Exotics – Veterinary Community

Exotics

To view our full archive of news stories and articles, please log in or register for an account.


BVA highlights welfare needs of reptiles

BVA highlights welfare needs of reptiles

The #ThinkTwice campaign asks potential reptile owners to ensure they are prepared.

The BVA is urging pet owners '#ThinkTwice' before buying a reptile, and ensure that they are meeting the welfare needs of any current reptiles on National Reptile Awareness Day (21 October).

Infographics with facts on common exotic pets are being used by the BVA to encourage pet owners to ensure that they are fully capable of caring for an exotic pet and aware of their needs. 

On its webpage on exotic pets, the BVA outlines its stance on reptiles as pets: “Non-traditional companion animals (NTCAs), or exotics, are those not traditionally kept as pets in the UK and whose welfare needs are so specialised they can rarely be met in a domestic environment. 

“Reptiles, for example, have very specific requirements for humidity, lighting, nutrition, and temperature, and birds have complex social, cognitive, and nutritional needs.

“Many owners take on NTCAs without first discussing their plans with a vet, seeking out well-informed species-specific pre-purchase information, or giving enough thought to how they can provide for the animal's welfare needs.
“By law, all pet owners must make sure they meet their animals' 5 welfare needs.
“The welfare of NTCAs can be improved through education and knowledge sharing. Stakeholders should work in partnership to develop an evidence base to endorse and promote agreed husbandry practices.”

Justine Shotton, BVA president and top zoo veterinary surgeon, said: “When considering buying a reptile as a pet, it is so important to #ThinkTwice, to do your research and to make sure you can meet all of their welfare needs before making a decision. 

“Proper environments for reptiles can be expensive, and will need regular maintenance, such as monitoring temperatures and regularly replacing UV bulbs.

“Without the proper care in captive environments reptiles may suffer serious health issues – which can be fatal.

“It’s also important to remember that while reptiles can start off life very small, they can often grow significantly, so you need to ensure you will be able to look after your pet throughout its entire life, which for some reptiles can be many years.

“If you are uncertain or have any questions about how to care for your reptile, do speak to an exotics vet.”

Exotic pets go under the spotlight at BVNA Congress

Exotic pets go under the spotlight at BVNA Congress

Danielle Beck speaks on the sustainability of keeping reptiles as pets.

The long-term sustainability of exotic animals as pets went under the spotlight on Saturday (2 October) at the BVNA Congress in Telford.

In keeping with this year’s theme of sustainability, clinical animal behaviourist Danielle Beck delivered a thought-provoking presentation on reptile welfare and husbandry in the context of their long-term sustainability as companion animals.

Danielle began by explaining that what makes reptiles different to domestic animals is that they're entirety controlled by their environment. "If we don't set them up in the most basic way, ensuring they have the right temperature, the right kind of lighting, the right kind of diet then we can greatly harm them,” she said.

But while an exotic animal's needs may be different to that of cats or dogs, it does not mean they are impossible to look after. Danielle explained that in the right hands, many reptile species live long and fulfilling lives. A staggering 75 per cent of reptiles, however, die within their first year.

According to Danielle, the biggest issue for the sustainability and welfare of reptiless lie in their breeding, capture and transportation for the pet market. She stressed that education is key to increasing welfare and sustainability, but that the trade is still in question.

“When it comes to sustainably, we need to be looking further up the chain than just somebody's pet at home," she said. "It's not sustainable to just have the animal alive and breeding from it. We need to allow these animals to live and have the freedom to express normal behaviour.”

Danielle shared some simple enrichment ideas that reptiles keepers can introduce to improve the welfare of their animals, including:

  • building levels in the environment to create microclimates
  • creating digging pits with natural substrate – around two feet of digging space is ideal
  • providing sensory enrichment – foraging for food is a natural behaviour for reptiles
  • enabling gradual exposure to novelty – rotate activities for them to do in their enclosure and give them toys to play with – consider cat or dog toys!
  • providing puzzle feeders – monitor lizards, in particular, can benefit from these.
“Have a look into the ethology of the species you are dealing with," said Danielle. "The majority of reptiles can be split into two – sit and wait predators and active foragers. If they've got a forked tongue, it means they are an active forager, so they're going to be looking around and investigating things... both will appreciate foraging-type toys to explore though.”

Derbyshire practice launches first Reptile Education Week

Derbyshire practice launches first Reptile Education Week

Campaign aims to improve understanding of reptiles' basic needs. 

The first Reptile Education Week is taking place this August to improve understanding about looking after exotic pets - and veterinary practices are being invited to get involved.

Launched by Ellie and Lucy of Bright Side Vets in Derbyshire, Reptile Education Week (9-15 August) aims to support owners and practices when caring for exotic pets - from providing the correct housing to looking after their basic needs.

As reptile owners themselves, Ellie and Lucy were inspired by the number of cases they had seen in practice that required a lot of care when the correct guidance from the outset could have saved lives. 

Lucy, a veterinary surgeon at Bright Side Vets, said: “It is heartbreaking to see reptiles in practice that are in a bad way because of a poor understanding of their needs. Often simple things can be done to support these creatures and give them a fulfilled and healthy life”.

Throughout Reptile Education Week, Bright Side Vets will be sharing information on its social media channels about maintaining the health and welfare of some of the most commonly-owned reptile species in the UK - including leopard geckos, corn snakes, Horsfield tortoises, bearded dragons and royal pythons.

Practices wishing to get involved can download a free information pack from Bright Side Vets’ website, containing care sheets, suggested posts, and other materials to share with the practice team or clients. 

Ellie, a receptionist and marketing assistant at Bright Side Vets, said: “We have had nearly 300 practices say that want to get involved in sharing information with their clients. Over the past two months, we have been creating content that we hope other vets and reptile enthusiasts might find useful in sharing.

“We have created our own identity for Reptile Education Week, so others don’t feel they need to use the Bright Side Vets branding. Fingers crossed this is the start of something people will get engaged with year on year”. 

Baby marmoset rescued by RSPCA

Baby marmoset rescued by RSPCA

TikTok the marmoset was found living in terrible conditions in Essex. 

The RSPCA has rescued an infant marmoset who was discovered to be living in bad conditions in a private home in Grays, Essex.

TikTok, named after the social media platform, was living alone in a small bird cage with no enrichment or companionship. 

Despite the fact that the Government is taking action on trading and keeping primates in its Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, the RSPCA believes that this is not enough, and is urging the Government to reconsider its proposals. 

The charity considers a ban on the keeping and trading of pet primates to be the only acceptable answer to protect primate welfare. 

Jack Taylor, RSPCA inspector commented on the keeping of primates as pets: “TikTok's case perfectly highlights why primates should not be available to the public and why they do not belong in people's homes. 

“Just like humans, primates can become depressed without adequate stimulation. They need a spacious and enriched environment that challenges their intelligent brains and allows for them to behave like primates should.

“But, sadly, Inspectors like me are still seeing shocking situations where monkeys are cooped up in bird cages, fed fast food, sugary drinks or even Class A drugs, deprived of companions of their own kind, living in dirt and squalor and suffering from disease.”

TikTok's situation was made even worse by the fact that he is an infant marmoset, and only a few months old. At his age, he should still be receiving care and nursing from his mother.

Inspector Jack added: “He needed rescuing urgently and luckily, after obtaining an agreement for him to be signed over into our care, we were able to find him a forever home at Monkey World.

“Monkey World Director, Dr Alison Cronin, drove up the same day to bring the youngster back to the centre to meet his new family. We would like to thank this wonderful rescue centre for providing him with a safe and appropriate home for life where all his needs can be met.”

The baby marmoset is now living with an adult pair of marmosets, who instantly adopted him, and are now caring for him, reflecting the necessity of parental care for baby marmosets. 

 

Image (C) RSPCA

RSPCA asks councils to declare that pets aren't prizes

RSPCA asks councils to declare that pets aren't prizes

The new campaign hopes to prevent the giving of fish as fairground prizes.


The RSPCA is urging councils to ban the giving out of live animals as fairground prizes, as it fears the 'outdated and cruel' practice will return as events resume post-restrictions.

Urging councils to take a lead on the issue, the RSPCA has asked them to ban any events on their land which give away pets as prizes. 

Since 2015, the RSPCA has received 144 calls about goldfish and other aquatic animals being given away as prizes, and goldfish are the animal most commonly associated with prize-giving. The charity worries that as restrictions lift and fairgrounds and fetes return, goldfish will suffer due to being given away as prizes to unprepared owners.

Evangeline Button, from the wildlife department of the RSPCA, said: "Fairgrounds are a summer family favourite - and we know many people will be delighted to see them return as coronavirus restrictions continue to be eased.

"But sadly, it’s still too often commonplace to see pets - mainly goldfish - being given away as prizes. This remains legal in both England and Wales - but for the animals involved, there is no fun at the fair.

"Animal ownership is a big responsibility - and shouldn't be a spur of the moment result of winning a game. To those playing - if you win, they lose.”
Supporters are being urged by the charity to write to their local Councillor, and ask them to propose a Notice of Motion to ban events on local authority land where pets were being given away as prizes.

The RSPCA hopes that this will make a powerful statement to the UK and Welsh Governments that the giving away of pets as prizes should be a banned practice. The charity continues to ask prospective fish owners to do their research before adding a pet to their family, and say that fish are often 'misunderstood', and can be challenging animals to care for.

“Goldfish are easily stressed and very often, fish that are won as prizes suffer miserably from shock, oxygen starvation or die from changes in water temperature, and many will die before their new owners can even get them home,” Evangeline Button added, “They're misunderstood pets - as they can make great companions; but can actually be challenging to look after and new owners must do their research before they acquire the fish, not afterwards.

“When bringing a fish home for the first time, it’s important to set the tank up at least two weeks in advance to make sure it’s all running smoothly, and this just isn’t possible for someone who’s won a fish without being prepared for it.



“Sadly, goldfish won at fairgrounds are held in plastic bags in unsuitable conditions for long durations and taken to homes which are not adequately prepared to meet their welfare needs. It should be candy floss people take home from the fair - not live animals.”

Caerphilly County Borough Council is one of a number of local authorities who have already taken action to ban the practice in 2019, following concerns about fish being given away as prizes at a fair in the town.

Cllr James Prichard, who spearheaded the ban in Caerphilly, commented: “People I spoke to in Caerphilly were aghast the practice of giving pets as prizes isn't already banned - so it was really important for me to work with the RSPCA to deliver this change. Here in Caerphilly, I'm proud we have now taken a firm stand and used the power at our disposal, and also urged the Welsh Government to deliver change in this area across Wales.”

Welsh government to back primate pet ban

Welsh government to back primate pet ban

RSCPA Cymru welcomes the government's shift in perspective. 

RSPCA Cymru is celebrating a 'big win' for its long-running campaign to stop primates from being kept as pets. The turning point comes as the Welsh government shifts its position on the topic to back a primate pet ban.

A Legislative Consent Motion (LCM) was published by the Welsh government on Tuesday (22 June) regarding the UK Government's Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. The motion promotes a joined-up approach on several animal welfare policies between the two countries. 

The legislation the UK Government has released intends to make a number of reforms surrounding the welfare of kept animals. Among these include legislation on keeping primates as pets, livestock worrying, the export of live animals, and pet importation.

Under the LCM – which will require the support of Senedd members - the UK Government will be given consent to legislate on animal welfare matters which are usually the exclusive concern of the Welsh government.

Despite this consent to legislate, the plans that the UK Government have created to prevent the keeping of primates as pets, do not apply to Wales - with the Welsh Government suggesting in January that it did not intend to ban this practice. 

In accordance with the plans of the UK Government, primates may not be kept in England unless they have been specifically authorised under licence. In addition to this, owners will have to meet certain standards imposed by the Secretary of State in regulations.

This is strongly supported by the RSPCA, however, the RSPCA has a few concerns that the legislation relies too heavily on a licensing scheme administered by already overburdened local authorities, and supports a tightening of the scheme during its Parliamentary journey.

As long as Welsh Ministers for Wales were given the same powers as the Secretary of State in England, the Welsh government has suggested that it would be 'content' for the provisions prohibiting the keeping of primates as pets to be extended to Wales. This move could potentially pave the way for the UK bill to be amended, including Wales in the restrictions. 

A ban has long been campaigned for by RSPCA Cymru, as it believes that it is essentially impossible to meet the needs of monkeys and other primates in a domestic environment. Despite this impossibility, there are an estimated 120 primates currently being kept as pets in Wales.

David Bowles, head of RSPCA public affairs commented on the Welsh government's potential turnaround, saying: "As recently as January, the Welsh Government was publicly not minded to ban - but, following valuable discussions and our ongoing campaigning, we're over the moon to hear them support these important provisions in the Kept Animals Bill extending to Wales.

"We know the public supports a ban - and this is a big win for them and our campaign. We’re delighted that the laying of this LCM has put us a big step closer to ending the keeping of primates as pets in wholly inappropriate environments here in Wales." 

Snakes need to stretch out fully, study finds

Snakes need to stretch out fully, study finds

Animal welfare campaigners call for new legislation on enclosure size.

The minimum enclosure size for snakes should enable them to stretch out fully in all directions, leading experts say.

A scientific review of snake enclosure recommendations, published in Animals, also found that current information on enclosure size is based on 'decades-old ‘rule of thumb’ practices' that are 'unsupported by scientific evidence'.

“Snakes are sentient, intelligent, and physically delicate wild animals that all too often spend almost their entire lives imprisoned in a glass tank the size of a hat box while being gawped at like living curios,” commented study author Dr Clifford Warwick of the Emergent Disease Foundation.

“Our article exposes the nonsense that has led to decades of snake abuse, and that the UK now lags behind even the American pet trade where snake welfare is concerned.”

According to the Animal Protection Agency (APA), around 42 per cent of private snake owners house their animals in enclosures that are too small. Furthermore, snake breeders often keep their animals in ‘racks’, which are essentially plastic drawers designed to simplify maintenance.
 
‘Such restrictive confinement can lead to serious infections, injuries and disease as well as mental and behavioural problems,’ the APA writes. ‘Small enclosures also make it impossible to regulate temperature, lighting and humidity or to provide enrichment in the form of hides, branches or pools.’

Under current government guidelines, snakes in pet shops must be housed in enclosures sized at two-thirds of the snake’s body length. The study authors found that the original evidence for these recommendations can be traced back to two books based on common practices and personal opinion. 

APA director Elaine Toland said the review puts to bed any argument that snake welfare is not compromised by small enclosures. 

“A legal requirement for enclosure sizes that allow snakes to adopt straight-line postures in all directions, as an absolute minimum, would at least allow snakes to perform some of their normal behaviours,” she said. “This is still far from ideal, but animal welfare legislation needs to be urgently updated in order to reflect the complex needs of reptiles.”

RSPCA reiterates call for ban on keeping primates as pets

RSPCA reiterates call for ban on keeping primates as pets

Inspectors rescue three monkeys living in a bedroom in Surrey.

The RSPCA has reiterated its call for a ban on keeping primates as pets after inspectors rescued three marmosets living in unsuitable conditions at a home in Surrey.

RSPCA inspector Natalie Kitchin was called out to the property in Weybridge after concerns were raised about the trio, comprising a mother, a daughter and a son, bought by the owner from a dealer elsewhere in the country. 

“Although the owner had done as much research as he could on keeping primates, a domestic environment just isn’t an appropriate place for monkeys to live,” said Natalie. 

“While these three had the run of a bedroom, this isn’t an appropriate home for an intelligent wild animal that’s evolved to live in the treetops of South America. Not only are they at risk of injury, they don’t have access to UV light to help grow healthy bones and could develop metabolic bone disease as a result.”
 
Natalie made several suggestions as to how the owner could meet the complex needs of his marmosets, but when she returned, he had not made the changes.
 
“In addition, the owner realised that his life situation was about to drastically change, and he acknowledged at that point that the lives of the little monkeys would be so much happier, healthier and enriched at a specialist primate facility,” she said. “It was a wrench for the owner, but he made the right decision to sign the marmosets over to us and also made a contribution to the male’s neutering procedure.”

The RSPCA has long campaigned for a ban on primates as pets, and there are hints that a change could be on the horizon.

In December 2020, the government unveiled plans to ban the keeping of primates as pets together with an eight-week public consultation. Under the plans, it would be against the law to keep a primate as a pet in England unless the primate is being kept to zoo-level standards.

"Primates are hugely intelligent and socially complex animals," commented animal welfare minister Lord Goldsmith. "When they are confined in tiny cages, often alone and with little stimulation, their lives are a misery.

"It’s important that we take action to prevent the suffering caused to them when they are kept as pets, and so I am delighted that we are moving a big step closer towards banning the practice. These proposals will ensure that we have the strongest protections in place for our animals."

The marmosets have since been re-homed at a specialist facility where they will live out the rest of their natural lives.

New exotic species webinar website launched

New exotic species webinar website launched

Just Exotics aims to help professionals broaden their exotic species knowledge. 

A new website has been launched to help veterinary professionals expand their knowledge of exotic animals.

Developed by exotics vet Sonya Miles, justexotics.co.uk aims to help both those starting a career with exotic species and those looking to expand their existing knowledge. 

The website includes a variety of on-demand webinars delivered by expert speakers, as well as care sheets, fact sheets and ‘how to’ videos. Species covered include exotic mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, invertebrates, fish and wildlife.

A Just Exotics spokesperson said: “Our content is suitable for vets, nurses and students, some of our content may also be helpful for clients and has been specifically designed to be convenient and affordable. 

“More content will be added on a regular basis, and please, if there is something you specifically want covered, drop us a message, and will we do our best to make sure it becomes available.”

The webinars cost between £15 and £55 (depending on the length), and include presentations by Sonya herself, Eliabetta Mancinelli, Agata Witkowska, Louise Ash, Sarah Pellett and many others, with more being uploaded regularly. CPD certificates upon complete of the content are also provided.

Vets welcome proposed ban on primates as pets

Vets welcome proposed ban on primates as pets

“We​ ​must​ ​put an end to ​the​ ​keeping​ ​and trade of​ ​primates​ ​as​ ​pets” - Daniella Dos Santos.

The BVA has welcomed government proposals to ban the keeping of primates as pets in England. 

On Saturday (12 December), the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) launched an eight-week consultation seeking views on whether to bring forward legislation to ban the keeping of primates as pets in England. 

Under the proposals, it would be an offence to keep primates, such as lemurs, capuchins and squirrel monkeys as pets. Permission would be granted to those licenced to keep primates at zoo level standards.

Welcoming the move, BVA senior vice president, Daniella Dos Santos said: “For a long time, we have called for a ban on private individuals keeping primates as pets. As​ ​vets,​ ​we​ ​have​ ​significant​ ​concerns​ ​as​ ​to whether​ ​the health and​ ​welfare​ ​needs​ ​of​ ​primates​ ​can​ ​ever​ ​be​ ​met​ ​under these circumstances.

“​Primates​ ​are​ ​long-lived, intelligent​ ​and​ ​socially​ ​complex​ ​animals​ ​whose​ ​needs​ ​are​ ​extraordinarily​ ​difficult​ ​to​ ​meet​ ​in​ ​captivity and we can think of no circumstances where a primate would benefit from being kept in this way.”​

She added: “We welcome the Government’s move to open a public consultation on this and hope that it does indeed result in a ban. If​ ​the​ ​UK wants​ ​to​ ​maintain​ ​its​ ​reputation​ ​for​ ​some​ ​of​ ​the​ ​highest​ ​standards​ ​of​ ​animal​ ​welfare in the world​ and if the government wants to fulfil its promises of enhancing the welfare of animals as we leave Europe then we​ ​must​ ​put an end to ​the​ ​keeping​ ​and trade of​ ​primates​ ​as​ ​pets.”

In October 2019, Defra launched a Call for Evidence seeking evidence about the number of primates kept as pets and their welfare, how they are acquired and how any new restrictions might apply.

It revealed that existing legislation does not adequately protect the welfare of primates kept as pets, with many respondents reporting evidence of primates living in birdcages and surviving on junk food. The consultation also showed strong support for reform to improve the welfare of primates as pets. 

According to the RSPCA, an estimated 5,000 primates are kept as pets across the UK. Dr Ros Clubb, senior scientific manager at the charity described the proposed ban on pet primates as 'a fantastic Christmas present'.

“We are delighted that a ban on keeping primates as pets is now in sight - it’s a fantastic Christmas present. We look forward to reading the government's proposals in detail and hope that the legislation will deliver an end to the keeping and trade of primates as pets,” he said.

“Primates are intelligent, sentient and highly social animals with complex needs that simply cannot be met in a domestic environment.”

Goby fish fins may be as sensitive as human fingertips, study suggests

Goby fish fins may be as sensitive as human fingertips, study suggests

Researchers observe how goby fish use their fins to interact with different surfaces.

A new study by the University of Chicago has found that goby fish fins might be as sensitive to touch as human fingertips.

The findings, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, suggest that human ability to detect differences between surfaces and shapes likely evolved in a distant common ancestor.

In the study, researchers set out to see if bottom-dwelling goby fish could feel different surfaces with their fins.

The team collected goby fish from Lake Michigan and filmed them in a tank as they manoeuvred over different surfaces, such as a piece of slate or plastic. They noted how the fish’s fins splayed out over each surface, similar to how a human might place their hand on a surface.

Researchers then set out to see if the fish could differentiate between fine variations, such as that of different grades of gravel. They designed a rotating wheel with ridges spaced along the edges and studied the nerve signals that the touch produced.

Study author Adam Hardy said that the nerve responses matched the pattern of the ridges, suggesting that gobies could be as sensitive to detecting coarse surface textures as the finger pads on primate.

“Primates are often held up as the gold standard in tactile sensitivity, so it was really exciting to see that fish fins exhibit a similar tactile response," he said.

He added that the gobies’ tactical sensitivity could have originated far back in evolution.

“This primate hand-like touch also suggests that the ability to detect surface differences via touch has been around a lot longer than we previously thought,” he said.

Study suggests ion generators could be harmful to fish

Study suggests ion generators could be harmful to fish

Researchers conclude generators produce toxic levels of copper and zinc.

Copper ion generators used to control algae growth in freshwater ponds generate high concentrations of metals that could be harmful to fish, according to new research.

The study, published in Vet Record, concludes that ion generators might not be safe for fish and that copper should only be used to prevent algae growth if concentrations are monitored closely.

In the study, researchers carried out physical and postmortem examinations on two koi fish that had died in a pond fitted with a copper ion generator (Aquascape IonGen). They concluded that heavy metal toxicity was the likely cause of morbidity and mortality, which was supported by a heavy metal screening of the owners’ pond.

The team also carried out tests to see whether the IonGen produced toxic levels of copper and zinc. They found that the tank containing the IonGen had higher concentrations of copper and zinc, and copper levels exceeded those associated with toxicity in both hard and soft water.

The researchers conclude: 'Cu ion generators such as the IonGen can produce Cu concentrations that have detrimental effects on the health of koi. Although both Cu and Zn toxicities are dependent on water hardness and other geochemical parameters, the experiment suggests that the IonGen has the capacity to produce Cu at levels that are toxic regardless of water hardness.'

They continue: 'Cu ion generators should not be used in freshwater ponds that contain live plants and animals due to the risk of chronic and unpredictable Cu exposure, and veterinarians should consider Cu ion generators as potential sources for Cu toxicity in freshwater fish, especially in ponds with soft water.'

The study was conducted by researchers at the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine and the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

Study reveals origins of guinea pig domestication

Study reveals origins of guinea pig domestication

Researchers use ancient DNA from archaeological guinea pig remains.

A new study has shed light guinea pig domestication and how and why these popular pets became distributed around the world.

Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers describe how they used ancient DNA from archaeological guinea pig remains to reveal their transmission from an ancient food source to much-loved pets.

It is commonly accepted that guinea pigs became domesticated in the Andes region of South America around 10,000 years ago. Guinea pigs were viewed as a vital food source and widely used in religious ceremonies.

But sometime around AD 500, guinea pigs were introduced to the islands of the Caribbean through at least one of several established networks. In the study, researchers set out to pinpoint where these guinea pigs originated.

Scientists expected the guinea pigs to have travelled via Colombia because it is one of the closest locations to the Caribbean. But, after extracting DNA from several archaeological sites in the Caribbean, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Europe and North America, they found it was more likely that the guinea pigs came from Peru.

Following an analysis of guinea pig remains found in the Colombian Highlands, researchers were also surprised to discover the guinea pigs were from a different species, suggesting that guinea pig domestication likely took place independently in both Peru and Colombia.

Professor Matisoo-Smith from the University of Otago, New Zealand, explains: “They [guinea pigs] were and still are important food item in many parts of South America and cultures that derived from South America – people took them to live to introduce to new islands where they were not native or they traded them for other goods.

“The guinea pig was brought to Europe in the late 1500s or early 1600s by the Spanish and to North America in the early 1800s as part of the exotic pet trade. In the 18th-century guinea pigs began to be used by medical researchers as laboratory animals because they have many biological similarities to humans, thus the origin of the phrase ‘being a guinea pig’ in research.

“All guinea pigs today - pets, those that are sold for meat in South America and Puerto Rico, and those used in medical research - are derived from the Peruvian domesticated guinea pigs.”

Researchers say their study shows that the history of guinea pigs is more complex than previously thought, and has implications for other studies regarding mammal domestication and distribution.

Professor Matisoo-Smith added: “Identifying the origins of the guinea pig remains from the Caribbean helps us to understand how the human trade networks in the region moved in the past 1000 years or so.

“Through this analysis of ancient guinea pig DNA, we better understand the history of human social interactions over thousands of years and across three continents. It also provides a critical historical perspective of the genetic diversity in guinea pigs and the relationship humans have had with this important domestic animals.”

Calls for tighter restrictions on keeping dangerous snakes as pets

Calls for tighter restrictions on keeping dangerous snakes as pets

Investigation reveals venomous species are easy to buy, but difficult to look after or find veterinary treatment

Animal welfare experts are calling for tighter restrictions on keeping dangerous snakes as pets, after an investigation by Vet Record revealed that several species of lethal and venomous snakes can be bought easily through UK pet shops.

The investigation showed that several dangerous species, including vipers, cobras and rattlesnakes, can be sold in the UK without the buyer having a licence. It also revealed that dangerous snakes are difficult for their owners to manage at home, and that few vets have the insurance or relevant experience to treat them.

It is currently legal to sell venomous snakes to people who don't have a licence under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act; the legal responsibility lies with the buyer to have attained a Dangerous Wild Animals (DWA) licence from their local authority.

According to the animal welfare charity RSPCA, councils may occasionally use DWA licences retrospectively, which enables collectors to buy venomous snakes before they get a licence. Peter Kettlewell, president of the British Veterinary Zoological Society (BVZS), also points out  that there are no legal controls when venomous snakes are bought in EU countries and brought back into the UK.  

Speaking to Vet Record, Mr Kettlewell said: “Pet shops are currently excluded from the requirements of the DWA  Act and are therefore able to keep dangerous species without a DWA licence. BVZS strongly believes the legislation should be changed to prevent this.”

He also said that the BVZS is concerned about the welfare of these animals once in private ownership:

“The husbandry of reptiles is challenging, and even commonly kept reptile species kept in people's homes are given inadequate care – as shown by the high proportion of reptiles presented to veterinary practices with husbandry-related diseases,” he said.

“Providing good husbandry would be made more difficult in the case of venomous animals due to the challenges in handling and managing them safely. BVZS believes that both the keeping of dangerous species by private individuals is likely to compromise both animal welfare and human safety, and as such, the selling of such species to private individuals should be carefully regulated and restricted.”

The RSPCA told Vet Record that it is “deeply concerned” by the amount of venomous snakes being kept as pets, adding that the DWA is “weakly drafted and poorly enforced”.

When Vet Record asked vets if they would be prepared to treat a venomous snake, many said they wouldn't, citing health and safety concerns and insufficient access to antivenom.

Female fish can breed new species if males are attractive enough

Female fish can breed new species if males are attractive enough

Forty new species found in single lake

New research from St John’s College, University of Cambridge has found that fish will mate with males from different species if its colouring is attractive enough, or if the female can’t see it’s mate properly. This can lead to the evolution of a new species.

A group of scientists visited two freshwater lakes in East Africa, studying 2,000 fish and analysing the DNA of more than 400 cichlid fish over ten years. The group discovered more than 40 new, ecologically diverse species – called radiations – in Lake Mweru, which was formed roughly one million years ago.

Evolutionary biologist and lead author of the research Dr Joana Meier said: “The new species of cichlids adapted to use all the available food resources in the lake. Some feed on insect larvae, others zooplankton or algae. Some newly discovered fish are predators with large teeth, which we named ‘large-tooth serranchromines’.”

Through conducting mating ritual tests in a lab, the team discovered that female cichlids would choose males from a different species to mate with if their colouring was similar to that of the female’s own species. They also found that females could not distinguish between males of their own species or other species when lighting was poor, as they could not see their colours clearly.

Scientists determined that this is what happened a million years ago when different species of cichlids from the Congo and the Zambezi combined in Lake Mweru. Creating a diverse offspring that could feed on different things to their parents and invade new habitats. Eventually leading to the evolution of 40 new species of fish.

Dr Meier continued: “Hybridisation has traditionally been viewed as something bad because if species hybridise they can, over time, merge into a single species and you lose biodiversity or lose the local species.

“The melting pot of Lake Mweru gave us a rare opportunity to study interactions between evolving new species and showed that in a new environment with lots of ecological opportunity hybridisation can be a good thing that actually increases biodiversity.”

Image (c) Dr Joana Meier

Non-invasive sampling enhances reptile conservation

Non-invasive sampling enhances reptile conservation

Non-invasive sampling enhances reptile conservation

A black-and-white dog sits in the desert, concentrating on the tracks of lizards. Seamus, a trained detection dog, alerts his handler to the presence of excrement.

Trained conservation dogs have been used to locate faeces and collect DNA samples for everything from bears and foxes to gorillas and whales. But the technique had not been used for reptiles until recently when scientists developed a novel approach to identify the presence of the blunt-nosed leopard lizard in the Panoche Hills Recreation Area and Carrizo Plain National Monument in the USA.

They have developed new methods to recover DNA from faeces and genetically identify lizard species in the same area; and their study, published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, is a proof of concept for a host of reptiles.

The researchers claim that detection dogs trained to sniff out the faeces of endangered lizards – combined with genetic species identification – could represent a new, non-invasive sampling technique for lizard conservation worldwide.

Current methods for surveying lizard species typically rely on live capture or visual surveys. Excrement sampling allows biologists to study elusive, rare or dangerous animals without the need for direct contact. In addition to informing about the presence, habitat and genetics of an animal, faeces can also be analysed to inform researchers about diet, hormones, parasites and other health factors.

Using the new method, the authors genetically identified specific species for 78 per cent of the 327 samples collected by dog-handler teams across four years. Most (82%) of those identified were confirmed as being from blunt-nosed leopard lizards.

To meet regulatory monitoring requirements, more research is needed to assess the viability of using detection dogs to recover usable DNA on a larger scale. But the research highlights the broad potential this method holds for surveying and monitoring reptiles.

The study from the University of California, Davis, was published in partnership with the non-profit Working Dogs for Conservation, US Geological Survey and the US Bureau of Land Management, which organisation also funded the work.