THE RSPCA received more than 120 calls about exotic animals last year in Shropshire, new figures show.

The UK’s largest and oldest animal welfare charity has released its annual statistics, which reveal the plight of the more unusual animals being kept as pets and in the UK.

Shropshire residents contacted the charity about an exotic animals 122 times in 2018, up from 111 in 2017. Nationally in England and Wales, the charity received a total of 15,790 calls about abandoned, stray, sick, suffering and neglected exotic reptiles, mammals, birds and fish, more than 40 a day, or more than one every hour.

The RSPCA believes the reason behind some of the suffering of these exotics pets is that owners do not do their research and don’t understand the type and amount of care that they need, resulting in them being neglected, dumped or escaping.

Among the exotic animals the RSPCA was called about in Shropshire last year was a bearded dragon who was found dumped in a shoebox near Telford.

The reptile was found by youngsters who were playing on a grassed area in Madeley. The dumped animal was dumped with no food or water.

RSPCA inspector Vicky Taylor took the dumped pet - who was nicknamed Hagrid after the bearded Harry Potter character - to a specialist reptile keeper for care. It was found that the bearded dragon had small burns on her body.

Inspector Taylor said: “Bearded dragons need a warm climate so the reptile could have died if she wasn’t discovered when she was. There was also no food and water in the box so she could have starved to death.

“It is so sad that they are just dumped at the side of the road like a piece of rubbish.”

Stephanie Jayson, RSPCA senior scientific officer for exotics, said: “Although their numbers are small compared to more common pets, we have real concerns about the welfare of reptiles and other exotic animals kept as pets in this country.

“Reptiles and other exotic pets are completely reliant on their owners to meet their welfare needs including requiring the correct levels of heat, light and humidity, plus an appropriate diet. Many of the animals we’re called to help are found stray outside, where they can very quickly suffer in the cold.

“These animals are commonly found for sale in pet shops and are advertised online. At least in the past, animals have often been handed over to buyers with little or no information about how to care for them properly, although new regulations in England should improve this. In some cases, we believe owners take them on simply because they believe they will be easier to care for than other pets, but it is essential that people research what is required in the care of their pet, from food, equipment, environment and vet care, before taking one on. We would also urge them to ask for help if they’re struggling to meet their needs.

“We believe that people may buy them with little idea of how difficult they can be to keep and the animals are sometimes neglected when the novelty wears off and the commitment hits home. This is why we would encourage anyone thinking of getting an exotic pet to find out as much as possible about the animal’s needs and whether they’re the right pet for them.”

The RSPCA, which has a team of specially trained exotics officers, rescued over 4,000 exotic animals in 2018, including more than 500 snakes, more than 300 turtles, 145 bearded dragons, five raccoon dogs and even four marmosets and one wallaby. In Shropshire, officers rescued 31 exotic pets in 2018.