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Eight rare salamanders and a natterjack toad intercepted by Dublin Customs and quarantined in ISPCA

25th June 2019

The ISPCA is calling for tougher regulations around the breeding, keeping and selling of exotic animals as pets after dealing with a number of incidents with exotic animals in recent times.

Earlier this year eight fire salamanders and a natterjack toad were illegally imported into Ireland by post from Spain, for the pet trade market. They were intercepted by Customs officers in Dublin and were quarantined and cared for by staff at the ISPCA National Animal Centre for the past five months. The Salamanders will soon be transported to a purpose built facility at the Galway Atlantaquaria.   The natterjack toad will be rehomed to the Wild Ireland Education Centre in the coming weeks as it cannot be released back to the wild.

Fire salamanders are confirmed hosts of Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (BSal) a newly emerged and highly pathogenic chytrid fungus that infects salamanders and newts and is potentially a serious threat to salamanders in Europe and North America. Some populations of the fire salamander have already been driven to extinction as a result e.g. Netherlands and eastern parts of Belgium. Such irresponsible and illegal trade in these species threatens not only the individual animals but also threatens populations.  The salamanders were quarantined at the ISPCA under specific conditions to ensure that they were not carrying BSal and were not able to spread the disease to other animals.

This incident follows on from the rescue of two stray snakes last summer including Penelope the royal python. More recently an emaciated Burmese python was discovered abandoned in the Wicklow Mountains and an ISPCA Inspector seized a Hermann’s tortoise and an axolotl from a property in Roscommon.

Just last week, two Horsefield tortoises were surrendered into the care of the ISPCA by an owner who felt that they were unable to care for them adequately. A specialist veterinary surgeon subsequently diagnosed that both were suffering from metabolic bone disease caused by lack of calcium in the diet. This can lead to softening of the bones and plastron (shell) of the animals and ultimately can prove fatal.

The charity is also frequently contacted by owners of red-eared and yellow bellied terrapins who are looking to rehome their pets which were bought as tiny babies but which can grow to 12 inches in length. It is extremely difficult to find homes for such large specimens as they are so abundant and so difficult to care for.

The ISPCA is urging the public to think very carefully before considering getting exotic animals as pets. This is due to their complex social needs, specific and nutritional requirements, public health risks and also the potential impact on the environment of those species that can become invasive should they escape or be deliberately released.

ISPCA Chief Inspector Conor Dowling said:  “We are raising serious concerns about the poor standard of care provided to exotic animals that need specific environmental and nutritional requirements. These animals are frequently allowed to suffer, sometimes unwittingly, by owners who simply do not have the knowledge to care for them properly. In some cases they may have been poorly advised when purchasing the animals.  What must also be taken into consideration is that there can be a huge disparity between the size of exotic animals when they are babies and when they are fully mature”

In July 2018, the ISPCA submitted a response to the public consultation in relation to the code of practice for pet shops and the advertising of animals online.  Whilst there are some positive aspects to the code, the ISPCA does not believe that a voluntary code is sufficient to ensure that pet shops operate in a safe and animal welfare friendly manner and will have little or any effect.  The ISPCA believes that a mandatory code of practice or specific legislation needs to be urgently introduced.

While the ISPCA has previously called for better regulation of the pet trade, including domestic pets and exotic pets (such as wild type reptiles and mammals), ultimately the society would like to see the introduction of a positive list of species that can be bred, kept and sold, based on their welfare needs (only those with relatively simple welfare needs should be kept), risk to public health and risk to the environment if they escape or are deliberately released). The ISPCA strongly believes that some species such as primates should never be kept as pets due to their complex social needs but it is currently legal to keep some species of monkeys in Ireland. Only a few years ago the ISPCA took into its possession a ring-tailed lemur which was being kept as a pet in unsuitable conditions in Kildare.

Conor added:  “In the meantime, and until we see a strengthening of the regulations, we are working with Veterinary Ireland to ensure that appropriate information is available to exotic pet owners to ensure their pets’ welfare needs are adequately met”.

The ISPCA supports and promotes responsible pet ownership which includes sourcing a pet safely and responsibly.

Pictured is ISPCA Centre Manager Hugh O'Toole at the National Animal Centre with Aquarium Manager Matthew Hawkins getting ready to transport the salamanders to ttheir new home at Galway Atlantaquaria.


More information can be found on the links below

Eurogroup for animals positive list

Information about BSal and the need for quarantine

IPAAG minimum standards and highlight those relating to the advertising for sale of reptiles and amphibians and methods of transport

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