04/13/2014 07:58 EDT | Updated 12/06/2017 17:18 EST

America's Exotic Pet Obsession Is Out Of Control (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Nearly two-thirds of Americans own at least one cat or dog, and that's considered an accepted cultural practice. But exotic pet ownership is seen as much more controversial, and yet it's estimated that millions of these wild animals are in private possession in the U.S., according to Born Free USA.

"Wild Obsession: The perilous attraction of owning exotic pets," the cover story for National Geographic's April issue, dives into this multi-billion dollar industry. It's a dicey subject: More exotic animals live in people's homes than in zoos, National Geographic reports, and for many folks, these pets are just as much a part of the family as their own children. Some proponents argue that exotic pet ownership supports species conservation, while others make a profit off of their exotic animals. On the other hand, this industry draws heavy criticism from conservations and wildlife advocates for a range of issues from ethics to public safety, according to Born Free USA.

Currently, there's a loose patchwork of federal, state and local laws that ban the ownership and selling of exotic pets, while other states lack any regulation at all. The American Veterinary Medical Association, the United States Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have all expressed opposition towards ownership of certain exotic animals, according to the ASPCA.

Whatever your stance may be on the subject, these images from the April issue of National Geographic magazine provide a colorful look into the life of exotic pets.

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