Christmas guide to exotic pets

By Hayden Moore

Little ones all across South Dublin put together their Christmas lists way in advance of the big day and there is one present that parents dread seeing, a pet.

Traditional domestic animals such as dogs and cats are a staple of Irish homes but there is a growing culture of people wanting to get that one step closer to nature with reptiles such as tortoises, lizards, snakes and tarantulas.

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Collie Ennis in his Critter Shed

Here at The Echo we have worked with local conservationist and member of the Herpetological Society of Ireland, Collie Ennis, to put together the ultimate Christmas guide to exotic pets.

Collie is a life-long owner of exotic animals and has a shed full of different species of lizards, spiders, snakes, amphibians and other furry friends – so who better to offer up some advice.

1. LIKE GREMLINS, FOLLOW THE RULES

It’s a bit like Gremlins, you follow the rules and you’ll be alright. It’s important that you have a checklist when you’re in the shop because they need UV light, to make sure their diet is correct and they need access to water at all times.

Google is your friend, do your homework.

2. ANIMALS ARE NOT TOYS

If you’re getting an animal for Christmas, it’s not a toy. You need to think long and hard about it because they will get played with for an hour-and-a-half on Christmas morning and then what happens?

Children get bored, the animal gets put away, the parents don’t want to take care of them and it ends up in a rescue centre or with somebody like Collie.

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Nicky the blue tongue skink

3. IN FOR THE LONG-HAUL

If somebody is taking on the responsibility of buying one of these animals then they have to make sure they are willing to look after them properly because they can live a very long time – tortoises can live up to 80 years, that’s something you would be passing onto your grandchildren.

4. DEPRESSED ANIMALS

Hamsters do well on their own, but guinea pigs need company, rats need company, budgies need company.

You need to do the research to make sure that you know what the animals’ needs are because some need company and if they don’t have anybody to chat to then you’re going to end up with sad little depressed animals.

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Mittens the chameleon

5. TERRAPINS ARE A NO-GO

Do not get terrapins or turtles. They’re not meant to be kept in fish tanks, they only do well in ponds and warmer waters – they get smelly and people don’t want them anymore.

I get five or six calls a week from people trying to rehome them and I can’t take them, the DSPCA can’t take them.

They end up in places like Sean Walsh Park, Dodder Valley Park because people put them there.

There’s a potential of them spreading disease or killing off the native species and they end up dying after two or three years in the wild because of the cold.

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Vivian, Collie’s tarantula of 20 years

6. LOCK THEM IN

You absolutely have to get in the habit of locking the cages because they’re very smart little animals and they’ll get out quicker than Clint Eastwood in Escape from Alcatraz. It’s not good for anybody, they’ll end up in Mrs O’Reilly’s shed and she’ll have a heart attack!

If it has a lid, put weights on it. If it has a door, put a lock on it.

Collie Ennis did recommend a tarantula as a starter for people looking to get into exotic pets because of their easy-to-manage lifestyle – only needing to be fed and watered once a week, and ability to live in small spaces.

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