Along with setting Alaska’s hunting regulations, the state Board of Game also makes decisions about what animals Alaskans are allowed to keep as pets or livestock. Ferrets, alpacas and one-humped camels are all OK and on what’s called the “clean” list.
At this year’s meeting, currently underway in Anchorage, the game board is considering a proposal to allow a new species: the lesser hedgehog tenrec. Despite the name, the tenrec is not a type of hedgehog, and while they look alike, tenrecs and hedgehogs are not related.
They’re also not legal, but there are at least a couple tenrecs in Alaska. One of them, named Lemon, sprawled out in the palm of this reporter’s hand recently at a house in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.
Lemon perked up when she saw a small bowl of worms and happily munched on some. Like other tenrecs, Lemon is covered in hard, dull spines, and she has a pointy face like a rodent’s.
Her owner — we’ll call her “Stacey” — agreed to an interview if we promised not to identify her.
“She’s sweet and cuddly,” Stacey said. “I can carry her around. She’ll sit in my shirt or she has a little pouch that I can carry her in.”
Stacey had a hedgehog once, and it did not go well, she said. Other unhappy hedgehog owners on Facebook told her about tenrecs, which are mellower and cleaner. Some people, including the former Alaska resident who proposed allowing tenrecs, describe them as hypoallergenic.
When Stacey got Lemon from a breeder in the Lower 48, she wasn’t aware that tenrecs are illegal in Alaska. Among other steps in the process, Lemon had to get checked by a veterinarian. Stacey figured somebody along the way would’ve warned her.
It turns out, Alaska doesn’t have a list of banned pets, just one with those that’ve been allowed. It’s also unclear how many states have legalized tenrecs like Lemon.
“I have grown quite fond of her, so I of course don’t want anything to happen where I would get in trouble for having her or lose her,” Stacey said. “That’s definitely a huge concern. She’s grown to be part of our family!”
Stacey has reason to be concerned: If the Alaska Wildlife Troopers become aware of a prohibited pet, they would have to investigate.
Maj. Bernard Chastain, deputy director of the Wildlife Troopers, said there are only so many options, and they all involve getting rid of the pet.
“Options may include the owner of the animal actually euthanizing the animal, potentially the owner shipping that animal out of state to a location where someone could possess it legally,” Chastain said. “If the person refuses to comply and it warrants law enforcement getting involved, we would potentially seize the animal and charge the person for possession.”
Tenrecs might have an uphill battle in Alaska: The Department of Fish and Game opposes making them legal.
U.S. breeders raise them in captivity, but Fish and Game said in its recommendations to the game board that allowing tenrecs as pets could encourage the pet trade in a species that presents a conservation concern in its native habitat.
If the board agrees, that would leave Stacey and Lemon in the same predicament.
“That is a huge concern, because I’ve never had an illegal pet, or, you know, I might speed sometimes, but otherwise I generally don’t do anything wrong!” Stacey said. “So it is a little stressful, it’s stressful having her.”