big enough to kill and eat dogs, raccoons, cats, and even children. Consider the small but significant number of people who knowingly purchase snakes that are venomous to a high degree for pets, and are killed by them. Consider the fool who made the news not so long ago because the tiger he kept IN HIS APARTMENT killed him. And the list goes on. Unlike the parrot owner above, enough people who acquire exotic and sometimes dangerous pets are not responsible enough to own a dog, and end up dead. There was a woman bitten by her baby Gabon Viper. She left a note asking the authorities not to hurt the pretty little baby snake that had killed her. Or the man who, bitten by his pet cobra, went to the bar below his apartment to have a beer while awaiting the ambulance. He died in the bar. Nutria are another example. They've changed the face of nature in some southern states by breeding in huge numbers, overpowering some domestic species, and altering the ecology permanently. In Florida, again, there are flocks of wild parrots, formed from the descendants of pets that someone thoughtlessly released, or allowed to escape. They are a nuisance in some parts of the state. Or, check out the people who pay $25 for a beautiful Blue Ringer octopus from Australia. These gorgeous creatures, though no more than 3 inches long, can bite through a rubber wet suit. Once bitten, unless CPR is administered for 12 hours or so the victim dies, fully conscious but paralyzed and unable to move.

It is not good to have a pet that is a threat to me, my family or friends, and none of them had the potential to disrupt the ecology of the area. To me, it seems logical to enact and enforce a moratorium on the private ownership of exotics that pose a threat to people or the environment. The fun of having an unusual pet does not, to me, outweigh the personal danger and possible environmental disasters that can occur when such a pet is kept by a fool. Let the zoos and other accredited organizations do as they like. They are liable, and have the education and resources to deal with them. Otherwise, it seems to me that the possible negative effects are much too great to make the ownership of such a critter worth the risk.

One more downside is that a high fraction of exotic pets come from illegal operations where they are captured from the wild and shipped to places where they are purchased knowingly or unknowingly by people wealthy enough to afford them. These illegal poaching and importing operations can have a devastating effect on the natural habitat of the exotic animals. Also, there is a high incidence of animal cruelty in the initial capture and in the shipping of these animals. An illegal shipment of exotic birds often has only a small fraction survive. Even purchasing them from apparently legitimate sources helps support the demand for the exotic animals and helps motivate the illegal trade in exotic pets.