The Dublin Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (DSPCA) has recorded an increase in the number of exotic or dangerous animals rescued in Dublin over recent years.
Micro pigs, pygmy goats, scorpions and snakes are but some of the non-native animals recovered by the DSPCA who then must care for the animals until they can be re-located. Some can be adopted by new owners while others are housed in sanctuaries like the National Exotic Animal Sanctuary (NEAS) in Co Meath.
In the Irish media there have been some high profile cases of exotic animal rescue, such as the rescue of a scorpion from a building site last month, which has raised the question of whether there is adequate legislation and regulation governing exotic animal ownership. While the scorpion likely came into the country on a foreign shipment of building materials, most of the exotic animals cared for by the DSPCA and NEAS are handed in by owners who feel they can longer care for the creatures.
The current legislation governing Irish wildlife trade is the Wildlife Act of 1976/2000 and the EU’s CITES [Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species] legislation. This legislation offers very few restrictions on the breeding and importation of exotic wildlife.
For example, it is perfectly legal to own a tiger in Ireland. There is no license required and no registry is kept of the animal or its owner. While it may be difficult to import the animal, if it is bred within the EU, no paperwork is required to be kept about its existence. It is almost impossible to trace the origin of an animal once it is handed in or rescued, although it is believed that many may be bred in Ireland.
There are many risks posed by these undocumented animals in Ireland, apart from immediate public health concerns, like the possibility they are carrying diseases and the danger they pose to indigenous species. Gillian Bird, press officer at the DSPCA, said many of the animals identified thus far are not invasive and there is little threat to native animals but only at the moment. She also said that tackling the issue of exotic animals in Ireland needs education. Most owners are unaware of the degree of care many of these animals need as well as the extra costs which will inevitably arise during the course of their care.
Today, exotic animals in Ireland are still considered uncommon and a niche interest, but the problem is growing and without proper guidelines and legislation in place, rules cannot be enforced and the problem and risk to Irish animals and people will only continue to grow.
By Chris Kelly