Exotic pet lovers’ delight

2011-05-26 00:00

TAKE a peek at the junk mail and you will see a whole section for them — exotic pet owners, always looking for something odd, unusual and slightly dangerous. For them it’s the thrill of being close to an animal that belongs in the wild.

They want breeding pairs, or they want to swop a snake for a dozen Madagascan hissing cockroachs.

Chad Foulkes from Doolittle Exotic Pets, a new pet shop at the Cascades Shopping Centre in Pietermaritzburg, says that they specialise in supplying exotic pets to the market. They stock snakes, marine fish, dwarf rabbits and chinchillas, but they find that many customers just come to stare at the unusual animals on display.

Currently, the most popular request is for their tenrec hedgehog, a rare Madagascan creature. It is as small as a hamster and has a rough prickly covering. It has a very sweet little face and is not as active as the usual rodent pets so is unable to make a quick getaway.

Selling for R3 200, this little animal is not for the casual browser. The outlet also stocks a supply of non-venomous snakes which are small and slippery and it has a good selection of bearded dragons ranging from young to fully mature.

These curious creatures bask under the lamps and come to the glass panes to see if they are going to be fed. The brilliant green iguanas pile on top of each other as close to the florescent light as possible. Their beady eyes follow any movements sharply.

Pet-shop assistant Foulkes says he has always loved exotic animals. His grandfather was a Natal Parks Board ranger and taught all his children and grandchildren how to handle animals­ with care.

“I love to feed them and take care of them, and learning about them is great. I think people who want to own these animals have to be dedicated to them as they require extra care. They have special needs in terms of their diet and habitat, but at the end of the day they are worth it.”

The marine fish Doolittle Exotic Pets stock are more difficult to keep than the more popular freshwater tropical fish, but Foulkes believes there is a growing interest.

He says: “Films like Finding Ne mo have made people curious about what lives under the sea. We have children coming in asking for a Nemo and a Dory.

“Nemo is a clownfish and Dory is a regal tang fish. We stock them and we have others that are as beautiful. But setting up a marine tank is not a cheap business and one has to be serious about getting the environment right for the fish.”

Hugh Holder, owner of Pick a Pet, also in Pietermaritzburg, says he makes sure that exotic pet owners know what they are in for when they want an animal that is not from South Africa. He says: “They are not as expensive as you might think, but creating their artificial habitat is pricey and you have to be meticulous about feeding them correctly.”

Bearded dragon lizards need special­ heating lamps and calcium supplements to keep their bones strong and if they do not get the correct gravel, they could develop constipation. Snakes that are overfed before hibernating can develop infections in the gut.

Holder says he has learnt a lot and makes sure that he gives prospective clients plenty of information. He says when children want an exotic pet he makes sure they know what a responsibility it is. He has owned all kinds of animals, including a red-kneed tarantula.

“It was a real beauty. The males can live up to six years, the females can live up to 20 years. They don’t usually bite unless they are annoyed, and it feels like a bee sting,” he says.

Holder stopped selling puppies as he hated the noise and the mess, and says he prefers the sellers to deal with the buyers directly. “We have had cases where people impulse-buy and then a few weeks later want to return the puppy because it poops and bites all their shoes.

“We refer buyers to the Pietermaritzburg Kennel Club or we keep details of certain breeders. But our most popular breed was Jack Russell puppies. Older folk seem to prefer the more docile temperament of the daschund.”

Holder says that they have regular inspections from the SPCA to make sure all their exotic animals are being well kept.

“I don’t keep a large stock unless someone comes and orders them in advance, and I get them from reputable breeders. I don’t import any animals, except my marine fish, for which I get the specialised permits through an agent,” said Holder.

Msunduzi SPCA spokesperson Maureen Vida said the SPCA does not approve of exotic animals being kept as pets because wild animals should be kept in their natural environment.

“These poor animals are being sold and transported kilometres from their natural environment, and are raised in a cage for some selfish­ person’s pleasure.

“It is ridiculous that a person needs a permit to keep an African rock python­, but they don’t need one to keep a Burmese python, which comes from thousands of kilometres away. Many buyers of these animals don’t have the correct information on how to feed or house them and they get sick.

“It is a relief that many of these animals­ don’t breed well in captivity and so the numbers are kept down.

“We saw a little marmoset monkey that had run away and was killed on the road the other day. It’s the owner’s fault that it ran away,” she said.

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