A three-metre long (10ft) boa constrictor found abandoned in a car in Bristol and a marmoset lying dead in a north London street were among the thousands of exotic animal-related incidents the RSPCA was called to last year.
The animal welfare charity released figures on Thursday showing its 24-hour cruelty hotline had received 15,790 calls concerning exotic pets across England and Wales in 2018 – more than 40 a day.
More than 4,000 exotic animals were rescued by the RSPCA’s team of specially trained officers, including 500 snakes, 300 turtles, five raccoon dogs, four marmosets and one wallaby.
And while the number of exotic animal incidents is relatively small – making up about 1% of the more than 1.1m calls placed to the charity’s hotline last year – Stephanie Jayson, the RSPCA’s senior scientific officer in exotics, said she had “real concerns” about the pets’ welfare.
The charity confirmed that the Bristol-bred boa found abandoned in the backseat of a car in January last year had to be put down due to respiratory problems.
In the same month a royal python was found dead in south Wales with bruising around its mouth, which inspectors said indicates it had been beaten.
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In June, a bearded dragon was discovered inside a shoebox in Sittingbourne, Kent. He was rehomed and renamed Stumpy on account of his old tail injury.
The charity believes that the plight of these non-domesticated pets could be due to inexperienced owners’ being misinformed by unscientific and inaccurate information on how to care for them, resulting in the animals escaping or being abandoned or neglected.
“It is heartbreaking to see animals like this found injured or suffering as they are stray or abandoned outside in inappropriate temperatures,” said Jayson.
She said that, in the past, animals have often been handed to buyers without any information on how to care for them properly.
But she is hopeful that the government’s introduction of the animal welfare regulations in October 2018 “should improve this”.
The regulation introduced a five-star rating for pet shops to enable buyers to evaluate them on their animal welfare standards, among other changes.
“Some of the animals we see, like monkeys and raccoon dogs, have no place in the home and we would urge people not to take them on as pets,” Jayson said. “Others are still a long-term commitment and need specialist care and equipment.
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“We urge anyone considering taking them on to fully research their needs using expert sources, only consider keeping one if they can ensure they are fully able to provide for these needs and consider rescuing rather than buying.”