Domestic, Invasive, and Non-native Species

provided by Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife

According to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Departmental rules relating to non-native species, to keep our licenses and permits to operate as a wildlife hospital we legally cannot release non-native or invasive species back into Florida ecosystems.

Native species play crucial roles in maintaining ecosystem health and invasive species are classified as species who threaten native plant and animal species’ populations. Invasive species are not naturally occurring in southwest Florida and cause damage to the natural ecology, as well as out-competing native species for important resources such as food and habitat.

Billy the dilly

The distinction between non-native and invasive species is important because non-native species don’t always necessarily cause ecological destruction, they simply haven’t been documented as established populations in the area. A great example of naturalized species once considered a non-native species is the Nine-banded Armadillo. Billy, CROW’s Nine-banded Armadillo animal ambassador was admitted in 2017.

In 2017, Nine-banded Armadillos were considered a non-native species so Billy became a permanent resident at CROW as he could not be released back to the wild. Since that time, armadillos have been classified as a naturalized native species in Florida meaning they naturally expanded their range and migrated to Florida on their own.

Invasive species are animals not native to Florida who did not make their way here on their own accord and were introduced by humans. Established populations of invasive species occur when pet owners release their pet into the wild or the pet escapes.

Releasing domesticated animals into the wild is not only dangerous, but also cruel. Many domestic pets, especially those susceptible to habituation do not have the proper hunting or foraging skills after relying on humans to provide food for them. This can mean domestic pets no longer cared for can become emaciated, dehydrated, debilitated, or even killed.

Other species who may be able to maintain their hunting skills, such as reptiles, can still be prone to starvation or dehydration; however, there is also potential for domestic or exotic animals to become an invasive population. This happened in the late 1980’s with the accidental introduction of the Burmese Python to the Everglades in south Florida.

The Burmese Python originally hails from Myanmar (Burma) with a range extending through eastern India, Vietnam, and southern China. This python, which can grow to about 20-30 feet in length, was brought to the United States through the exotic pet trade.

These snakes then either escaped or were released into the wild and established a population in the Everglades. These animals are now negatively impacting the environment in southern Florida because they are generalist predators, with the ability to eat many different types of prey which they need to do to maintain their massive size, as well as inhabiting many different habitats, driving native species out.

Bobcat versus python

Burmese Pythons do not naturally exist in this part of the world and as a result these pythons lack natural predators in the wild. These reasons have caused them to thrive in the Everglades, which has resulted in a significant impact on native wildlife species and, therefore, the ecosystem as a whole. Recent trailcam discoveries have revealed there may be a natural predator to the Burmese Pythons as bobcats have been observed predating their nests to eat their eggs.

On May 17th, an adult female domestic white rabbit was admitted to CROW after it was seen hopping around a neighborhood on Sanibel. Upon examination, the Rabbit had severe ear infections in both of her ears and a head tilt. She also had an abscess on the left side of her neck where an individual attempted to suture a laceration closed with red embroidery thread.

The wound was infected, and there were signs of gastrointestinal disease. Based on the botched suture job, CROW staff believe the patient was abandoned after attempting the at-home wound care; which is not only illegal but cruel and inhumane given the rabbit was not operated on in a sterile environment by a wildlife professional nor administered pain medications or antibiotics. Given the severity of the wound and the ear infections, as well as signs of bacterial infection, external parasites, and gastrointestinal disease, veterinarians made the difficult decision to euthanize the rabbit.

Releasing domestic pets to the wild is dangerous, not only for the animal itself, but for the environment as well. An individual should make sure to do copious amounts of research before deciding to adopt a pet, and they should be prepared to commit for the entirety of the animal’s life.

If an individual can no longer take care of their domestic animal, there are many resources online, such as forums to offer your pet for adoption, or sanctuaries who take in surrendered pets. Never attempt to release a domestic or exotic pet into the wild. Always contact your local rehabilitation center for further information on what to do with an unwanted pet.

THIS WEEK AT CROW (5/8-5/12):
There were 50 new patients admitted this week, including two Black-necked Stilts, two Blue Jays, four Common Grackles, five Fish Crows, three Gopher Tortoises, a Green Sea Turtle, a Nine-banded Armadillo, a White-tailed Deer, two Virginia Opossums, an Osprey, a Purple Martin, a Northern Gannet, and a White Ibis. Recent releases include two Killdeer, an Eastern Cottontail, and a Brown Thrasher. Check out a full list of CROW’s current patients and recent releases.

Wildlife doesn’t have health insurance! Your donations help cover the costs of medical and rehabilitative care for over 5,000 patients admitted to CROW’s Wildlife Hospital each year.

Want to learn more about wildlife rehabilitation? Stop by CROW’s Visitor Education Center at 3883 Sanibel Captiva Road.

About Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW)
Established in 1968, the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) is a teaching hospital saving the sick, injured and orphaned native and migratory wildlife of Southwest Florida and beyond.  Through state-of-the-art veterinary care, public education programs and an engaging visitor center, CROW works to improve the health of the environment, humans and our animals through wildlife medicine. For more information, or to plan your visit, go to If you find an animal that is in need of help, call (239) 472-3644 ext. #222.

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