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Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 10:46 GMT
Don't try this at home
Caiman, a type of crocodile
One man paid 20 in an Essex pub for a crocodile
Laws governing the keeping of exotic pets are weakly drafted and enforced, says the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Why is the charity so worried? BBC News Online highlights some of the more extreme and bizarre cases giving it cause for concern.

The Devon-based parents of a new-born baby were horrified when an eight-foot pet boa constrictor started taking far too much interest in their child.

It kept trying to approach the child after the couple brought their new-born home from hospital in January 2001.

A constrictor snake could kill a baby no problem at all

The snake was only 18 inches long when they bought it five years previously but despite their pet's massive increase in size it was still allowed the freedom to roam around the house.

The frightened couple turned in desperation to the RSPCA after the pet became aggressive when they tried to contain it in a small area.

The snake was found a new home and RSPCA north Devon branch animal collection officer Diana Lewis said: "Every time the couple allowed the snake anywhere near the baby the creature would head straight towards it. A constrictor snake could kill a baby no problem at all."

Chesterfield exotica

RSPCA officers rescued a five-foot alligator in December 1999 from a flat in Chesterfield, where it had been living on a pond liner in a 10-foot-square bedroom.

The Mississippi alligator, which can grow up to 12 feet long, was imported from the US to live in a British zoo, before he was sold to a pet shop and then bought by an exotics collector.

However, the alligator's new owner, who did not have a licence issued under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act, quickly found he was unable to cope with the creature.

The licensing system is clearly far from foolproof when an animal like this can change hands in a pub for a few pounds

Louis, as the creature has been dubbed, is being cared for at Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens, a specialist exotics centre in north Norfolk.

The alligator was not licensed so there was no way either its welfare or safety issues could be monitored.

A man who paid 20 in an Essex pub for what he thought was an exotic lizard ran into trouble when the creature turned out to be a spectacled caiman - a type of crocodile.

The caiman - christened Carmen - was only 12 inches long when it was rescued in June 2000 but at full size could grow to seven feet.

When found it was severely underweight, had an infected stub on its broken tail and had two claws missing.

Caimans, which must be housed in tropical conditions and fed a diet of fish and meat, have an aggressive nature.

Emu: One wandered into a garden
The crocodile has been rehomed with the Amazonia reptile collection in Great Yarmouth.

RSPCA inspector Chris Nice, who rescued the reptile, said: "The licensing system is clearly far from foolproof when an animal like this can change hands in a pub for a few pounds."

An emu was the bizarre sight that greeted Mike and Rosie Regan as they gazed out across the back garden of their Farnham home in January 2000 - it had slipped through its owner's fencing about a mile away.

It took an RSPCA inspector, an animal collection officer and two local authority dog wardens to corner the bird in a tennis court, where it was kept overnight before being taken away in a horsebox.

Emus should be licensed under the DWA Act but its owner was not aware of his legal obligations.

Eurasian lynx  West Yorkshire Police
This lynx could have escaped (West Yorkshire Police)
Two Eurasian lynx were kept in a Yorkshire shed with only a wooden clothes peg to stop them breaking loose.

The unlicensed dangerous wild animals were removed in October 2000 from their frail enclosure, in a joint operation between the RSPCA and the police.

Had they escaped the lynx could have caused serious injury to anyone approaching them. Local sheep and wildlife could have also fallen prey to the predators, which are believed to have been imported illegally to the UK.

A member of the public alerted the RSPCA to their presence and the society then contacted the police.

One of the lynx died some time after the raid, but the other was removed to a secure place.

See also:

30 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
Danger pets warning
03 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Under-16s may face pet-buying ban
07 Dec 01 | Sci/Tech
RSPCA demands monkey import ban
26 Oct 01 | Sci/Tech
Catching cruelty in the net
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