The rise in so-called exotic pets has led to an increase in unwanted, unusual creatures.
Pulse Magazine talks to Sol Archer who picks up the pieces at Animals in Need…
Not everyone wants a four-legged fur baby to curl up on the sofa with.
You might not be one of them, but some people like their pets to boast spikes and scales or to be slimy and shelled.
And let’s face it, a group of snails don’t need to be taken for walkies, and tarantulas don’t make nearly as much mess as a puddy-tat does!
But all too often people take on an exotic pet before doing their research and understanding the sometimes complex needs of the creature in their care.
That’s when boredom or misinformation can have tragic consequences, or Animals in Need (AIN) gets the call to take in another unwanted pet.
Sol Archer is the resident expert when it comes to all things exotic at AIN. He is also the youngest volunteer at the Little Irchester site; having started giving his time at the tender age of three. And nope, that’s not a misprint!
“I began working here when my mum started and I have loved every moment working with the animals,” he said.
And, while his fellow animal angels might be tending to recovering ex-battery farm chickens, working with withdrawn felines, or simply ensuring the canines get time to stretch their legs, Sol is invested in the more peculiar residents.
“The term exotics is widely used for non-native animals, including reptiles, insects, aquatics, crustaceans, mammals and amphibians,” he explains.
“I’ve kept exotic animals since I was very young, so I have always had a passion for them, but the attraction for me has always been about how understudied these animals are, and how we are still learning about their habitat and their nature; in certain animals like dogs, there are many requirements to follow, but with exotic animals it is so much more complex. Learning about them is what is enjoyable about keeping them.”
An exotic pet is a great talking point with friends and family, but should never be the reason you purchase one of these creatures as we said, they won’t curl up in front of the fire, you can’t take them for a walk, and sometimes their dietary choices can make your stomach feel queasy!
But they all have needs and deserve the very same care and affection – if they want it – as any other pet.
Sol recalls one desperately sad story, which, thanks to him, had a happy ending: “I took in a Leopard Gecko that was offered to my mum by a stranger. He said he was selling a vivarium, but when we went and looked at it, inside was a massively underweight and mistreated gecko who was brought back to full health when he came into my care.”
At AIN they are used to picking up the pieces when owners realise they’ve made a mistake and can’t cope.
The majority of exotic arrivals are snakes, bearded dragons, African land snails, parrots and tortoises. An assortment of marvellous creatures.
The rarest animal to be relinquished was an African Pygmy Hedgehog.
“The most neglected arrivals at Animals in Need were a pair of Leopard Tortoises that had been given the wrong care since birth; their shells were distorted and their beaks overgrown. They were handed in by a member of the public with no backstory. The cause of the shell distortion was due to insufficient lighting and them having been given no nutritional supplements.
“The most common problem with exotics is nutrient deficiency because in a lot of cases, people are unaware of the fact they need supplements.”
The team never knows what will be next through the doors.
“People hand them over to us because when they buy them they are unaware of proper husbandry, the cost of vet bills, being unable to produce proper enclosures of the right size, and because they don’t know what to do in cases of illness and health problems.
Sol has been known to take his ‘work’ home with him too: “The ones I take home are the ones in need of critical care or round the clock monitoring or feeding,” he told us.
Sol is currently caring for casualties including a Horsefield Tortoise, an Australian Giant Prickly Stick Insect, a Sunny Stick Insect, a pair of Orange Banded Millipedes and an African Mantis.
Exotics aren’t the only creatures to benefit from his expertise and many wildlife casualties including bats, birds, squirrels, rabbits and frogs owe their well-being to him.
“One of my most interesting species is my Leatherback Bearded Dragon, Flo, who came to me from AIN from a family that was finding it difficult to look after her.
“I also have a True Curly Hair Tarantula who is currently a juvenile, but still quite large,” Sol said.
“The True Curly Hair is a burrowing species so a lot of the time they will be under the substrate, meaning they need a good amount of it. I highly recommend them as a beginner tarantula but as always with tarantulas, handle at your own risk!”
Thinking of buying an exotic?
Sol says that you must do proper research and ensure you have all the necessary information before making a big decision.
“Do your research,” he urges, “There are thousands of forums, websites and accessible care sheets, businesses and experienced people who can help you.
“For an animal to thrive it needs proper care which includes lighting such as UV, heating, correct enclosure size, cleaning, diet, humidity levels, exercise and enrichment. All these need to be researched in multiple places before considering any exotic animal.
“It is also best to check to see where your local exotic vet is, and to look at getting insurance for your animal. And please remember, surviving is the bare minimum for any animal, but it is not sufficient; your animal should be able to thrive with properly researched care.
“Finally, never buy an animal for the sake of owning it. Buy – or if you can, adopt – only when you are fully prepared.”
Pulse’s Sammy Jones is no stranger to exotics and has previously owned Leopard Geckos and a Chilean Rose Tarantula.
“When I bought my first gecko, I was armed with a brilliant fact sheet and sought advice from knowledgeable breeders.
Geezer was a lovely little character who loved being handled – he would actually sit on the arm of the sofa next to our cat! Later, I took in an underweight, sorry looking gecko I called Biffy and transformed him – as Sol said, the correct environment is so important, and previously he hadn’t been kept in suitable conditions.
If you take on one of these beautiful creatures, you take their lives in your hands. Letting them down isn’t an option.
The tarantula? I have a terrible phobia of spiders and thought this would cure all, which was an epic fail and definitely didn’t do that. But I quickly discovered an appreciation for tarantulas, at least.
Polly lived with us for 16 years before heading off to that great web in the sky and was fascinating to observe.
It’s worth bearing in mind that though they may be smaller, some of these animals can live as long as a dog or a cat, or in some cases for much longer – it’s a long term commitment.”