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Britons urged not to buy exotic pets ‘on a whim’ amid welfare concerns | Animal welfare

The British Veterinary Association has urged people to reconsider buying exotic pets because of fears many owners are struggling to look after the animals properly.

More than eight in 10 vets raised concerns about the welfare of exotic reptiles, amphibians, birds and other animals in a BVA report, with most blaming what they called “irresponsible animal ownership”.

A survey of council licensing data in England last year identified nearly 2,500 wild animals in the hands of private collectors, including capuchin monkeys, lemurs, mountain lions, alligators, hyenas, zebras, camels, grey wolves, honey badgers and ostriches.

Vets who treated exotic animals said nearly 60% of the pets they saw did not have their basic welfare needs met, while more than a quarter of the vets reported a rise in the number of exotic animals brought in for treatment in the past year, according to the Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey.

“We understand why so many people would love to have them as pets, as they are often unusual and are a bit different to owning a cat or a dog,” said Justine Shotton, a veterinary surgeon and senior vice-president at the BVA. “But it is so important not to buy exotic species on a whim as they have very complex needs and it can be both challenging and expensive to look after them properly.”

Many exotic pets have particular environmental, dietary and housing needs and require specialist care that may only be available in certain parts of the country, the BVA said. Some animals have specific heating, lighting or ultraviolet needs that could go unmet if people cut back on their energy usage because of soaring bills, it added.

Exotic pet ownership in the UK has risen dramatically since 2000, according to the wildlife charity Born Free. Its 2021 analysis of Dangerous Wild Animals Act licences revealed at least two elephants, more than 300 wild cats including tigers, leopards and pumas, more than 200 primates, and crocodiles, venomous snakes and scorpions all kept in private collections in the UK.

Chris Lewis, a captivity research officer at Born Free, said the charity’s 2021 report on exotic pets highlighted the need for urgent action on the issue. Its recent UK wildlife conservation and animal welfare manifesto urges the next government to conduct a comprehensive review of the trade in and keeping of exotic pets and give due consideration to regulations in place or in development in other countries.

The research comes as the BVA launches a new policy calling for tougher regulations to ensure only animals that have a high chance of being looked after well and having a good life can be kept as exotic pets.

One idea is to have a traffic light system that ranks how well or not exotic animals can be kept, though the policy emphasises that any animal appearing in a green category “should not be considered easy to keep”. The policy goes on to state that anyone who wants to buy an exotic pet should first have to pass a test to prove they understand the animal’s needs and can meet them.

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There should be stricter rules around online sales and advertising of exotic animals, the vets say, and an end to imports of reptiles and amphibians caught in the wild for the pet trade. Anyone who sells exotic animals should have to register with their local authority and include their registration details on all advertising material, the policy says.

“We know people who keep these animals have the right intentions to give them best care they can, but their needs can be difficult to meet, particularly if they are a new pet and owners are not sure exactly what they require,” Shotton said. “We want potential buyers to take the extra time to really think twice about if they can look after them properly as well as encouraging them to do proper research to ensure they know exactly what the species needs to live a happy and healthy life.”