Imagine picking up the phone up to six times a week to be called on to rescue an abandoned dragon.
Stephen Quirke knows what this is like and though he may not be dealing with the fire-breathing variety, the reptile enthusiast’s anger still burns whenever he has to deal with someone else’s abandoned pet.
The 27-year-old runs Reptile Roadshow from his home in Burnt Oak Lane, Sidcup, giving a home to all sorts of scaly beasts and offering hands on shows to educate people about his favourite creatures.
Recently he has been fielding an epidemic of calls from eagle-eyed residents who have spotted the latest abandoned bearded dragon – a common variety of lizard.
Stephen told News Shopper: “It’s just becoming a bit of an epidemic basically.
“They need special lighting and live locusts to eat. Maybe they could survive the next few months outside because of the weather but not after that.
“It is a horrible way of putting it but you can’t get rid of them.
Stephen with Sandy and Sid.
“The biggest problem is the internet.
“The selling of animals over the web has got to stop and the whole concept of selling an animal online is completely wrong.”
Stephen also blames breeders for producing ever more exotic colours, or ‘morphs’ of bearded dragons which serve no purpose other than to look exciting.
He said: “Who would want a pink rottweiler? That is the way things are going.
“For a normal bearded dragon in shop you are looking at about £30 but they sell on the internet for as little as £8.
“People are posting images of animals that are ill and still trying to sell them.”
Stephen says albino varieties can sell for up to £700 and other morphs include leatherbacks, which have no scales, and bright orange sandfire bearded dragons.
He has himself taken in and re-homed more than 50 of the lizards, which can grow to up to two feet and live as long as 20 years.
A spot of sunbathing.
Currently he has Sid – aged 10 or 11 and found in Orpington 18 months ago – and Sandy, who was abandoned in Penhill Park, Sidcup a year ago and is aged five.
Poor Sandy was found by a group of schoolchildren in a sealed cardboard box.
Stephen also takes his creatures, including pythons, boa constrictors and geckos, into local special needs schools.
He said: “Holding the animals can release endorphins which can stimulate a child and be a form of environmental enrichment.
“The heartbeat can be raised or lowered but it’s still a stimulus which can be a form of therapy.”
His next visit is to the Astley Centre in Southborough on June 14.
An RSPCA spokesman said: “The RSPCA is dealing with increasing numbers of incidents involving certain exotic animals like bearded dragons, corn snakes and meerkats.
"Exotic pets can be challenging to meet because they are often fundamentally linked to certain behaviours, diets or environmental conditions that can be difficult to replicate in a home.
"However, if you are struggling, we urge people to contact the RSPCA or other specialist animal welfare organisation and seek help and advice rather than dumping them, as it is an offence under the Animal Welfare Act."
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