Published: 12:30, 16 November 2021
| Updated: 17:45, 16 November 2021
Animal welfare experts are expressing their fears of a craze for pet axolotls triggered by the popular video game Minecraft.
The RSPCA is pleading with parents not to rush out and buy their children the exotic salamander whose popularity is believed to have increased as a result of its arrival in the block-building online game.
Amid signs of a growing interest in owning the amphibian - with internet searches for axolotl on the increase since they first started appearing in digital form back in June - the animal charity is reminding households ahead of Christmas about the challenges of providing appropriate care for exotic pets living in home environments.
RSPCA senior scientific manager Dr Ros Clubb said: “We urge parents to resist their kids’ pleas for a pet axolotl - or any other exotic pet - this Christmas.
“Looking after exotic pets is very challenging as they have the same environmental, diet and behavioural requirements as their relatives in the wild. The RSPCA is particularly concerned when new pet trends such as axolotls emerge as exotic pets often end up in our care later down the line when people realise they're not easy to care for, or once the novelty wears off."
Axolotls are native to Mexico but unlike other salamanders they live solely in water. Taking care of them, ensuring that they have the correct sized tank, mix of water and live in the right temperatures is a big commitment, say officials, and people can very often be unaware about the levels of dedication required.
And because they also cannot be handled - there are concerns that the novelty of watching it through glass will quickly wear off for children initially desperate to own one this Christmas.
Dr Clubb added: “Playing with an axolotl in Minecraft is one thing, but taking on the care of a real live axolotl is a whole different matter.
"These amphibians need care and attention for their entire lives, which can be 15 years - long after the kids may have flown the nest.
"As well as investing in the correct set-up, including a large tank with good water filtration, they need regular water changes, veterinary care if they become ill and someone to care for them during holidays and other times away.
"It's a big commitment. They also shouldn't be handled, so will kids still be interested months or years down the line?”
The RSPCA says it often notices trends as a result of particular animals or species appearing in films or on television.
After the release of the Compare the Market advert in 2009, calls about meerkats to the RSPCA's advice line rose by 184%, says the charity, while there were also recorded increases in the purchase of clownfish following the release of the Finding Nemo films.
Encouraging potential owners of any pet to invest in their research, Dr Ros Clubb added: “We encourage potential owners to read books written by experts on the particular species they wish to keep, to join member societies where there are experienced keepers who can help if they are struggling. Specialist vets are also an excellent source of support and advice for owners.”
For further advice and guidance on caring for exotic pets, please visit the RSPCA’s exotics section of its website.