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RSPCA received more than 560 calls about exotic animals in Essex last year

25 Apr RSPCA received more than 560 calls about exotic animals in Essex last year

The RSPCA received more than 560 calls about exotic animals last year in Essex, new figures show.

The UK’s largest and oldest animal welfare charity has released its annual statistics today (Thursday 25 April), which reveal the plight of the more unusual animals.

Members of the public in the county contacted the charity about an exotic animal 567 times in 2018, a rise from 525 from 2017. Nationally in England and Wales, the charity received around 15,790* calls about exotic animals, more than 40 a day, or more than one every hour.

The RSPCA believes the reason behind some of the suffering of these exotics pets is that owners do not research their needs using expert sources and don’t understand the type and amount of care that they need, resulting in them escaping, being abandoned or neglected. Scientifically-based expert care information for exotic animals can be hard to find and an inexperienced owner may not be able to tell the difference between quality and inaccurate care information.

One unusual animal found in the county was a stray common Rhea discovered in the flowerbed of a shocked caller’s garden in Colchester in November last year.

The large bird, similar to an ostrich, was found sleeping in the flowerbed of the caller’s garden after he had strolled in through a side gate.

RSPCA Inspector Ann Bennett, along with a team from Colchester Zoo, attended and managed to catch the unusual stray. The rhea was taken to Colchester Zoo until the relieved owner collected the bird.

Inspector Bennett said: “The homeowner said that the rhea casually strolled into his garden and after having a look around, sat down and went to sleep in their flower bed. It must have been quite an unusual sight! We are so grateful to them for keeping the rhea safe in their garden until we could arrange to move the bird.

“As you can imagine catching and then transporting a rhea can be a little tricky so we were extremely grateful to the staff at Colchester Zoo who came out to collect the bird and kept the rhea until the owner got in touch.”

More recently, in February this year, surprised homeowners in Basildon discovered a rat snake which eventually took refuge in their toilet, where he had been dyed a slight tinge of blue from cleaning products. The snake, called Kevin, was eventually reunited with his happy owner.

RSPCA exotics officer Joe White said: “Although their numbers are small compared to more common pets, we have real concerns about the welfare of reptiles and other exotic animals kept as pets in this country.

“Reptiles and other exotic pets are completely reliant on their owners to meet their welfare needs including requiring the correct levels of heat, light and humidity, plus an appropriate diet. Some species can grow very large, live for a long time or require a licence or paperwork to be legally kept or sold. Many of the animals we’re called to help are found stray outside, where they can very quickly suffer in the cold.

“These animals are commonly found for sale in pet shops and are advertised online. In the past, animals have often been handed over to buyers with little or no information about how to care for them properly, although new regulations in England should improve this. In some cases, we believe owners take them on simply because they believe they will be easier to care for than other pets, but it is essential that people research what is required in the care of their pet, including food, equipment, environment and vet care, before taking one on. We would also urge them to ask for help if they’re struggling to meet their needs.

“We believe that people may buy them with little idea of how difficult they can be to keep and the animals are sometimes neglected when the novelty wears off and the commitment hits home. This is why we would encourage anyone thinking of getting an exotic pet to find out as much as possible about the animal’s needs and whether they’re the right pet for them.”

The RSPCA, which has a team of specially trained exotics officers, rescued over 4,000* exotic animals in 2018, including more than 500 snakes, more than 300 turtles, 145 bearded dragons, five raccoon dogs and even four marmosets and one wallaby. In Essex, officers rescues 227 exotic pets in 2018.

Last year, the RSPCA received 17,270 calls reporting cruelty, neglect, injury and suffering of all animals in Essex including 3,767 about cats, 4,583 about dogs and 1,158 about horses.