Ireland is home to 100,000 reptile pets, including deadly snakes and crocodiles.
Kevin Cunningham, director of the National Exotic Animal Sanctuary (NEAS), says there is also a huge trade in dangerous insects, such as tarantulas and scorpions, which are being posted or into the country, or brought by courier. There is no legislation to stop the trade in pets capable of injurying.
“I would say we have tipped 100,000 reptiles in Ireland — lizards, terrapins, tortoises, snakes,” said Mr Cunningham. “People don’t realise this, because the majority of these kinds of animals are kept in bedrooms or apartments.”
Abandoned snakes and reptiles are regularly handed in to NEAS in Meath.
“You never know what is coming in the door,” said Mr Cunningham. “The majority of people who contact us with reptiles are young people, who have moved back home or are emigrating, and they’ve bearded dragons or snakes in their apartment.
“We got two boa constrictors, a few weeks ago, from the owner, who felt they didn’t have time for them. They are nine feet long. Two weeks before that, we took an aggressive boa constrictor, two water lizards and a tarantula, where the chap had already emigrated and had left them with his parents, who obviously didn’t want to look after them.”
Tarantulas can be bought online for €60, and scorpions for €40, and shipped here for €15. The owners of dangerous reptiles or insects do not report their disappearance.
“People are not going to knock on their neighbour’s door to tell them they have lost a boa constrictor that is ten feet long and to keep an eye out for it,” said Mr Cunningham.
“Unfortunately, people keep silly pets and see them as a status symbol. This year, I’ve seen somebody selling Irish-bred vipers, which are a type of snake and very venomous. They were were bred in Ireland and being sold on an Irish Facebook page. If a viper bit you, it could kill you.
“There is nothing illegal about it. There were pet shops in Dublin, two years ago, selling caiman, which is a species of crocodile. There are people buying these things because they see them on telly. There is a well-known animal dealer in Northern Ireland who was bitten by a rattle snake and had to receive treatment in mainland Britain, because there is no-anti-venom in Ireland.”
The NEAS sanctuary is still caring for some of the 100 lethal spiders found in an abandoned house last year.
“In the house in Carlow, that guy was keeping funnel web spiders and brown widows,” said Mr Cunningham. “He was buying all those venomous animals, the spiders, scorpions, and centipedes and tarantula, some of which we still have, on the internet.”
Mr Cunningham said Ireland urgently needs a dangerous Wild Animals Act.
“In Britain and Northern Ireland, there is a piece of legislation called the Dangerous Wild Animals licence,” he said. “If you want to keep an animal that is capable of inflicting actual bodily harm on a person or yourself, you need to be approved and passed by the council as a competent keeper.”
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