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Hertfordshire’s most peculiar pets

PUBLISHED: 09:21 29 February 2016 | UPDATED: 10:43 02 March 2016

Carl Pearce with Casper the barn owl

Carl Pearce with Casper the barn owl

Archant

Herts is a county of animal lovers - but our prized pets go way beyond cats and dogs. Meet the owners of some of Hertfordshire’s most quirky creatures, from barn owls to giant snails.

Carl Pearce's pet iguanaCarl Pearce's pet iguana

Casper the barn owl
& Topaz the iguana

‘Casper came into Ameyzoo Pets, the shop I manage in Bovingdon, as an unwanted pet. Owls are a huge commitment to care for, so rather than resell her, I decided to keep her myself. She now lives in a huge aviary in my garden, and she isn’t our only unusual pet – we also have hedgehogs, snakes, turtles, frogs and more! Another rescue pet of mine is Topaz the iguana, who insists on eating at the same time as us, so we join her for lunch every day. I’ve loved keeping reptiles since I got a tortoise for my 9th birthday, and I left my career as a builder to work with unusual animals, so my pets really are a part of the family. My advice is to really consider if you’re able to cope with the commitment – these animals need expensive food and living spaces, a strict routine of care and in most cases regular handling. They live much longer than regular pets too – reptiles for at least 20 years and barn owls for up to 30!

Carl Pearce, Bovingdon

Speedy the tortoise

‘We’ve had Speedy for about 26 years. Before that he was my nan’s for 25 years and before that someone else had him, so we’re not really sure how old he is – we just know he’s very old. His favourite things are warm paving slabs, escaping into the neighbours’ gardens and dandelions. My dad doesn’t like him, and somehow Speedy knows this, so he hisses at him whenever he goes near him – he never does that for anyone else. Like many tortoise breeds, Speedy hibernates every year, but he still remembers us in the spring and turns his head towards our voices.’

Francesca Hand, Letchworth

Miranda Meaby with her chickensMiranda Meaby with her chickens

Rhubarb the chicken & friends

‘I initially chose to keep chickens for the eggs (we get through tons in our house – and fresh eggs are divine), but I didn’t realise just how fun it would be. All seven of our hens provide brilliant entertainment and have individual personalities – Rhubarb loves to crow like a rooster (although she’s definitely a girl – we checked!) and Henrita loves nothing more than a cuddle.

They love to play and they recognise familiar faces – they jump up and down and squawk every time they see me or my fiancé Ignatius (we’re the ones that feed them). Keeping chickens is fairly easy, but there are important things to consider: there are lots of predators so they need a very secure house and run, they can be very noisy, they’re prone to red mite and they also smell when it’s hot or rainy. But they’re hugely rewarding too.’

Miranda Meaby, Stevenage

Turkey the giant African snailTurkey the giant African snail

Bearded dragons & tarantulas

‘I first looked into getting bearded dragons when my son saw some at school and loved them - the more I read up on them, the more I fell in love with them myself. We have three now, aged between two and six (they can live to 15 years old), all of whom are rescue pets. They need quite specialist care, for instance, they shouldn’t be kept in the same tanks (called vivariums) as they are solitary animals, and will fight each other, and they also need special UV lights and calcium supplements. But they are very sweet-natured.

I was advised to get tarantulas to overcome my extreme fear of spiders - and it has helped. I have several now and the oldest is a few years old - females can live up to 30 but males usually die after four or five years. The tarantulas are basically a pet box of dirt - you rarely see them. They eat live insects and are fascinating to watch feed when they do venture out in their enclosure. Some burrow a hole in the ground and live there and some make webs and live in those, but they are kept in large glass terrariums (that are locked!) Take care when choosing your species - some of more venomous, others are more aggressive - and be aware that tarantulas don’t actually need to be handled.’

Camilla Brookman, Hitchin

Turkey & Jam, giant 
African snails

‘My kids kept asking to keep snails from the garden so I decided to get some big ones for them to keep. They are now just over one year old, and their life expectancy is four to five years, although apparently they can live up to 10. They’re really easy to care for - as long as they have fresh soil and fruit and vegetables to eat they are happy - although ours are quite fussy with food and will only eat cucumber. It’s quite sweet - one of them only eats the dark green skin and the other only eats the lighter middle part. We handle them a lot and that means they are happy to stay out of their shells - if you don’t, they will curl up in the shell. My only advice is to keep them separate - we didn’t realise this, and we now have at least 45 tiny snail babies!’

One of Camilla's six tarantulasOne of Camilla's six tarantulas

Stephh Elliott, Stevenage

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