Exotic pets: Kangaroo and lemur

Photo: © Vincent J. Musi/National Geographic

National Geographic April 2014 coverIn their April 2014 issue, National Geographic magazine explores the fascinating lives of exotic pets, their humans and the laws (or lack there of) that regulate them.

There are many reasons why people are drawn to exotic pets. They can serve as surrogate children and status symbols, or they might be acquired through an impulsive purchase or adopted as a rescue. For Leslie-Ann Rush (above), her menagerie of kangaroos, lemurs, deer, pigs and other animals serve as her family.

"My life is completely about the animals," says Rush, a Florida horse trainer. "I rarely leave them overnight or take a vacation." She raised her kangaroos and lemurs from infancy.

The controversial lifestyle choice brings up many questions and debates regarding the laws on private ownership of exotic animals, which vary by state. For a glimpse into the fascinating lives of these creatures and their owners, check out the photos below. Be sure to read the whole story on the National Geographic website or find a copy of the latest issue at a newstand near you.

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Exotic pets: Dillie the deer

Photo: © Vincent J. Musi/National Geographic

Ohio veterinarian Melanie Butera took in Dillie after the blind farm deer’s mother rejected her. Dillie used to sleep with Butera but now has her own room. "She’s treated like a princess," says Butera.

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Exotic pets: Cougar

Photo: © Vincent J. Musi/National Geographic

Sasha, a cougar, is "the love of my life," says Mario Infanti, who underwent more than a thousand hours of training before he acquired his first wild cats. The Florida musician had Sasha declawed when she was a month old, but "she can still bite."

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Exotic pets: Snake

Photo: © Vincent J. Musi/National Geographic

A Burmese python entwines Albert Killian in the Florida home he shares with 60 snakes. Tags noting the proper antivenom — and the nearest hospital that carries it — are posted next to venomous pets.

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Exotic pets: Bear

Photo: © Vincent J. Musi/National Geographic

John Matus bought Boo Boo impulsively as a cub. Last summer the Ohio man gave her to a wildlife sanctuary. "She needs to be with her own kind," he says. "It’s a lonely life."

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Catie Leary is a photo editor at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.