A lot of fads for exotic pets start from films. A love for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films brought a mania for terrapins, and the Harry Potter films created an urge for owls. But what happens when the films end? Buyer beware: Michelangelo will live for 40 years, Hedwig will not nip you affectionately, and Babe is listed as one of the worst invasive species in the world.
The most common exotic animal to be sold is the terrapin. So many are being bought and then dumped that populations have become established in many places, like Dublin's canals and St. Anne's Park in Raheny. Terrapins are tough animals and can hibernate in cold weather, so many are able to survive for years. More worrying still, if we have a hot enough summer, they could breed successfully in Ireland. There are unconfirmed reports of breeding populations, and if Irish summers become hotter due to global warming it is only a matter of time. Terrapins feed on fish, small frogs, newts and ducklings, so their impact on local wildlife could be devastating. Another successful invasive species is the last thing we need!
Kayleigh explained how so many people buy terrapins, because many pet store are less than honest in what they tell people. The favourite ploy is to say that the cute baby terrapin will never grow any bigger, and that all it needs is a tiny little plastic 'pond' to survive. In fact the terrapin will grow to the size of a dinner plate, will live for decades and needs a specialist tank with a heat lamp, a UV lamp and a dry land area for sunning itself. Oh and it also needs proper food, clean water changed regularly, etc. The result is that a lot of people realise that terrapins are a much bigger commitment than they had realised and end up dumping them in a local pond or river, where most will die. Fortunately there are sanctuaries in Ireland that take in unwanted terrapins and Kayleigh is happy to provide details if the sanctuary is contacted.