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St Patrick’s Day Snake Advice from the ISPCA

Clare SPCA Inspector Frankie Coote goes to the aid of a corn snake, in a West Clare cemetery. read more

We are all aware of the legend that St. Patrick banished snakes from Ireland, never to return. However, as the popularity of keeping these animals as pet’s increases, the ISPCA has some advice for those thinking of buying a snake or other exotic pets. ISPCA Chief Inspector Conor Dowling said, “Taking ownership of an exotic pet is a big commitment and should be given long and careful thought. There are many factors that should be taken into account when considering acquiring an exotic animal and a prospective owner should not take that step unless they are certain that they are in a position to care for the animal for its entire lifetime.”

Cost - Exotic pets can be very expensive but the cost of buying the animal may be just the beginning. In order to provide the correct environment, significant investment in equipment may be required. Most exotic pets need artificial heating and specialist lighting so the cost of electricity, replacement bulbs, etc. must also be taken into account. Size - Many exotic species can be small when young but grow very large in a relatively small space of time. Burmese pythons are the most commonly kept large snakes and can grow to 5 or even 6 metres. Reticulated Pythons are also kept and they can grow to about 9 metres. The future size of an animal and the resultant requirements must be considered by a potential owner.

Lifespan - Exotic animals can be very long-lived with some likely to out-live their owners. Snakes can often live over 20 years.

Accommodation / Environment - Those deciding to take on an exotic pet must be sure that they can provide it with a suitable environment. Different species have very different needs in terms of temperature, humidity, substrate etc. So accommodation has to be tailored to the particular animal’s demands. The larger the animal, the larger the accommodation that is required and the larger the accommodation, the more difficult it is to heat and maintain. Also, some species may have very specific social requirements that must also be catered for.

Veterinary Surgeon - It is vital that every pet owner has access to a vet who can cater for their animal’s needs if required. Not all vets are comfortable with treating exotic animals so research may be necessary to identify a suitable veterinary practice to which to bring an exotic pet.

Dangers – Certain snakes and other exotic animals kept as pets can be very dangerous, even potentially deadly. Steps must be taken to eliminate risks. For handling large snakes the rule of thumb is that you need an extra person for every two feet of snake length over 6 feet; Never handle a large snake alone; Never allow the scent of a prey animal to get on or near you when handling a large snake; Never allow a large snake to free roam in a room occupied by humans; Always keep your large snake in a securely locked escape-proof enclosure, accessible only by you.

Rehoming / Selling - The ISPCA and other rescue groups frequently receive requests to rehome certain types of exotic pets, particularly terrapins, and it is extremely difficult to find suitable homes. Some species are not popular when they have grown too big so it may not be possible for an owner to sell or give away their animal even if they wanted to.

Legislation - Currently, the private ownership of exotic animals, even the most dangerous types, is unregulated in Ireland. While you must have a licence to keep a dog, you do not need one to keep a tiger or a crocodilian. The ISPCA is calling for legislation to regulate the keeping of exotic and dangerous wild animals, similar to that which has been in place in Britain for decades. Conor Dowling concluded, “While there are many responsible exotic pet owners in Ireland who provide the correct care for their animals, there are too many people acquiring exotic pets without sufficient knowledge or facilities".

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