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Don’t let it loose: Releasing a pet into the wild is the wrong thing to do

Posted May 20, 2020

Red-eared sliders compete with native turtle species for food and habitat.

PHOENIX — Some people mistakenly believe that when their exotic pets get too difficult to manage, it is okay to release them into the wild. But that is exactly the wrong thing to do. See this video.

Introduced pets — even goldfish — can have devastating effects on native wildlife and ecosystems. In our aquatic ecosystems, they can outcompete sportfish and natives for food and space, prey on native species, and have unforeseeable effects on the food web. Even aquarium pets, once established, can easily take over an aquatic system and negatively impact our native and sportfish populations.

While most non-native tropical fish are bright in color, some goldfish will lose their bright colors and grow upwards of 5 pounds, resembling a large crappie or perch. There are many other exotic fish, turtles and pets that have found their way into Arizona’s waters, and the Arizona Game and Fish Department has been educating the public on ways people can help prevent their spread. The Department’s Aquatic Invasive Species Program has partnered with the Don’t Let It Loose campaign, focusing on the harmful effects of releasing pets and helping owners find responsible ways to care for their unwanted pets.

What are things you can do? If you’re fishing and catch an unidentifiable fish or one that you can identify as nonnative, do not release it back into the water. Instead you can:

If you would like to report a nonnative species, please contact the Aquatic Invasive Species Program at (623) 236-7608 or You can also report them through our project in iNaturalist via the web, or download the app.

What can people do if they have a pet they can no longer care for and they can’t find another owner willing to care for it? You can contact an animal shelter or agency near you. The knowledgeable personnel in these places can help you find the right place for your pet.