How Brits face worrying rise in deadly snakes invading homes as cost of living crisis spurs owners to DUMP exotic pets6 min read
WITH prices snaking upwards, the cost of living crisis has hit pockets hard and pet owners are feeling the pinch – particularly when it comes to reptiles.
In recent months the RSPCA and other rescue charities have seen an upturn in abandoned snakes and lizards as the surging price of energy leaves owners struggling to pay for heating and lighting specialist tanks.
In March, three royal pythons and a corn snake were dumped in plastic boxes by the side of a road in Surrey and found by a member of the public.
The same month a python was seen on the loose in a Birmingham park, while last week Tottenham Hotspur staff were stunned when a large snake slithered across the grass at the team’s training ground.
Last month the RSPCA rescued seven snakes abandoned in a house in Rochdale after their owner moved on and told the landlord he was leaving them behind.
“There has been a huge increase in animals being dumped – specifically snakes,” Kayleigh Firth from Reptilia Exotic Animal Rescue, in West Yorkshire, told The Sun.
“Just this week we’ve rescued four corn snakes who were dumped. It really is sad and we wish people would just hand them over.
“We are being contacted daily regarding rehoming reptiles and it is usually due to the fact the owners can no longer afford to keep them.
“Thankfully, those owners are finding the right sources rather than dumping them, but others are not.”
It’s estimated that the UK has over half a million legally owned snakes, along with 400,000 lizards, most commonly bearded dragons and leopard geckos.
As the purse strings are set to get tighter in the coming months, charities are expecting a spike in abandoned pets, leading to fears that irresponsible owners will let deadly snakes loose in the wild.
Fred Bark, Head of Reptiles at the RSPCA Brighton, says snakes found in UK woods and gardens are becoming an increasing problem.
“It’s hard to say whether they’re abandoned or they’re escaping, because snakes are quite well known for being good escape artists,” he tells us.
“Just the other day we had a call about a stray corn snake and last week, we got a call about two more, and we’ve had a couple of stray bearded dragons.
“We get a fair amount of homeless animals being picked up off the street.”
Deadly boa constrictors
While the relatively harmless corn snake and royal python, which both grow to between four and five feet, are the most common breed in captivity, Fred says they are “inundated” with larger snakes, such as bone-crushing boa constrictors, which are typically double that size.
“Boa constrictors and Burmese pythons have become a bit of a problem because of their size and temperament, and they are quite prone to illness,” he says.
“It’s hard to find someone who’s willing to give them the appropriate care, so boa constrictors and reticulated pythons sit here for a while.
“Our longest resident is Barnaby the boa constrictor, who came to us three years ago and was so damaged and deformed from disease he couldn’t close his mouth and his growth was stunted. He’s only 5ft long when they usually grow to 10ft.”
Incredibly, while special licences are needed to own venomous snakes including vipers, cobras and death adders, there are no restrictions on owning the constrictors.
“Even some of the venomous ones aren’t on the banned list on the Dangerous Wild Animals (DWA) act,” says Fred.
“A lot of big scary species like anaconda, boa constrictors and reticulated python, literally the biggest snake in the world, are readily available. You can go into a pet shop and buy one without any checks, which is ridiculous.
“Good sellers are very strict on who they sell to and make sure the animals go with someone who has the right facilities.
“Unfortunately, there are more who are willing to sell anything to anyone to make as much money as they can.”
Soaring energy bills
While they are cheap to feed – the average snake needing no more than a £1.20 mouse every fortnight – the real cost of keeping reptiles is in the equipment and the energy needed to run it.
As most come from tropical climes, they need constant heat, light and humidity.
The initial layout on UV bulbs, heat mats and thermostats alone can easily top £120. Vivariums – the tanks needed for reptiles – cost upwards of £150.
“The UV bulbs alone can be £20 pounds each,” says RSPCA Scientific Officer Evie Button.
“Because they come from hot countries, the temperature needs to be much higher than we would get in the UK, even at night.
“You need to have several things plugged in 24 hours a day, which means a lot of electricity.”
Specialist vet bills can also be expensive and many exotic pet owners struggle to get reasonably priced insurance.
On top of that, the lifespan of a lizard or snake is considerably longer than the average dog or cat – with many living up to 30 years.
Stray snakes ‘head to bathrooms’ for warmth
While hard-up owners dumping their pets is an increasing problem, Evie says most non-native species are unlikely to breed in the UK countryside.
“It’s possible, but it would depend on the time of year and whether they find somewhere warm enough to survive and find food,” she explains.
“When it’s colder, their whole metabolism slows down, it’s harder for them to digest food and hunt, so most would die in the wild.
“If they laid eggs, they would be pretty unlikely to hatch unless the temperatures here were similar to the tropical climate. It’s warm at the moment, but not quite that warm.”
However, Evie warns that stray snakes might try and invade houses in search of warmth.
“Bathrooms seem to be quite a common place for them to pop up because they gravitate towards a warm, humid room,” she says.
“We have had several cases of snakes being found wrapped around boilers, including one reticulated python in North London.”
Killed by pet python
Deaths caused by snakes are rare in the UK, but in 2018, experienced owner Daniel Brandon was tragically killed by his 8ft foot python, Tiny.
The 31-year-old, from Basingstoke, owned 10 snakes and died of asphyxiation after being suffocated by the non-venomous African rock python he had raised from a baby.
Fred says snakes roaming wild in the UK are unlikely to be a danger to the public.
“People who keep venomous snakes have to jump through a lot of hoops before they are allowed to keep them, which means their collections are very secure,” he says.
“Dedicated keepers like that aren’t going to let their animals out.
“The non-venomous snakes, like the boa constrictor, may be dangerous to a cat or small dog.
“Reticulated pythons kill one or two people a year, but they tend to be in their native habitat of the Indonesian rainforest where, typically, the population is a lot smaller.
“Generally, the victims have got drunk, gone out into the jungle and fallen asleep before being eaten.
“Humans are a very awkward shape because of our long arms and legs, so fortunately for us, we’re not really on the prey list.”
Long, cruel death
While the market is now flooded with snakes and lizards that need rehoming, Evie says anyone wanting to give an exotic pet a home should research the cost of food and bills and what kind of commitment would be involved.
“Do your research rather than it being a bit more of a spur of the moment purchase,” she says.
She would like to see the government amending the legislation on exotic pets so that it lists species which can safely and humanely be kept as pets in the UK, rather than those that are banned.
Evie urges owners struggling to care for their pets to hand them over to the charity or another rescue centre, rather than setting them free.
“Snakes and reptiles really struggle to survive in the wild here,” she says. “It’s going to be a slow, unpleasant end for them, so it’s cruel and it’s illegal.”