An exotic pet for Christmas? Don't do it

23 December 2019 - 08:00 By Orrin Singh
A chinchilla for Christmas? Think again - you need a permit for that.
A chinchilla for Christmas? Think again - you need a permit for that.
Image: Alexey Kuznetsov / 123rf

People planning on giving rodents, hedgehogs, chinchillas, fennecs and non-venomous snakes as presents this Christmas should think again.

Experts says exotic pets may be very popular but people are often not trained in how to care for them resulting in the gifts escaping or dying because they are not in a safe environment.

And the National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NCSPCA), says the neglect of such animals could land you a hefty fine or serious jail time.

In January, the NSPCA successfully prosecuted Johannesburg resident Andre du Plessis after a five-year court battle for neglect and abuse of his capuchin monkey named Elvis.

Du Plessis had been feeding Elvis sweets and coffee and had put a nappy on the primate, which caused a serious infection.

“Elvis was taken to a veterinarian and diagnosed with diabetes due to the incorrect feeding provided by Mr Du Plessis. Elvis was taken to Fourways Veterinary Hospital when he was in a state of collapse and had infected wounds in his pelvic area. He later died due to thermal shock and cardiopulmonary failure,” said Arno De Klerk, NCSPCA special projects unit manager.

Du Plessis was subsequently found guilty of neglect and for putting nappies on the monkey and sentenced to a fine of R24,000 or 12 months' imprisonment, of which R18,000 or nine months was suspended for three years.

We were called by an employee who informed us that she can no longer look at the animals being kept there as they are sick and living in filthy conditions.
Karien van Wyk

Karien Van Wyk of Critter Rescue SA, a NPO dealing with the rescue of animals, said the status of exotic pets has become a huge problem.

She said exotic pets that didn’t require permits, including tenrecs, African pygmy hedgehogs, chinchillas, fennec foxes', skinny pigs (hairless guinea pigs) and hairless rats were very popular among SA pet owners.

Van Wyk said they were called to a stable yard in Randburg in 2017 where they rescued 60 rabbits and 50 guinea pigs.

“We were called by an employee who informed us that she can no longer look at the animals being kept there as they are sick and living in filthy conditions. We went out and were shocked at what awaited. The bunnies lived between rats and some of the bunnies were being eaten by rats.”

PhD candidate in zoology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) Ndivhuwo Shivambu said rodents pose the greatest risk of becoming invasive.

“Rodents are often purchased online through pet dealers or people selling their own pets and are a cause for concern because they often escape and can easily become invasive due to the rapid rate they can reproduce.”

Witbank resident, Marinda Badenhorst, whose African pygmy hedgehog recently died, said she didn't think they should be kept as pets.

“We got her when she was about two-years old already. I don't think a hedgehog should be a pet. In Witbank none of the vets know how to treat them if they get sick. Maybe we just had a bad experience with having ours, but I'll stick to dogs,” said Badenhorst.

According to the department of environmental affairs the following animals require permits: rose-ringed parakeet, Burmese python, boa constrictor, carpet python, triploid grass carp, Nile tilapia, fallow deer, oryx (scimitar-horned), red lechwe and Barbary sheep.

Spokesperson Albi Modise cautioned the public against offering such invasive species as gifts over the festive season.

“The long-term consequences of all of these species can be devastating. As an example, the rose-ringed parakeet is establishing huge flocks in parts of our country, which could have very significant impacts on agriculture, private fruit trees, and of course our rich bird biodiversity.”

Modise said there were currently 2,099 permits issued to South Africans regarding invasive species, with about 420 permits being granted annually.

He said the Eastern Cape accounted for the most permits granted (464), followed by Gauteng (398) and the Free State (343).


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