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Selling Potentially Dangerous Animals Like Pacu: Is That PetSmart?

Several Pacu in an aquarium. (Flickr.com/hb9252)

On a trip to PetSmart yesterday to get a new goldfish for my son Jack, I was dismayed to find a tank filled with Pacu. I know most of you just went “huh?” Most pet stores bill Pacu as “vegetarian Piranha,” but the truth is this little fish can be even deadlier than its Piranha cousin.

Pacu are mainly found in South America, and it was believed that this species were herbivores. That belief was incorrect. Even though Pacu don’t have a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth like Piranha, they do have teeth (that resemble human teeth) and they are omnivorous.

Angler and TV Host Jeremy Wade recently caught Pacu on an episode of ‘River Monsters’ on Discovery. Pacu have human-like teeth. (Discovery Channel)

It is illegal to release Pacu into the wild because they are so aggressive they can damage a local ecosystem and take over pretty rapidly. In some places, like Texas, there are bounties on the fish and the toothy fish has even been caught in Lake Lowell, the Snake River, Settler’s Pond, and Sawyer’s Pond right here in Idaho.

Idaho Fish and Game says putting fish into Idaho ponds without a permit is illegal, and depending on the situation–could have some very bad consequences.  The wrong kind of fish being placed into the wrong body of water cause concerns about diseases and problems when it comes to competition with other fish.

I’ve read accounts of Pacu biting toddler’s fingers, attacking swimmers in rivers, and even leaping from the tank to bite their owner’s nose. Two fisherman were attacked and bled to death on Papua New Guinea’s Sepik River due to grisly injuries to their genitals. They may not have a Piranha’s sharp teeth, but make no mistake these are aggressive fish that can adapt and overrun an ecosystem.

Recently Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel aired an episode of Jeremy Wade’s popular show ‘River Monsters’ that featured the Pacu. He found that the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea had become overrun with the fish after they were introduced there because of over fishing. Now the Pacu are choking the ecosystem and local species are being pushed to extinction. The Pacu are even becoming so aggressive that they’re taking bites out of local fishermen.

And that leads me to my question: why is PetSmart selling what’s basically a Piranha as a pet?

Obviously it isn’t illegal to sell Pacu because you can pull them up on the PetSmart website, but these are a known dangerous and invasive species that do not strike me as a good idea. Do you really want a pet that can take a bite out of you?

Don’t we, as a race, have more sense than that?

Update (September 9, 2013) – It appears that PetSmart no longer sells Pacu! It’s a triumph of reason and common sense.

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