The RSPCA is advising snake owners to be extra-vigilant as the charity braces for a rise in stray pet snakes due to the hot weather. The snake alert comes after the animal charity rescued a stray six-foot (1.8 m) boa constrictor from under a garden shed in Ilkeston, Derbyshire. As no owner could be identified, the snake, which was healthy and in good condition, was taken to a specialist centre and has now been rehomed.
The greatest escapes
Last year (2022), the RSPCA received 1,031 reports involving snakes in need of help, with numbers of calls averaging highs of 110 calls per month between May and August
Greater London (110), Kent (39) and South Yorkshire (39) were the three areas with the most reports about snakes in 2022, followed by the West Midlands (36), Hampshire (35) and Lancashire (35).
|Snake incidents reported to the RSPCA – top 10 areas of England & Wales|
This year, as the heatwave continues, the charity is advising snake owners to be particularly careful and to double-check that the animals’ enclosures are securely fastened.
Snakes are great escape artists
RSPCA senior scientific officer Evie Button said:
“Snakes are excellent escape artists and will take the opportunity of a gap in an enclosure door, or a loose-fitting lid to make a break for it.
“Last year, we took more than one thousand reports about snakes, with the highest number of calls coming in during the summer months. This is not surprising, as snakes become more active during hot weather – so as the UK continues to swelter this summer, we’re braced for another influx of calls.
“The RSPCA urges all pet snake owners to be extra vigilant at this time of year, invest in an enclosure suitable for the particular species and make sure that enclosure is kept secure – and locked if necessary – when unattended.
“We received nearly 1.1 million calls to our emergency line in 2022, an increase of 1.6% on the previous year, and our frontline officers are flat out trying to rescue animals that may be in life-threatening situations. So a few extra minutes checking that your snake is secure could help save our officers’ time and allow them to save an animal that’s in danger.”
Another reason why more snakes escape in the summer is that some owners take them outside to take advantage of the natural sunlight. While sunlight is good for reptiles, the RSPCA urges owners to ensure that their pet is kept secure when doing so, as they can warm up and move very quickly on a sunny day.
Escaped or abandoned
“Many of the snakes the RSPCA’s officers are called to collect are thought to be escaped pets.
“But sadly, we also have to deal with a lot of abandoned snakes. We find that many people are unaware of how much of a commitment these animals are when they take them on, which we believe contributes to the hundreds of animals every year who have sadly been abandoned when their owners can no longer meet their needs.
“Exotic pets such as snakes often end up in the RSPCA’s care after people realise they’re not easy to care for, or the novelty wears off. Others are rescued after they have been abandoned or been released on purpose, which then could pose a risk to our native wildlife.
“The needs of reptiles can be challenging to meet because they are just the same as they would be in the wild and are fundamentally linked to certain behaviours, diets or environmental conditions that can be difficult to replicate in a domestic environment.
“The RSPCA urges prospective owners of reptiles such as snakes to thoroughly research the needs of the particular species and what is required in the care of the animal, using expert sources. People should only consider keeping a snake if they can ensure they are fully able to provide for these needs.”
Snakes are completely dependent on their owners for the correct accommodation, heating, lighting and feed, all of which must replicate their wild habitat as closely as possible to keep them healthy and allow them to express their normal behaviour. Without proper care they can suffer from serious diseases, dehydration, injuries, parasites, and in severe cases or if left untreated, they can eventually die.
Most exotic animals kept as pets are unlikely to be able to survive in the wild in Britain and non-native species could pose a serious threat to our native wildlife. It is illegal to release, or to allow to escape, any species that are not normally native to the UK.
If anyone finds a snake they believe is non-native the RSPCA’s advice is to keep a safe distance, monitor the snake and call the charity’s helpline on 0300 1234 999 or a local reptile charity will also be able to help.
For more information on what to consider before adopting a snake, visit the RSPCA’s website.
If anyone loses a snake there are a number of lost and found pet websites where details can be logged, including Animal Search. It is possible to microchip snakes and the RSPCA would recommend that owners ask their exotics vet to do this, so that snakes can be easily reunited if lost and found.
The RSPCA has a new animation to explain how people can best help animals in need. Every time a wild animal is helped by the public it frees up its vital specialist rescuers to reach animals suffering heartbreaking cruelty and neglect, a job no other charity does. The RSPCA urgently needs more people to help so we have produced some quick and easy tools at rspca.org.uk/reportcruelty to support people to get wildlife the help they need as quickly as possible.