The exotic pet retail sector is booming across Australia with sales of snakes, “miniature dinosaurs” and other unusual critters on the rise.

Key points:

  • Reptile ownership climbs as people seek more quirky and unusual pets
  • Regulatory changes and the pandemic are driving upward sales trend across Australia
  • Bearded dragons, known as miniature dinosaurs, are a popular pet for families

While the pandemic has fuelled an increase in sales of real estate and some consumables, people are also snapping up an array of bearded dragons, snakes, frogs, tarantulas and geckos.

The nation’s Pet Industry Association said the pandemic had driven a rise in sales of non-traditional pets.

The association’s retail director John Grima, who owns one of Australia’s largest independent pet stores based in Sydney, said this upward trend was expected to continue.

While pooches continued to be the number one choice of pet across Australia, he said there was a shift in people’s views on reptiles.

“There was a perception that people who had a reptile had tattoos and drove a Harley, but we are now seeing professionals and families purchasing these more unusual pets,” Mr Grima said.

He said the pandemic had triggered the renewed interest, with more people having the time and the resources given the limited travel options.

Theresa MacRae holds her “well-behaved” jungle python.(ABC South East SA: Sandra Morello)

South Australian reptile retailer Carolyn Dean said people were searching for more unusual and quirky pets.

“Gone are the days where people just want cats, dogs, rabbits and guinea pigs,” she said.

“They want their kids to go to school and say ‘well, I have a bearded dragon’.”

Reptiles an alternative pet for families

Ms Dean, who operated her business in Mount Gambier, said bearded dragons were the most popular species among her customers.

“They are so much fun — they are a family pet.”

She said there was a growing waiting list for all species at her retail outlet.

Reptile retailer Carolyn Dean holds her pet bearded dragon, which she says is full of personality.(ABC South East SA: Sandra Morello)

Ms Dean said the change in regulations in 2018 in South Australia had seen a significant upswing in demand for bearded dragons.

“This means you no longer need a permit to keep or sell the animal if it is on the exempt list,” she said.

“People can have as many bearded dragons as they want.”

Ms Dean said bearded dragons were often referred to as “miniature dinosaurs”.

“Geckos and snakes are also making a comeback. If you get a hatchling and spend time with a snake, it will just be a cruisy creature.

“We expect sales to continue to climb for snakes, we have a huge number of requests for snakes — interest is going crazy.”

‘Such special animals’

Mount Gambier bearded dragon owner Sarah Young said her daughter Ella, 14, had fallen in love with their bearded dragon named “Draco”.

“It has been a big learning experience and it is completely different than owning a dog or cat,” Ms Young said.

“They are such special animals.

“You can’t just sit them to the side and pat them, they require more affection and specialised attention.”

Bearded dragons are becoming a popular choice of pet.(ABC South East SA: Sandra Morello)

Ms Young said Draco was just starting to roam around the house and use a lead so it could go outside.

“We would love to have more bearded dragons.”