Ex­otic to main­stream: Aus­tralians wild about un­usual pets

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

The proud owner of dingo 'Kimba', James Born­stein, is part of the new wave of Aus­tralian ex­otic pet lovers whose un­con­ven­tional com­pan­ions are grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity. In a coun­try known for its un­usual wildlife, Born­stein says hav­ing a sub-species of the grey wolf in his Sydney home is an op­por­tu­nity to change peo­ple's neg­a­tive per­cep­tions about the na­tive wild dog and apex 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 told AFP.

Din­goes are in­fa­mous thanks to the dra­matic case of Azaria Cham­ber­lain-a nine-week-old baby snatched by one of the an­i­mals dur­ing a camp­ing trip in cen­tral Aus­tralia in 1980, which was made into a movie. Born­stein hopes his ef­forts will in­crease sup­port for con­ser­va­tion, as dingo num­bers de­cline amid habi­tat loss and cross-breed­ing with do­mes­tic dogs. His views are echoed by Ben Dessen, rep­tile man­ager at Kel­lyville Pets store in Sydney, who owned his first snake at just six.

"Now we see ev­ery six-year-old that we set up with their first rep­tile-hope­fully they want to go on and pro­tect an­i­mals and have an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for how amaz­ing these crea­tures are," he says. Ac­cord­ing to the Aus­tralian Vet­eri­nary As­so­ci­a­tion, ex­otic pets are be­com­ing "more and more pop­u­lar", with res­i­dents own­ing mil­lions of birds, fish, small mam­mals and reptiles.

Ernie Chan, a breeder who has kept up to 130 reptiles, says shrink­ing homes and ur­ban­iza­tion has seen po­ten­tial own­ers turn to smaller pets that re­quire less main­te­nance. "You don't need to take a snake for a walk," Chan says. "Every­body's had dogs and cats for so many years and it's kind of reptiles' time to shine." Brooke Win­ters is an­other ex­otic pet con­vert in a nation fa­mous for koalas, kan­ga­roos and wom­bats.

"I grew up with Steve Ir­win as my idol, so pretty much every­thing that he did I just wanted to mimic," Win­ters said at Macarthur Pets, a large pet store in Sydney that she man­ages. "I just feel like peo­ple don't ap­pre­ci­ate (reptiles) enough and treat them very dif­fer­ently just be­cause they don't have fur." "Crocodile Hunter" Ir­win was a world-renowned con­ser­va­tion­ist whose stunts with dan­ger­ous an­i­mals drew at­ten­tion to wildlife Down Un­der be­fore his death a decade ago.

De­spite their grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity, there are strict laws across Aus­tralia gov­ern­ing what ex­otic crea­tures can be kept as pets. Even so, wel­fare of­fi­cials warn of back­yard breed­ers or buy­ing an an­i­mal that may have been grabbed from the wild. "Those an­i­mals can have re­ally spe­cial needs and even if they have been bred in cap­tiv­ity, they are gen­er­ally wild an­i­mals with long his­to­ries of liv­ing in par­tic­u­lar en­vi­ron­ments," RSPCA Aus­tralia's Jane Speech­ley adds. "They don't nec­es­sar­ily adapt very well to be­ing kept as com­pan­ion an­i­mals." — AFP

This pic­ture shows four year-old Sammi Smith car­ry­ing Fideo, a three-year-old male al­bino fer­ret in her house on the out­skirts of Sydney — AFP Pho­tos

This pic­ture shows Ann Har­ris play­ing with her pet Aus­tralian minia­ture pig 'Coco' on her prop­erty on the out­skirts of Sydney.

This pic­ture shows Brooke Win­ters with her pet 'Mario', a bearded dragon, sit­ting on her head at the pet shop where she works in Sydney.

This pic­ture shows rep­tile breeder Ernie Chan with 'Mal­foy', an al­bino Dar­win car­pet python, in Sydney.

This pic­ture shows James Born­stein with his pet Dingo named 'Kimba' dur­ing her daily walk on a beach on the out­skirts of Sydney.

This pic­ture shows rep­tile breeder Ernie Chan hold­ing 'Luna', an al­bino short-neck tur­tle at a pet store in Sydney.

This pic­ture shows rep­tile breeder Ben Dessen hold­ing a Flin­ders Ranges scor­pion, the big­gest scor­pion species in Aus­tralia, at a pet store in Sydney.

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