Characterising the abandonment and relinquishment of exotic pets in Ireland


AWF Research Fund



Research Period


Area of study

Student Research


Investigator(s): Matt Goins

Supervisor(s): Alison Hanlon

Surrender of pets and breakdown of the human-animal bond is an area of research that has previously focused on common domestic pets. With regard to exotic pets, there has been no research previously conducted in the Republic of Ireland on the topic, however the number of calls to the RSPCA cruelty line has markedly increased in recently years.

This case study sought to characterise the abandonment and surrender of exotic pets in Ireland by:

  • Examining the population of animal welfare charities operating in Ireland who accept exotic pets
  • Defining the population that is surrendered on a yearly basis (as well as the breakdown by type of pet and their health and welfare)
  • Exploring issues that animal welfare charities experience with regard to exotic pets
  • And exploring potential policy proposals that would affect exotic pet ownership.

Of a sample population of 106 animal welfare charities operating in Ireland, 11 were found to accept exotic pets. Of those 11 animal welfare charities, six consented to participate in the study and these six were found to have accepted a total of 366 exotic pets between 2018 and 2020. The most common types of exotic pets to be surrendered were exotic mammals (159) followed by birds (129) and reptiles (26) and of the exotic mammals rabbits (61) were the most common to be surrendered followed by guinea pigs (53).

The most common health or welfare issue reported by the charities was related to poor owner education and inadequate husbandry. The most common outcome for exotic pets entering these charities was to be moved to a sanctuary or specialty centre. The main concerns expressed by the charities regarding exotic pet ownership were:

  • Lack of owner education before purchasing the pets
  • People were inappropriately dealing in exotic pets, such as mislabeling animals in order to sell endangered species
  • A lack of traceability of exotic pets entering the country.

This study also found widespread support for policy proposals such as positive lists for exotic pets. Positive lists are legislation identifying species that are allowed to be owned rather than more traditional legislation that bans the ownership of certain species or breeds. With regard to exotic pets, positive lists are generally accepted to be easier to enforce and more difficult to circumvent to trade in vulnerable or endangered species.

The findings of this study are important to document as they offer insight into the current situation affecting exotic pets in Ireland. They can be used to inform on future government and legislative efforts regarding exotic pet health and welfare and may be particularly useful to the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine as their animal welfare strategy for 2021-2025 was released earlier this year and included exotic pets for the first time.

A paper is due to be published soon.


Full Report