“The fact of the matter is that many people are holding these [exotic pets]. Some are holding them illegally, some legally, but there are a couple of things you need to know before you can hold a creature,” Tshepang Makganyane, general manager of the Johannesburg Zoo, told CNBC Africa.
According to the Human Society of the Unites States, the exotic pet trade is a multi-billion dollar industry, and many have gone to great lengths to acquire unusual pets.
Popular exotic animals, such as the corn snake from South America, can be purchased from local pet shops in South Africa, but buyers are required to own special permits for the animal.
The country’s nature conservation and environmental department also regulates the legal requirements regarding exotic animals.
“The cost of keeping [an exotic pet] is even more than the [cost of the pet] itself, because you have to consider issues regarding food, and the veterinary requirements. You have to clean after it every day, provide it with care and your time also counts,” Makganyane explained.
Bearded dragons from South America are another prevalent exotic pet choice, and purchase prices start from 1,000 rand to 5,000 rand, depending on the size of the reptile.
The exotic pet trade is however a controversial industry as activists regard such animals is endangered species rather than exotic pets.
The industry is also fraught with illegal trade. Instances of poor handling and breeding in captivity have resulted in the deaths of a number of animals, forcing governments to implement certain restrictions and fines on illegal trading, ownership and maltreatment of the animals.
Demand for the ownership of exotic animals however continues to fuel the industry.
“Private individuals who run pet shops, it’s lucrative business for them. With us, as conservationists, we keep these animals to teach people about them, look at their welfare, upkeep and look at their health,” said Johannesburg Zoo education supervisor Nathi Mvula.
The Johannesburg Zoo provides a suitable climate for its selection of exotic animals by mimicking the environment the animals come from. The zoo is also well funded to continue providing climactic, dietary and health requirements for all its animals.
“We receive quite substantial amounts and subsistence from the City of Johannesburg. The government is funding us with regard to taking care of the animals, and also the developments in terms of the facility,” said Makganyane.
Students studying Zoology and related courses have shown an increasing interest in gaining experiential learning from the zoo.