Sugar glider

The marsupial sugar glider.

THE ISSUE

State Rep. David Zimmerman, an East Earl Republican, is pushing legislation that would legalize the ownership of hedgehogs and sugar gliders, two creatures on the Keystone State’s list of forbidden pets. As LNP staff writer Sam Janesch reported Tuesday, Pennsylvania is one of just four states, along with Washington, D.C., and parts of New York City, that still outlaw hedgehogs, in good part because of the concern that they could disrupt their non-native ecosystems if let loose. Zimmerman told Janesch that constituents in his district, which covers several eastern Lancaster County communities, told him they want a change. Three bills similar to Zimmerman’s failed in Harrisburg in recent years. His bill was on the House calendar for a floor vote today before it was referred to the Appropriations Committee on Tuesday.

Seriously? This is the kind of legislation that state House members — just returned to session and facing a crowded schedule before summer recess and election season — view as a priority? A frivolous bill to legalize pet hedgehogs and sugar gliders?

Legislation addressing gun violence is crawling through the General Assembly. House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin told WITF a number of bills — including one that would tighten gun restrictions on convicted domestic abusers — finally will begin to move, likely in the “first week or two in June.”

But by all means, let’s proceed with the bill legalizing hedgehogs and sugar gliders. And let’s introduce two non-native species to Pennsylvania.

Zimmerman told LNP that he doesn’t see hedgehogs and sugar gliders as a threat to Pennsylvania’s ecosystem because they can’t survive in temperatures below 60 degrees and so wouldn’t last long in the Pennsylvania wild.

We’re not talking apparently about European hedgehogs of the kind Beatrix Potter immortalized in “The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle.”

Dr. Laurie Hess, a specialist in exotic animal medicine, writes on the website Vetstreet that African pygmy hedgehogs are the ones bred as pets.

Nevertheless, Hess points out an obvious downside of pet hedgehogs — their quills are prickly. She also explains that when a hedgehog “encounters an object with a new scent, he will lick and bite the object and then form a frothy ‘spit ball’ in his mouth containing the new scent. He will throw his head back and spit this frothy saliva over his spines with his tongue, possibly to camouflage himself with the new scent and make himself less obvious to predators.” Delightful.

They are nocturnal. And “if they are housed in cages with little opportunity to socialize and exercise, they tend to put on weight,” Hess notes. “Fat hedgehogs typically have very pudgy limbs and large amounts of subcutaneous fat. ... Obese hedgehogs may not be able to roll up like other hedgehogs.”

Moreover, they grunt, squeal, snort, snuffle, click, puff, hiss and scream. Just the kind of pet your 4-year-old will love — a spiky one that makes weird noises.

The other creatures in question — sugar gliders — are tiny, big-eyed marsupials native to the eastern coast of Australia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. It is illegal to keep sugar gliders as pets in much of Australia, for good reason: They are wild animals, not so-called “pocket pets.”

We’re not activists with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. We eat meat, wear leather and occasionally visit zoos. But it seems cruel to us to take sugar gliders out of their natural habitat and put them in small cages where these social and nocturnal creatures will grow depressed living on their own.

“In the wild,” the One Green Planet website explains, “they live in trees in large colonies and spend most of their evenings foraging for sap (hence their name) and playing with family and friends.”

They are extremely active and need space to explore (they’re also adept at escaping through even very small spaces). And they “have a lifespan of between 12 and 15 years,” One Green Planet notes. “That’s a big commitment for someone who is simply looking for a novelty.”

Even sugarglider.com, a website for sugar glider enthusiasts, seeks to dissuade people from owning the creatures as pets: They “can be smelly animals,” they “mark constantly with their urine,” and “they are noisy all night long.” And they can be biters. “In the wild they normally peel bark off of trees,” that website’s “Gliderpedia” notes. “Human skin is much softer and easier for them to bite into.”

According to sugarglider.com, many owners give up these creatures because they’re too time-consuming.

They breed like crazy. And they don't belong in this part of the world.

In a comment on LancasterOnline warning against introducing non-native species to Pennsylvania, reader Trey Jackson cited the example of Burmese pythons.

Those massive snakes were introduced to the Everglades in Florida when pet owners tired of keeping them. According to the Everglades Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area, Burmese pythons have caused “severe declines in Everglades mammal populations,” and have eaten imperiled species such as wood storks, as well as large animals such as alligators, white-tailed deer and bobcats. They also “compete with native predators for food, habitat, and space.”

Noted Jackson, of Zimmerman’s bill: “This is not a good idea. Period.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Local animal shelters are filled with adorable kittens, dogs and rabbits desperately in need of homes. If none of these fits your desire for an exotic pet, consider your motive for acquiring a pet. It should be as much about wanting to meet the needs of that pet as about fulfilling your own.

And lawmakers: Do better. There are so many more important concerns to tackle. Hedgehogs and sugar gliders shouldn’t even be on the list.