More Aus­tralians open homes to ex­otic pets

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Syd­ney

The proud owner of Kimba the dingo, James Born­stein, is part of a new wave of Aus­tralian ex­otic pet lovers whose un­con­ven­tional com­pan­ions are grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity.

In a coun­try known for its un­usual wildlife, Born­stein said hav­ing a sub­species of the gray wolf in his Syd­ney home is an op­por­tu­nity to change peo­ple’s neg­a­tive per­cep­tions about the na­tive wild dog and preda­tor.

“Din­goes are so in­tel­li­gent. We want peo­ple to see her (Kimba) and re­al­ize they are not vi­cious an­i­mals, they are just like nor­mal dogs,” he said.

Din­goes are in­fa­mous, thanks to the dra­matic case of Azaria Cham­ber­lain — a 9-week-old baby snatched by one of the an­i­mals and killed dur­ing a camp­ing trip in cen­tral Aus­tralia in 1980.

Born­stein hopes his ef­forts will in­crease sup­port for con­ser­va­tion, since dingo num­bers are de­clin­ing amid habi­tat loss and cross­breed­ing with do­mes­tic dogs.

His views are echoed by Ben Dessen, rep­tile man­ager at Kel­lyville Pets store in Syd­ney, who owned his first snake at age 6.

Now, he said, many 6-yearolds are set up with their first rep­tile, and “hope­fully they want to go on and pro­tect an­i­mals and have an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for how amaz­ing these crea­tures are”.

Ac­cord­ing to the Aus­tralian Ve­teri­nary As­so­ci­a­tion, ex­otic pets are be­com­ing more pop­u­lar, with res­i­dents owning mil­lions of birds, fish, small mam­mals and rep­tiles.

Ernie Chan, a breeder who has kept up to 130 rep­tiles, said shrink­ing homes and ur­ban­iza­tion have seen po­ten­tial own­ers turn to smaller pets that re­quire less main­te­nance.

“You don't need to take a snake for a walk,” Chan said.

Brooke Win­ters, who said she grew up with “Croc­o­dile Hunter” Steve Ir­win as her idol, is an­other ex­otic pet con­vert in a nation fa­mous for koalas, kan­ga­roos and wom­bats.

Ir­win, a tele­vi­sion per­son­al­ity known as “the Croc­o­dile Hunter” who drew at­ten­tion to Aus­tralia’s wildlife, died in 2006 af­ter be­ing struck in the ch­est by a stingray barb while mak­ing a doc­u­men­tary film.

“I just feel like peo­ple don’t ap­pre­ci­ate (rep­tiles) enough and treat them very dif­fer­ently just be­cause they don't have fur,” said Win­ters, who man­ages Macarthur Pets in Syd­ney.

De­spite the pets’ grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity, strict laws across Aus­tralia gov­ern which ex­otic crea­tures can be kept.

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