In recent weeks, the TSPCA investigation department has received many cases related to the mistreatment of groundhogs in many different regions of Taiwan. Most of these cases have been related to pet stores that were unwilling to provide proper medical treatment for these adorable creatures. TSPCA has noticed a surge in the number of people in Taiwan keeping groundhogs, therefore it’s crucial to understand the potential hazards of keeping these wild animals as pets.
TSPCA is strongly opposed to the keeping of groundhogs, or any wild animal, as pets. Please take a look at the 6 important points below which explain why wild animals don’t make good pets.
1. Groundhogs are naturally social animals that need the interaction of other groundhogs.
Groundhogs are diurnal and social animals. This means that if they do not interact with other groundhogs, many problems could arise, including stereotyped behavior (OCD), self-mutilation, or even aggression. To resolve these problems, proper care must be provided and the assistance and advice of animal behaviorists and veterinarians should be sought out. This process can often take a long time, and could entail mental anguish for many groundhogs.
2. Groundhogs Need Space to Dig, Live, and Roam.
In a natural habitat, groundhogs like to live in the holes that they have dug. The hole is usually more than 1 meter wide, and ranges from 10 to 70 meters in length. And according to research, the groundhog needs a range of space from 0.25 to 2.86 hectares to safely interact with other groundhogs. To satisfy a groundhog's natural instincts and to ensure a healthy existence, it’s strongly advised that pet owners and pet shops provide groundhogs with the above-mentioned space and freedom.
3. Education and Medical Treatment are Not Universal In Taiwan.
Taiwan's veterinary treatment and instruction is neither perfect nor universal when it comes to the groundhog. Most veterinarians provide health services for dogs, cats, and other more commonly kept animals. Due to a lack of groundhog specialists in Taiwan, sick groundhogs can be easily misdiagnosed and mistreated. Therefore, if your groundhog is sick, be sure to check that the veterinarian is capable of providing the necessary medical treatment for the species.
4. Currently there are no laws which mandate the selling and buying of groundhogs.
Groundhogs are not native to Taiwan, which means most are trafficked in from North America, and are related to the black-tailed prairie dog. As of yet, the Taiwan government has not enacted any laws addressing the trafficking, breeding, selling, or purchasing of groundhogs. With a general lack of knowledge by government officials in regards to the groundhogs' breeding environment, behavior, living conditions, numbers, and changes in the groundhog population, coupled with the absence of laws to protect them, there is cause for concern in regards to the welfare of groundhogs in Taiwan.
5. Groundhog zoonotic diseases and the ecological damage abandonment would cause.
Groundhogs can spread diseases and viruses, such as the plague, monkey pox, and rabies, which can easily be transmitted to humans. Therefore, TSPCA strongly urges the relevant governmental authorities to be actively involved in the control and management of groundhogs, so that when the groundhog pet craze has faded, there won’t be mass abandonment of groundhogs, which will prevent the spread of diseases and viruses.
On average groundhogs live for 10 years, and during this period their owners could have a myriad of life changes such as marriage, parenthood, relocation, etc. If, for any of these reasons, an owner decides to abandon or release the groundhog back to the wild, it would most likely not survive, for it will have already lost its natural ability for gathering food; however, if the groundhog did survive, it could upset Taiwan's ecological balance, because (as previously mentioned), groundhogs are not native to Taiwan.
6. Keeping groundhogs other wild animals as pets could cause a new pandemic in Taiwan.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), the Ebola virus, and other infectious diseases have mostly originated from human intrusion into wildlife habitats, and/or long-term human contact with wild animals. A virus originally only viable in non-human animals becomes capable of infecting humans. Therefore, it should be noted that by keeping groundhogs as pets, there is the chance of a new virus emerging due to intimate coexistence between humans and these animals.
For these 6 reasons, TSPCA strongly urges the public not to breed, or buy groundhogs. If a groundhog has no commercial value, the capture, trafficking, and sale will stop. With no demand, there will be no supply. However, if you are currently keep a groundhog, please do not abandon your pet, and be sure to take good care of him by providing him with adequate space, freedom, and social interactions as suggested in point 1 above.
Last but not least, the TSPCA is committed to the promotion of The 5 Freedoms of Animal Welfare namely:
- Freedom from thirst and hunger ─ by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor
- Freedom from discomfort ─ by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area
- Freedom from pain, injury, and disease ─ by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
- Freedom to express normal behavior ─ by providing sufficient space, proper facilities, and company of the animals' own kind if applicable
- Freedom from fear and distress ─ by ensuring conditions and treatment that avoid mental, psychological, and emotional suffering