The UK’s experts on animal welfare, the RSPCA, recently called on the expert skills of the Sparsholt College teaching team to deliver two weeks of specialist training to their RSPCA trainees. Alongside large farm animal handling and equine training the 16 trainee officers spent a number of days on the handling and care of exotic animals.

RSPCA Exotics Senior Scientific Officer, Nicola White, explains why their officers sought out Sparsholt’s expert advice: “Reptiles are increasing in popularity and the number of related incidents dealt with by the RSPCA has risen in recent years too. Sadly as their popularity increases so does the number of calls we receive about them and we are experiencing widespread neglect of reptiles across the country. In response to this we have been training a number of officers to specialise in this area of animal welfare”.

The  RSPCA has found that many people are unaware of how much of a commitment exotic animals are when they take them on. As a result they are rescuing hundreds of reptiles every year – and this number appears to be on the increase.

The RSPCA regularly call on Sparsholt to deliver training courses drawing on the huge range of species the College has within its animal collection. This invaluable resource provides the RSPCA trainees with an insight into what animal keepers could have within their homes and the specialist training provides the expert skills on how to manage an encounter if ever called upon to make an official visit regarding an exotic animal.

Sparsholt College expert Animal Management lecturer Lizzie O’Grady designed the bespoke courses to give the trainees the knowledge and practise for identifying and handling exotic animals in the field. The course covered  theoretical base knowledge and learning the differences between domestic pets and exotic animals, as well as the all-important practical element of providing trainees with ‘hands on’ experience needed to carry out their roles confidently.

Commenting on the importance of the course, Lizzie said: “This training is vital if animal keepers are going to maintain a good standard of animal welfare. The growing popularity in keeping pets now means that exotics are, in some cases, as popular as domestic pets and therefore should be cared for to the same standard.”

The RSPCA would like to remind people that although reptiles may look resilient and tough on the outside they are actually very reliant on their owners for heat, light, food and water – and it is not always easy to see when they are poorly or suffering. The conditions these animals need are not always easy to replicate in a home environment. Unlike cats or dogs these animals have not undergone years of domestication, therefore they are wild animals kept in captivity and their needs are the same as in the wild.

Exotics, especially reptiles, commonly found in pet shops nowadays are often handed over to buyers with very little or no information about how to care for them or the commitment that is involved in keeping them happy and healthy. For this reason the RSPCA is urging potential owners to research and look into what is required in the care of their pet first before taking one on so they know what is involved and how long it is likely to be for.

There are books full of information on how to care for all sorts of species and specialist vets are an excellent source of support and advice. For further information on how to care for exotic animals please visit: www.rspca.org.uk/exotics

For further information on the full range of Animal Management courses at Sparsholt from Apprenticeships through to Masters degrees please visit www.sparsholt.ac.uk/subject/animal-zoo-management/