‘Born to be wild’: Research before keeping exotic pets, says RSPCA

A caiman that grew so big it was kept in a bath; a snake suffering third degree burns after curling round a light bulb for warmth; and a marmoset unable to walk because of a metabolic bone disease caused by a deficiency of vitamins in his diet and lack of exposure to sunlight.

These are just some of the problems the RSPCA has seen involving wild animals kept as exotic pets – problems which we believe are on the increase. In 2010, the charity’s 24-hour emergency cruelty line received 8,600 calls about almost 30,000 exotic animals, while in 2001 we received 5,000 calls.

In some species we have noticed a particular rise. For instance, in 2001 there were just 23 incidents involving bearded dragons dealt with by the RSPCA, but by 2011 this had rocketed by an incredible 1700% to 427. 

The RSPCA has launched its exotics pledge today to help deal with this growing problem. The pledge aims to stop the import of wild-caught animals supplying the pet trade; increasing knowledge of how to care for these animals properly; and raising awareness of responsible ownership.

Sophie Adwick, Exotics and Trade officer for the RSPCA, said: “Some people may choose exotics as pets because they are unusual or quirky, then get a shock when they realise how long they might live, how big they might grow or how difficult they can be to look after in a home.

“Animals can suffer or even die because their owners lose interest, or are unable to give them the specialist care they need.

“Estimates of the UK’s pet reptile population are increasing* and the RSPCA is dealing with rising numbers of incidents involving certain animals like bearded dragons. It is early days and we have lots of research and work to do before we can even get a full picture of exactly what is going on but it is time we do something about this growing welfare problem.”

Not all exotic pets have been bred in captivity; some are taken from the wild in places like South America, Africa and Indonesia, then transported long distances in unacceptable conditions to be sold as pets in the UK. 

If they are bought by people unaware of the specialist conditions needed to care for them, they can end up being abandoned or handed over to the RSPCA.

Popular exotics are reptiles like bearded dragons and corn snakes, which can lead healthy lives as pets so long as their owner cares for them properly. However, some people chose to keep wild animals which are simply not suited to captivity, such as primates.

As part of our pledge we are trying to increase people’s knowledge of how to care for exotic pets properly, for if the owner has not done their research and does not provide this care for any reason, they can deteriorate quickly and even die. We are also asking people not to buy on impulse or because they’ve seen an animal on TV or in a film. More information can be found on our website: www.rspca.org.uk/pledges

Notes:* Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association estimates for 2010 and 2011 were 700,000 and 900,000 respectively.


RSPCA, Wilberforce Way, Southwater, Horsham, West Sussex RH13 9RS
Press office direct lines: 0300 123 0244/0288 Fax: 0303 123 0099
Duty press officer (evenings and weekends) Tel 08448 222888 and ask for pager number 828825
Email: press@rspca.org.uk Website: www.rspca.org.uk

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