Updated 23 April 2014

Getting a really weird pet

If dogs and cats are a bit "tame" for you and you're shopping for something a little more unconventional, there are quite a few things you should really know.

Unusual pets (i.e. other than cats and dogs) can be a very rewarding choice as an alternative “best friend”, but they do take some extra thought:

Do your homework beforehand about the animal you’d like to acquire as a pet: its needs, behaviour and the cost of upkeep. Think beyond the initial fun novelty aspect, and get serious about whether this is really in your and the animal's best interests. Consider questions such as: How much space do they need and can you provide it? Are there risks involved, like zoonoses or biting? Are they a suitable choice for you and your situation?

For example, African grey parrots can live 50-60 years or even longer, so they may not be a good option for an elderly person unless you have a plan in place for care of the animal after the owner dies.

Contact reputable animal interest organisations that can advise you and help you decide whether you and the type of animal are a good match.

Don’t assume you know about dietary requirements. Again, research this well beforehand.  The animal may have very specialised nutritional and other health needs and won’t thrive if these aren’t carefully followed. For example, feeding birds certain foods like avocado and an exclusive diet of seeds can be bad for them, even toxic.

Most pets are cats and dogs, and thus cats and dogs are what most vets have experience in. Sooner or later your pet will require veterinary care, and then you need to be able to take it to a vet who is confident about treatment for that species. So before you acquire a new animal, talk to vets in your area about this issue. There are specialist vets who deal with, for example, birds or exotics, but they are not available in many areas.

Exotic and wild animals require especially sober consideration as to whether it’s ethical and acceptable to make one a pet. Many conservationists and animal welfare advocates are against keeping any exotic (i.e. they have been imported from other countries) and wild animals as pets. Certainly, free-living wild animals should remain that way, and there are many cases of exotics escaping and threatening local ecosystems. (Burmese pythons escaping in Florida is one notorious example.)

If you feel you can give the animal a good quality of life and do wish to go ahead, however, it’s important to know that there are laws controlling the import, transport, sale and keeping of exotic and wild animals. In most cases you will need to apply for a permit first: find out what the legal situation is in your province. Make very sure that any pet you purchase is from a reputable dealer:  do a background check and also check with the authorities.  

Useful contacts:
- Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Compliance & Enforcement Project Tel: +27 (0)11 486 1102 E-mail:
- Cape Nature Wild Animal Captivity Permit applications.

Farm animals can make good unusual pets, but again you need to check beforehand what the legal situation is in your area. If you live in the city, there will be specific bylaws regulating, for example, how many animals you can keep. There may also be noise nuisance issues, as with keeping roosters (or even several chickens) in a residential area.

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