RSPCA raids expose trade in deadly wild animals

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The Independent Online

The discovery of a collection of deadly snakes in a Sheffield flat has led to fresh demands from animal welfare experts for tighter controls on the trade in dangerous species.

The discovery of a collection of deadly snakes in a Sheffield flat has led to fresh demands from animal welfare experts for tighter controls on the trade in dangerous species.

When raiding the flat earlier this year, inspectors from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) discovered that the amateur enthusiast had illegally built up a collection of some of the world's most lethal reptiles.

In a single room, the inspectors discovered two sidewinders, a copperhead, two gaboon vipers and three puff adders, some in a suitable glass vivarium but others in plastic vivariums sold as temporary accommodation for reptiles.

The haul was one of the most startling of the 3,761 cases uncovered by the RSPCA where exotic animals were either illegally or inadequately owned, reinforcing its campaign for tighter legislation on the sale and ownership of dangerous species.

Among the most extreme cases was the discovery of a five-foot Mississippi alligator, called Louis, in a 10ft square bedroom in Chesterfield. The animal, which could have grown to 12 foot, had been imported from the United States for a zoo, sold to a pet shop and then to an unlicensed man.

In a similar case in Essex, a man bought an "exotic lizard" for £20 in his local pub, only to discover later that he had purchased a 18-inch spectacled caiman, a type of crocodile. They prefer tropical conditions, live meat and fish, and tend to reach seven feet in length.

A teenager in Basingstoke, Hampshire, bought an "aggressive" male yellow anaconda for £30 as a hatchling from a local pet shop. By the time it was recovered by the RSPCA, the South American constrictor was obese, severely dehydrated and curled up in a vivarium measuring two-foot square. A semi aquatic species, it had a cereal-sized bowl to bathe in.

And in Chippenham, Wiltshire, the RSPCA recovered an abandoned iguana with three quarters of its tail snapped off, the stump left rotting. Its owners, who abandoned the two-foot beast when they sold their house, had tried and failed to mend it with sticky tape.

Chris Laurence, the RSPCA's chief veterinary officer, said the Dangerous Wild Animals Act had serious loopholes, including a failure to require pet shops to have dangerous wild animals licences, and a failure adequately to enforce the legislation. Despite the large number of cases it uncovered, only 320 dangerous wild animal licences were in force last year.

The snake owner in Sheffield, for instance, was not prosecuted. "The lack of enforcement is extremely worrying. We believe that unlicensed and unmonitored dangerous wild animals are kept around the country," Mr Laurence said.

The RSPCA says the Government, which is reviewing the Act's powers, should force local authorities to monitor licence holders annually, make it an offence to sell or buy a dangerous wild animal without a licence, and extend the list of such species to include "constricting" snakes such as the anaconda.

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions admitted that the RSPCA's findings increased the pressure to introduce tougher regulation after the review ends in April,. "We are reviewing how effective the Act is, and what changes may need to be made," he said. "We do understand the views of the RSPCA, and clearly, all their views will be taken on board."

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