Shanghai Daily

Niche pets can be so cute, but your home environmen­t may kill them

- Lu Feiran

Deng Yingya became fascinated by angora ferrets after seeing them in online videos, so she bought one from a pet shop in Putuo District and named it Kai Kai.

Bred at a Scandinavi­an facility, the mammal has a face similar to that of a hamster and is 30-50 centimeter­s long. Owners praise the animals as “clean as cats and friendly as dogs.” With training, ferrets can even learn to do a few tricks.

“I have raised both cats and dogs, and yes, my lovely Kai Kai is as cute as expected,” the marketing specialist said of her new pet.

The angora is a relatively new breed of ferret, in existence for about three decades.

Deng bought her ferret from a shop at the Lanling Flower & Bird Market — the largest venue selling pets and ornamental plants in Shanghai.

The shop, operated by Ding Ning, is never as busy as nearby vendors selling kittens, puppies, koi fish and beetles, but it does have a stable clientele.

Young customers don’t blink at the prices. A ferret costs 2,000 yuan (US$300) on average, equivalent to the price of a British Shorthair cat or a Corgi puppy. With the new pet comes a pedigree certificat­e and a guidebook of how to raise ferrets.

“The angora ferret is a relatively new type of pet in a fiercely competitiv­e market,” said Ding. “Some of my customers have gone on to become vendors in their own right.”

The rising popularity of such niche pets is mostly down social networking, where netizens upload videos of their pet ferrets, snakes and even foxes on video-sharing websites such as Bilibili and Douyin, and lifestyle platforms like Xiaohongsh­u.

On Bilibili, it’s common to see videos of angora ferrets, which attract millions of views, while on Xiaohongsh­u, successful niche-pet bloggers can garner hundreds of thousands of followers.

However, what looks cute on a screen may not be an ideal pet once it’s arrived in your home.

A banker who goes under the online name of Birmingman shared his sad tale of owning a sugar glider, a species of Australian marsupial.

Birmingman said he first saw sugar gliders on Xiaohongsh­u. The small possum has a fluffy body, long tail and big round eyes that melted his heart.

But the love affair was shattered

Many types of cold-blooded pets are not very newbie-friendly and raising them unscientif­ically is often fatal to the animals.

Amy Ma A niche pet owner

once he brought a sugar glider home.

“It was a very stinky animal,” he said. “My home was filled with the odor of its urine and feces for months. The animal died when winter came. The Internet didn’t tell me that sugar gliders are such difficult pets.”

Jin Xin, a profession­al breeder of sugar gliders, said that Birmingman made several mistakes.

“The sugar glider can survive only in temperatur­es above 18 degrees Celsius, while in Shanghai, the average temperatur­e in winter is 4 to 12 degrees,” Jin said. “Now even in summer, I cover them with thick blankets if we have air conditioni­ng running indoors.”

As for the stink, Jin said he suspects that Birmingman bought a male glider, which has a scent gland that reeks during mating seasons.

In their natural habitat, sugar gliders live communally in large family groups in trees. They are nocturnal mammals, with sharp claws used to “glide” from tree to tree. A human home is a far cry from its native environmen­t.

“The moral of the story is that we should always have sufficient knowledge before raising a new pet,” Birmingman concluded.

White-collar worker Amy Ma is a niche pet owner who prefers coldbloode­d animals. She said she knows how much damage the Internet can do to such pets, so she never reveals anything about her “precious babies” online.

“Many types of cold-blooded pets are not very newbie-friendly and raising them unscientif­ically is often fatal to the animals,” she said. “I’ve heard of a lot that people who have no experience in raising reptiles and buy frogs or lizards on impulse. They don’t bother to learn to create a livable environmen­t for them, and the animals just die within days. We want to avoid such tragedies as much as possible.”

Ma has been raising cold-blooded pets for seven years. Allergic to the fur of cats and dogs, she raised a central bearded dragon as a pet.

Her pet family has grown to include

an Australian green tree frog, several caramel pink albino slider turtles and gecko lizards.

“With cold-blooded creatures living at home, you need to pay attention to the humidity and temperatur­e indoors,” she explained. “Take the Australian green tree frog, for example. If the temperatur­e in the tank is 28 degrees Celsius, while the indoor temperatur­e is 23 degrees, it might catch a stomach disease by just emerging from the water for several minutes.”

Ma and fellow cold-blooded pet aficionado­s communicat­e with each other by phone. They exchange tips and sometimes buy newborns from one another.

“Social media is a double-edged sword for pets,” she said. “It draws attention to unusual animals but also opens the door to potential damage. There will always be irresponsi­ble pet owners.”

That’s true. Irresponsi­ble pet owners are a continuing problem in Shanghai.

Last year, several Arctic foxes were spotted in the city. One of them sneaked into the subway. All were eventually captured and sent to Shanghai Zoo, where officials said they suspected the foxes were abandoned pets.

“Most of the Arctic foxes in our zoo are abandoned pets,” the zoo said on its official WeChat account. “Foxes are nocturnal animals and love to burrow, so that they are not ideal city pets. We always advise people not to raise animals on impulse. And if you already have one, don’t abandon it.”

 ?? ?? Boxes of geckos and corn snakes are displayed in a pet shop at the Lanling Flower & Bird Market in Shanghai. — Lu Feiran
Boxes of geckos and corn snakes are displayed in a pet shop at the Lanling Flower & Bird Market in Shanghai. — Lu Feiran
 ?? ?? Amy Ma’s pet Australian green tree frog
Amy Ma’s pet Australian green tree frog
 ?? ?? A baby sugar glider. — Lu Feiran
A baby sugar glider. — Lu Feiran
 ?? ?? A baby angora ferret. — Ti Gong
A baby angora ferret. — Ti Gong

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