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Tuesday, 02 September 2014

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Animal sanctuary owner claims pets injured in staged battles

Pet lizards from Australia are being forced into staged fights by sick owners in north Cumbria, according to an exotic animals expert.

Bearded dragon photo
A bearded dragon

Terry Bowes, who runs the Wetheriggs Zoo and Animal Sanctuary, near Penrith, says he and his staff are currently caring for 17 adult bearded dragon lizards.

Some were handed in to the Sanctuary with nasty injuries, which Mr Bowes believes were the result of fights which were deliberately staged.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that this is happening, and it’s happening more and more,” he said.

“There are two or three among the ones that we are looking after which have had lumps bitten out of them.

“In a confined space, male bearded dragons will defend their territory against other males.

“Some people are making little arenas to put bearded dragons in to fight each other in the same way that our ancestors used to fight cockerels and dogs.”

Mr Bowes said that he has had information that this has been happening in the Carlisle and Eden areas.

He said: “One person emailed me and said he had stumbled upon something that was going on. I believe some of these fights are being staged for ‘entertainment’ purposes, and even for gambling.”

He said the problem had been fuelled by a sharp rise in people who have bred the lizards, which can grow up to 2ft in length and require specialist care.

There is growing concern that the north is seeing an explosion in bearded dragon numbers, with the pet becoming increasingly popular with young men.

But anybody who fails to give them proper care or subjects them to deliberate suffering by staging fights is risking a prosecution.

Mr Bowes said: “We can look after the creatures that are brought to us but if anybody knows that this is happening they should tell the police. In Cumbria we have specialist wildlife officers who get involved in this sort of thing.”

The Wetheriggs Sanctuary, which recently built a new enclosure in its tropical house to accommodate some of the new arrivals, has taken in an increasing number of exotic pets as owners struggle to meet the costs of providing the specialist care that they need.

Bearded dragons live in Australia’s arid, rocky, semi-desert regions and dry open woodlands. Though their export is now banned, the creatures are widely bred in captivity in the UK.

Footage of them fighting has been posted on YouTube although none of it features any instances in Cumbria.

In July, the RSPCA warned of unprecedented numbers of cats being killed by youths with dogs. Chief Inspector Rob Melloy said the charity was getting reports of at least two cases a week in Workington – the highest level seen by the charity.

Anyone with information about staged animal fights, or cruelty or neglect, can call the RSPCA’s cruelty line on 0300 1234 999 or Cumbria police on 101, or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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