Exotic pets find refuge after post-boom abandonment

THE recession has led to some unusual orphans in need of new homes — including snakes, lizards and other exotic reptiles.

“People moving home or emigrating are left wondering what will I do with my 8ft boa constrictor? Mummy doesn’t want it returning home with her son or daughter from their Dublin apartment and we end up getting called in,” explained Kevin Cunningham of the National Exotic Animal Sanctuary.

Up to three years ago it was a regular weekend activity for people to spend “€400 to €500 on a lizard and tank and other essentials for it. They were popular with people living in apartments who were not allowed to have pets like cats and dogs. Now their circumstances have changed and they no longer want them or can hold onto them,” he added.

Kevin is currently caring for 17 reptiles many of which are bearded dragons. “They were the trendiest thing three or four years ago and today I could easily have 150 of them here if I had the space.”

The sanctuary is renovating a large portable building to house more reptiles and it is also including stables, which will soon provide shelter to the 20 horses and ponies in its care.

One of them is a distressed thoroughbred mare called Monica. “She is about 33 years old and she was found tied to a fence when a horse mart had ended one day. She was unsold and just abandoned but we will look after her now for the rest of her life.”

Most mares have in the region of five or six foals in their lifetime but Kevin suspects this horse had up to 30 because she needed corrective surgery.

Wildlife rescues are part and parcel of the work done by Kevin and the other sanctuary staff that are based on a 22-acre site near Ballivor in Co Meath.

He has hand-reared an 8-month-old deer named “Deedee” who nuzzles into him, and in a portable building beside her is a baby kestrel.

“He was found on a football pitch in Meath and was hand-reared by a family for a few days before we were called in. We don’t know yet whether he will be able to be released into the wild but he will go into a rehab pen in the woods and we will see how he goes.”

Amidst all of the animals are 100 terrapins which have been rescued from rivers, ponds, fountains and even a busy road.

“When people want rid of them that’s what they do,” he added, as he petted Cleo who was found in the bottom of a recycling bin.

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