If you like animals but walking the dog or putting the cat out seems like too much work, maybe you should try a snake. They only feed once a week and they never need to go for a walk. On the other hand, you don't want them cuddling up beside you while you’re watching The Morning Show.
Claire Byrne spoke to Dr Michel Dugon, Zoology Specialist at the Venom Lab NUI Galway and Dr Bairbre O’Malley from Village Vets in Bray and Associate Lecturer in Exotic Species at the Veterinary College at UCD about the fact that more people in Ireland are considering getting exotic pets.
Michel spoke to Claire from his office where there were two pythons, seven lizards and one tortoise. He also has a tarantula for a pet. Why would anyone want a tarantula for a pet, Claire wanted to know. Michel spoke about the fact that he’s made a career of his fascination with all sorts of strange creatures. And he argues that while a tarantula can make an odd pet, it also makes for a very manageable one:
"It’s a fascinating animal with a very interesting behaviour, very interesting habits and a very interesting way to live."
But, Claire points out, you don’t have a tarantula for companionship, do you? No you don’t, Michel says, you won’t be cuddling your tarantula while you’re watching TV. You might, Claire suggests, to which Michel replies:
"It might be a bad idea. You might do that once or twice, but you’re going to regret it at the end. But it’s not just an animal that you cuddle, it’s can also be an animal that you try to learn from, in terms of zoology and habits and behaviour. An animal that you want to study as well and in the case of a tarantula, it’s a little bit more a case of that."
Not for most people then. Fair enough. Bairbre deals with a wide range of exotic animals at her vet clinic. Claire asked here why she thinks people are attracted to exotic animals. Part of it, Bairbre says, is that very exoticness – people are intrigued by how different these creatures are. But there are also lifestyle reasons:
"People have busy lives these days. They often can’t have a dog because they’re at work all day. So for families especially, there might be children with allergies, so you can’t have a cat or a dog, or a furry animal. So a reptile is a perfect pet for a family that are fascinated by animals."
There are also those who want a nocturnal animal that is only waking up when they’re getting home from work. Something like a ferret or an African pygmy hedgehog or pet rats. Wait, wait, wait. Pet rats? Yes, you read that correctly and Bairbre is all for the idea of pet rats:
"Pet rats are wonderful pets. Mothers hate pet rats because they always associate them with vermin, you know, the dirt and they think it’s a dirty animal. But they’re some of the cleanest animals around because pet rats come from the laboratory industry, so they’re very infection-free, you know, they’re very, very clean animals."
Still not sold, sorry. In fact, if you find your teenager has been hiding their pet rat in their room, it may be an option to feed that rat to your pet snake, as Michel tells Claire that he feeds his snakes – depending on their size – anything from mice to large rabbits.
"All dead of course, all purchased directly from suppliers because it is actually considered unethical to feed live animals to a snake, it would be, it would put the animal under extreme stress."
Okay, so feeding the teen’s hypothetical forbidden pet rat to the snake is, uh, forbidden. Owning exotic animals might not be as easy as previously suggested...
You can hear Claire’s full conversation with Michel and Bairbre – including how Michel’s clever lizard walks the campus of NUI Galway and how exotic birds can outlive their owners – by clicking above.