Monkeys and bearded dragons among 4,000 exotic pets rescued in England and Wales

Animals including monkeys, bearded dragons and even a wallaby were among more than 4,000 exotic pets rescued by animal officers in England and Wales last year.

The RSPCA issued a warning to inexperienced owners to carry out proper research after taking more than 15,000 calls about exotic animals in 2018.

Lizards, parrots, birds of prey, scorpions, meerkats and salamanders were all rescued by RSPCA officers after being neglected by owners.

Vet Stephanie Jayson, the RSPCA's senior scientific officer in exotics, said: "Reptiles and other exotic pets are completely reliant on their owners to meet their welfare needs including requiring the correct levels of heat, light and humidity, plus an appropriate diet.

"Some species can grow very large, live for a long time or require a licence or paperwork to be legally kept or sold.

"Many of the animals we're called to help are found stray outside, where they can very quickly suffer in the cold."

Sophie Moye from the Eagle Heights Wildlife Foundation in Kent, which takes in rescued animals, told ITV News the number is rising and rising.

"In some cases they are literally dumped, tied up outside our gates, in cardboard boxes," she said.

She told how the number of rescued huskies had gone up to 28 due to them featuring in popular TV show Game of Thrones.

Silver foxes are extremely rare in the UK. Credit: RSPCA

Among the casualties were a dead marmoset monkey found in the street in Edmonton, north London, and a sick 10-foot boa constrictor in an abandoned car in Bristol which had to be put down, the RSPCA said.

More than 500 snakes, 300 turtles, 145 bearded dragons, five raccoon dogs, four marmoset monkeys and one wallaby were among the exotics rescued.

Fish, reptiles and birds were the most commonly rescued exotic animals, followed by invertebrates like spiders and scorpions, mammals including meerkats, and amphibians such as frogs and salamanders.

The charity added that in 2018 overall its officers investigated nearly 131,000 complaints of cruelty involving animals.

Ms Jayson added: "It is heartbreaking to see animals like this found injured or suffering as they are stray or abandoned outside in inappropriate temperatures.

"Some of the animals we see, like monkeys and raccoon dogs, have no place in the home and we would urge people not to take them on as pets.

A leopard tortoise was among the 4,000 exotic pets brought in by the RSPCA. Credit: RSPCA

"We believe that people may buy them with little idea of how difficult they can be to keep and the animals are sometimes neglected when the novelty wears off and the commitment hits home."

James MacColl, World Animal Protection's UK head of campaigns, said: "It is sad to see the large numbers of dumped, stray, sick and neglected exotic pets being found in the UK.

"These animals with complex behavioural, social and physiological needs are unsuitable to be kept in the home and belong in the wild. Cats and dogs, for example, have been domesticated over thousands of years and selectively bred for specific traits to enable them to be kept by people as pets.

"We urge potential buyers to do their research and take our pledge to never buy a wild animal to keep as a pet."