Range of exotic animals in Gauteng yards

Published Jul 28, 2010


By Angelique Serrao

A tame tiger that went missing yesterday is one of many dangerous exotic animal that families are bringing into their homes.

In the backyards of certain households in Gauteng you will find monkeys, flying squirrels, poisonous snakes, alligators and, in rarer instances, big cats such as panthers and tigers.

Paula Spagnoletti, from the animal rights organisation Say No to Animals in Pet Shops, said the exotic pet trade was booming in South Africa, and people would go to any means to acquire an unusual animal.

"Whether legal or illegal, people will get what they want. Who is going to police this anyway at the end of the day?" Spagnoletti said.

"It has almost become a status symbol. An unusual animal is something you can show off to your friends."

Spagnoletti said many of the animals were born in the wild, captured and brought to South Africa. They were also released by frustrated owners when the animals became too difficult to look after.

People are not scared to pay large amounts for their status pets. The Star has learnt that wallabies are for sale at R9 000 each, and Spagnoletti said she had heard of a rare parrot being sold at R100 000 for a breeding pair.

Brenda Santon, manager of the wildlife unit at the NSPCA, agreed that the exotic pet trade was on the increase. She said the legislation at present protected indigenous animals and not the exotics.

While the law differed from province to province, in Gauteng, a permit is needed only when you are moving an animal.

Spagnoletti said this meant you could keep any animal you want as long as it comes from outside the country.

Francois le Grange, a vet at the bird and exotic animal hospital in Onderstepoort, near Pretoria, said exotic pets were popular because people were moving into townhouse complexes where they couldn't keep cats and dogs.

He also gets to treat animals from people with "private zoos", where tigers, cheetahs and other big animals can be found.

But, generally, smaller animals such as birds and reptiles were the most popular. Monkeys appeared to be very much in vogue, particularly capuchins.

"The problem is that people don't read up on their diets and the animal is brought to us with problems," Le Grange said.

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