Exotic Pets On The Rise in Scotland

I well remember the day back in the 80’s when I discovered that somebody’s pet snake had gone missing from their home. This was big news in the local area not least because the snake was 5ft long and people keeping snakes wasn’t something that you heard of very often, but because I was and still am to a certain degree absolutely terrified of snakes. The very thought of one being missing struck the fear deep into me. When the presenter on the TV news casually announced that people were to keep there eye out for it I freaked. This was compounded when a Daily Newspaper printed a map of the potential sewage system that the said snake could materialise up through the toilet of. Now I do not profess to knowing the factuality of this matter, nor do I want to, but when you suffer from Ophidiophobia and your street and toilet system appear on the map…….well suffice to say I could not go visit “the little girls room” without the loo being checked first.

As already referred too, keeping exotic pets was something really rather unusual back then, so I was astounded to realise just how many exotics pets are actually being kept here in Scotland and across the rest of the UK. The images are all from Fernvalley Wildlife Centre in Orkney.

A new survey conducted by Born Free has revealed that nearly 4,000 dangerous wild animals are being privately kept in Great Britain – 255 of which are living in Scotland. The international wildlife charity is calling on the UK Government to immediately review the law and put a stop to some of the world’s most remarkable, but often deadly, creatures being kept as ‘pets’ in unsuitable captive conditions.

Born Free’s research reviewed the number of Dangerous Wild Animal (DWA) Act licences granted by local authorities in 2020 across England, Scotland and Wales, and the variety of species being privately kept. Local authorities in Scotland revealed that the licences granted cover 255 dangerous wild animals residing in the area, of which there are at least:

  •  8 venomous lizards including Beaded lizards and Gila monsters
  • 8 venomous snakes including a Taipan, a Mamba, and a King cobra
  • 100 Scorpions
  • 54 cats including an Asian leopard cat, Savannah cats, and Caracals
  • 18 Ostrich
  •  19 Bison
  •  8 crocodilians including American alligators, Spectacled caimans, and Broad-snouted caimans
  •  19 Wild boar
  •  5 Przewalski’s wild horse
  • 16 primates including Black and white ruffed lemurs and Ring-tailed lemurs
photo credit B Bell

Shockingly, the entire combined data across all authorities highlighted that a total of 210 DWA licences were granted for the keeping of 3,951 individual wild animals including:

  • 320 wild cats (including 61 big cats – 11 lions, 8 tigers, 11 leopards, 18 pumas, 10 cheetahs, 2 ligers and 1 jaguar)
  • 274 primates (including over 150 lemurs
  • 158 crocodilians
  • 508 venomous snakes (including 57 diamondback rattlesnakes)
  • 332 scorpions
  • 106 venomous lizards
  •  2 elephants

Other species on the DWA list that are being kept as pets or in private collections in the UK include zebras, camels, fossa (a kind of civet), hyaena, sun bears, wolves, and otters.

We asked Lisa Farrer from Fernvalley Wildlife Centre how she felt about this increase, here is what she told us;

“It will perhaps come as no surprise to you that Fernvalley Wildlife Centre does not agree with the exotic pet trade.
We have over 80 animals currently in residence with us…90% of those residents came to us from rescue centres across the UK…all of them had either been victims of abuse, mistreatment or abandonment.
Many have long-standing medical and psychological issues that require us to know them on a very personal level in order to accommodate some of these issues in their day to day care.”

“The fact that you have found evidence of that many Dangerous Wild Animal licenses in Scotland alone is very worrying to me. Why so many would be granted is also something I find highly irresponsible. Not only is the exotic pet trade emotionally and physically damaging to the individual animals but it is horrendously cruel to wild caught animals that are then subjected to disgusting conditions in which to bring them into the UK. Over exploitation of exotics being caught for the pet trade is a driving factor in many being moved up the IUCN Red List in my opinion. Species like Pangolins, Sloths and Monkeys in particular are in danger of this.”

“When we first opened Fernvalley we received any number of calls about exotic animals kept as pets that people “no longer wanted”. These included red-footed tortoises, large bodied snakes, terrapins and exotic birds and amphibians. These were from private owners. The excuses given were often that the children had grown “bored” with the new pet, or it was no longer “wanted” or had “grown too large”. I was quite shocked at how little people seemed to know about the lifespan or adult size of these animals.”

“It is quite frankly crazy that you can walk into many pet shops with £30 and walk out with a bearded dragon or a green iguana with very little knowledge of what you are actually taking home.”

Fernvalley 2017

Lisa has shared some of the stories of the animals which have come into her care with us.

“Case 1 – Size – Maximus – Our male green iguana – Max was given up by his previous owners to the rescue where we got him because “they didn’t realise how big he would get”. Max was only a baby really when we picked him up, probably about 3ft in total. He is now 5ft long and still growing. They’d been keeping him in a 4ft vivarium because that’s what the seller had said. These lizards grow to over 6ft in length, need an entire room’s worth of space for their size and can be very aggressive. Max was very scared of us when he arrived and does not like men at all. We don’t know this but we suspect he had a male owner who was rough with him.”

photo credit B Bell

“Case 2 – too easy to buy/sell exotics – Raccoon Dogs – Snow, Storm and Summer – We received a call from SSPCA back in 2018 regarding 6 raccoon dogs that had been handed over to them. The branch told us they had rung nearly every zoo in the UK and no one would rehome them. We were one of their last calls I believe. They had been bought off of Gumtree like a pair of shoes, the owner said they did so because they thought that Raccoon dogs were “cool” He did not know however that he had a mated pair who then of course bred and he ended up with 6, which he then handed over to SSPCA. Had we not taken these animals the chances were high for them to be put down. I managed to appeal to a friend who took the other 3. I find it abhorrent that you can go on sites like Gumtree and Preloved and physically trade and barter for exotic pets. Disgusting!”

“Case 3 – Considered throwaway pets – Parakeets – Delta and Echo – Perhaps our worst mistreatment case. Delta and Echo were tied up in a plastic bag for life and dumped in a hedge down south and left to die. Delta and Echo were thankfully found by a dog walker who got them to a vet, but they had been in the bag a good while. Delta had pulled a lot of feathers from the stress. She still does this if she gets upset or anxious about something…it is a problem she is going to have to live with…possibly for the rest of her life. She is terrified of new keepers and we have to move in their enclosure in a certain pattern so as to keep stress in their environment to a minimum.”

“Fernvalley has and always will stand against the exotic pet trade. Exotics just like dogs and cats should be considered a “pet for life and not just for Christmas” as the slogan goes and due to the long lifespan of lots of exotics this is even more true.
I believe laws should be much stricter governing who can hold a Dangerous Wild Animals Licence as well stricter buying laws for pet shops and breeders etc.

Lisa went on to say; ” I could write pages and pages of the things we’ve seen at the centre, the animals stories etc! In terms of the main points:

  • Exotics are too easy to buy in shops and online
  • Most buyers have no idea what they are signing up for and the cost involved.
  • There aern’t enough people researching the pet before they buy it.
  • Respect – not enough people asking “SHOULD” we buy it
  • Too many buy for silly reasons such as because it looked “cool” or as a status symbol or as presents for children that will undoubtedly lose interest unless animals are a lifelong passion.
  • Exotic Breeders – creating “morphs” to gain more money is giving pets “designer” tags and making them seem trendy.
  • Advertising – Compare the market adverts etc – making it seem okay to buy these animals for homes when they do not belong there.

“I am going to mention one more story…I will mention no names or when this happened, but someone approached me at the centre and asked me where they could buy a ring-tailed lemur after seeing ours. I told them quite bluntly that they would be breaking the law and that it would be severely cruel to purchase one. The response, which I have to say made me very angry was, “Yeah but where can I get one?” There is simply people out there that do not care. Compassion and respect for animals is, I believe, slowing fading away. The visitor in question was strictly told that we would not disclose any information and that they should consider the welfare of the animal. There was no response except a laugh.”

“Even writing about this stuff makes me upset and angry and it saddens me that people go hell for leather at zoos and centres like Fernvalley because they don’t believe in animals being kept in captivity…please look at the pet trade. The animals in zoos…no they should not be there, they should be in the wild, but due to the human race we are wiping many of them out, however they have (in all good establishments of course) food, water, warmth and love and care, many in the pet trade do not have such luck. The animals at Fernvalley have suffered, been beaten, abused and neglected before they came to us and some of them will never recover from that. Those animals did not ask to be bought and sold like inanimate objects and treated poorly. I think buyers need to take more responsibility. “

“Fernvalley exists because of the exotic pet trade…to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. If we can change just one mind about their stance on the buying of exotic pets then I consider that we are making a difference to a world that sorely needs a change in animal legislation.”

To find out what dangerous animals are living in other counties across the UK you can use Born Free’s interactive map on their website – www.bornfree.org.uk/dwamap.

Born Free was founded by Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, who starred in the movie classic, Born Free (1966), together with their eldest son, Will. Born Free’s mission is to ensure that all wild animals, whether living in captivity or in the wild, are treated with compassion and respect and are able to live their lives according to their needs. Born Free opposes the exploitation of wild animals in captivity and campaigns to keep wildlife in the wild.

Born Free promotes Compassionate Conservation which strives to enhance the survival of threatened species in the wild and protect natural habitats while respecting the needs of and safeguarding the welfare of individual animals. Born Free seeks to have a positive impact on animals in the wild and protect their ecosystems in perpetuity, for their own intrinsic value and for the critical roles they play within the natural world. For more information about Born Free please visit: www.bornfree.org.uk

Photos are all from Fernvalley

1 reply »

  1. Well done Helen! It’s appalling – the ignorance and lack of thought – not always necessarily intentional cruelty.

    Here’s a tale – when we lived in Suffolk I knew a lass who had turned her whole house and garden into a rescue centre, mainly for birds. One of her long term residents, who had no hope of living free again, was an Eagle Owl.
    They are a very big bird.
    The owners of this Eagle Owl had been reported to the RSPCA, who found him living in the cupboard under the stairs. I’m afraid this was triggered by the Harry Potter books – the owners had got the Eagle Owl, and, with some idea of the owls in Harry Potter, and Harry living in the cupboard under the stairs, had kept a large bird, in a confined space.
    Ignorance and stupidity – probably not intentional cruelty.
    The bird could never live free again, so he lived in Theresa’s garden in the biggest enclosure she could give him, bearing in mind the fact that she needed space for other birds, too.
    She had also given space to three rescued barn owls, which she used to bring onto the fields near where we lived, to let them fly a bit. People like them because they look so striking.
    That’s often the fate of creatures which look beautiful/cute/striking/impressive – people want to ‘have’ them, keep them – whether it’s a good thing for the creature, or not.

    Thank goodness for Fern Valley and places like it!

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