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Friday, 17 November, 2000, 14:38 GMT
Exotic animals 'neglect must stop'
Caiman crocodiles can grow to more than seven feet
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) is calling on the government to make it an offence to buy or sell a dangerous wild animal without a licence.

The society reports that 3,700 unwanted or abandoned animals rescued in England and Wales in the past year.

The problem has been highlighted by several cases where animals requiring specialised care are found mistreated and often dying.

The RSPCA's chief veterinary officer Chris Laurence said: "We are deeply concerned about the number of exotic animals, including dangerous wild animals, now being kept as pets and the amount of suffering involved.

"Many people buy them with little idea of how difficult they are to keep and the animals are neglected when the novelty wears off and the commitment hits home."

He urged the government to tighten up loopholes in the law.

We are deeply concerned about the number of exotic animals, including dangerous wild animals, now being kept as pets and the amount of suffering involved

RSPCA chief veterinary officer, Chris Laurence
"An immediate improvement would be for suitably experienced vets to check these dangerous wild animals once a year, as part of the licensing process."

In one instance, an Essex man who snapped up what he thought was an exotic lizard for 20 found it was in fact a baby crocodile.

Aggressive creatures with razor-sharp teeth and an appetite for live meat, caiman crocodiles can grow to more than seven feet in length.

By the time it was rescued, the crocodile was missing several toes and the tip of the tail.

Chris Nice, an RSPCA inspector for the in Cambridgeshire, who made the rescue, said: "This case highlights the dangers of buying any animal on impulse."

Fed it out of fear

And another case of owner ignorance was seen in the treatment of a 5ft anaconda was kept in a bowl of water in a house in Basingstoke, Hampshire.

A 16-year-old boy had paid 30 for the black and yellow male snake when it was a six-week-old hatchling - but anacondas can grow to more than 8ft in length.

The owners had been over-feeding the aggressive reptile because they were frightened of it.

In another instance, an iguana had to be put down after its owner tried to stick its tail back on with Sellotape.

Iguanas' tails are designed to snap off

Iguanas' tails are designed to snap off painlessly to escape from predators and then grow back.

The RSPCA was called to a house in Chippenham, Wiltshire after the 2ft reptile was left behind when its owner moved out.

Officers also rescued a 5ft alligator from a flat in Chesterfield, Derbyshire where it had been living in a bedroom, 10ft square.

Inspectors have helped police recover eight deadly snakes during a raid on a flat in Sheffield.

And a terrapin - which lives in water - was found in a dry rabbit hutch in Chesterfield.

Perspex boxes

Back in Essex, the RSPCA is urging shoppers not to buy mini-aquariums known as Aqua-Babies.

Each of the Perspex boxes, 5in tall with a 4in square base, contains two fish less than half an inch long.

The RSPCA fear Christmas shoppers will buy them up as presents without thinking of the suffering that it claims may be caused to the fish.

But AquaBabies UK says the fish can live comfortably for up to two years at normal home and office temperatures.

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30 Mar 00 | Entertainment
Kermit backs exotic pet crackdown
10 Nov 99 | UK
An iguana is also for life
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