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These exotic animals live legally in Northern Ireland and they're not in the zoo

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 07/10/2015

A Gila monster
A Gila monster
A wolf
An adult coati on a tree
A racoon
Venom: diamondback rattlesnake
An emu
A tiger

Tigers, wolves, emus and even a rattlesnake - creatures you might expect to encounter in the wilds of some far-off land.

But these are among a menagerie of animals which can be found much closer to home.

A total of 39 exotic creatures are held by 11 licensed keepers across Northern Ireland, it has been revealed.

The list also includes vipers, racoons, coatis and a Gila monster - a venomous lizard native to desertland near the US-Mexican border.

Quite how they have all ended up in Northern Ireland is not clear.

The list was disclosed by Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill after an Assembly question from DUP MLA Alex Easton.

Ms O'Neill said the animals were licensed under the terms of the Dangerous Wild Animals (NI) Order 2004.

The most common exotic pets are ring-tailed lemurs, with nine kept in Northern Ireland.

There are also six emus, five racoons, two tigers and a wolf.

Some of the more unusual creatures include a western diamondback rattlesnake. A venomous species found in the United States and Mexico, its name comes from the dark, diamond-shaped patterns along its back.

They range in size from three to five feet long, but can reach seven feet.

Also on the list is a horned puff adder. A large and strong snake, it is capable of striking with lightning speed.

Another owns a saw-scaled viper, said to be among the deadliest snakes in the world because it attacks so often. Some reports claim they kill more than any other snake.

There are also three coatis - a racoon-like animal. In 2010 a coati went on the run for five weeks after escaping from Belfast Zoo.

It was later found safe and well and returned to its enclosure.

According to Ms O'Neill, an EU directive requires a specific health certificate to be completed for all imported animals. People bringing animals into Northern Ireland must apply for an import licence approved by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Deorces the Dangerous Wild Animals (NI) Order 2004, which regulates the keeping of potentially dangerous animals.

"Potential owners must apply for a licence prior to taking ownership of the dangerous wild animal," Ms O'Neill said.

"Granting of a dangerous wild animal licence requires a favourable veterinary site inspection report, along with confirmation of appropriate insurance and the required annual licence fee of £80."

Animal charities are opposed to the keeping of wild animals as exotic pets. The RSPCA said: "These animals are taken from the wild and often transported long distances."

It has urged people to think carefully before acquiring such animals.

"Impulse-buying risks people not doing their homework. Animals may become aggressive, grow very large, live for a long time or require a licence or paperwork to be legally kept or sold," it adds.

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