Exotic pets - our concerns
The RSPCA has numerous concerns about the trade and keeping of 'exotic' pets. Reliable data is scarce, but these animals seem to be increasing in popularity.
In 2011, RSPCA Inspectors dealt with almost 7,000 complaint, collection and rescue calls involving more than 32,000 'exotic' animals. We’ve seen a rise in the number of calls about certain species such as bearded dragons.
We believe this increase – and species trends - is partially spurred on by the social media and the film/TV industries. A well-known example is the huge demand for terrapins following the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle film.
We consider exotic pets to be wild animals being kept in captivity. As such, their needs are the same as they would be in the wild.
Caring for wild animals can be challenging and expensive as it means recreating their natural habitat as closely as possible, taking into account their natural diet, environment, social habits and behaviours.
Impulse buying can mean people take on an exotic animal about which they know very little. Different species have very different needs and care requirements. Some may become aggressive or very large as they get older, live for a very long time or require a licence or other paperwork to be legally kept or sold.
The RSPCA believes that some wild animals should not be kept in a household environment.
This could be for instance because their needs are too complex to be met in a home, or because they can become dangerous.
Primates should not be kept as pets, as they have extremely complex specialist needs and are highly intelligent, therefore have the capacity to suffer greatly.
Lack of quality care information
Scientifically-based, expert-reviewed care guidance for exotics can be hard to find. Sellers may not provide buyers with sufficient or correct knowledge, and online resources are not always reliable.
Need for a specialist vet
Vets with knowledge and experience in the particular species kept are vital but can be a distance away and expensive.
Abandonment, escape or release
Once people realise what they have taken on (or once the novelty wears off!), the animals may become unwanted. Many end up in the care of the RSPCA or other charities and some of these (e.g. terrapins), can be difficult to rehome.
Other exotic pets escape or are deliberately (and illegally!) released into the wild. Non-native species (species that do not naturally live in this country) can have a negative impact on native species and ecosystems. A non-native species may suffer if it is released into an environment to which it is not adapted. A recent example of non-native species found roaming free was the case of two raccoon dogs in Wales.
Some animals destined for the exotic pet trade are taken from the wild and transported considerable distances, before being sold in the UK. We have grave concerns about the welfare of these animals during capture, holding, transport and sale.