More Australians open homes to exotic pets
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.
Brooke Winters (left) has a bearded dragon as a pet. James Bornstein (right top) holds his pet dingo Kimba during a walk, and Sammi Smith, 4, carries Fideo, an albino ferret, in her house.