The attraction of the exotic

by BardofEly

Exotic locations, foods, plants and pets are all very popular. Even the word Exotic has a certain charm and appeal but perhaps we should make do with what we have where we live?

The Spice of Life
Variety may well be the spice of life but isn’t it all going a bit far?
Have you noticed as we all realise we are one big global family that our desire for the exotic seems to increase by leaps and bounds? Could boredom, a modern disease, be at the root of all this? There's certainly nothing boring about all the stuff on sale today.


I'm all for it, more colour in the world as the march of progress brings more and more and more of the same; the same city centre layouts, the same McDonalds, the same selection of over-priced beers at the same-looking modernised local.

And at the greengrocers and at the vegetable and fruit counters of the supermarkets we've got kumquats and loquats, star fruit and lemon grass and a range of veg that looks disgusting or could very well be put to unmentionable purposes. There's even an aptly named ugly fruit.

I'm already over 100 words into this piece and I've not yet reached the main subject of this article, which is the amazing range of exotic pets. I have kept plenty myself: Mexican axolotls (massive salamander tadpoles that manage to reproduce while still children), spiny stick insects, and fire-bellied toads. Why? Because I love them!

Mind you, some people regard all sorts of strange things in this way, as companions to love and care for. I recall a time there was a craze for pet rocks, and I kid you not. My former landlord had one and a soap on a rope too. Some people go in for stuff like that.

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C.J. Stone

He was a bit of a character my landlord, and he went under the nickname of Rod the Mod. He had a house in Elm Street, Cardiff, and it was often a nightmare there long before the film. He's even been featured in stories by CJ Stone. Rod went in for tropical fish keeping when he could, and despite marital problems. When he couldn't then he always had his pet rock for comfort.

Every city or town has a reptile shop these days with prehistoric-looking iguanas that glare at you with primeval eyes and sticky tree frogs sticking to the glass sides of the tanks they are in. Bearded lizards, like left over mini dinosaurs and colourful clingy chameleons with movable eyes that follow you around, along with constricting boas and huge pythons, like something from the Jungle Book and that are all the rage.

We've all seen Jurassic Park and the exhibitions with the signs that read: "The dinosaurs are coming." They never really went away, at least the small ones didn't.

Then there are all the creepy crawlies, such as hairy tarantulas and bird-eating spiders, scorpions, mantises, giant stick insects and even huge shiny hissing cockroaches, all the way from Madagascar.

Garden Centres

Garden centres and the humble old-fashioned pet shop are not immune and we often find strange creatures in these places too.

And what about our furry cousins from the mammal kingdom? In my day we always had hamsters and mice, rats and gerbils for the more adventurous, maybe a rabbit or a guinea pig in a hutch, but now we are offered marmoset monkeys, chipmunks and flying squirrels.

Super Furry Animals

It reminds me of a Pink Floyd track: A Bunch of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together and Grooving with a Pict. The inspiration for the name of one of Wales' best-known bands maybe? A bit of "Fuzzy Logic?" Animals, Super and Furry?

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Tropical Fish

Tropical fish, reptiles and amphibians

Now as a lad, I remember keeping tropical fish and getting really excited about fancy Guppies, Angel Fish, gleaming Neon Tetras and the fierce but beautiful Siamese Fighter.

"Tropicals" are everywhere nowadays and really strange aquatic denizens, such as Freshwater Rays, Electric Catfish and Electric Eels, and weird long-snouted Elephant Fish are all easy to come by. What about all the "marines" as well? Jewels from the coral reefs are all commonly kept.

Often we see news of "escapes," not of convicts (Well, yes, we hear about them too) but of giant spiders, tropical lizards and snakes like pythons, and not surprisingly, we are told that "residents are alarmed."

These foreigners can sometimes set up home here and, going forth and multiplying, become a nuisance as they colonise our country. One example of this is the Bullfrog. How long before "the Cane Toads are coming?" Did you see TV documentary on the almost Biblical plagues of these amphibians in Australia?

Exotic birds

Exotic birds as well, with the Green Parakeet, now on the list of British birds and seen along with more common species in many places today.

Now, I'ma ll for our furry and feathered friends and our scaly and winged cousins, but where will it all end? And what about all the ones we are losing from their wild habitats as they are ruthlessly collected for sale to the pet trade?

As we rush headlong into the Space Age, and as contact with extraterrestrials becomes more and more of a likelihood, and indeed many already believe it has taken place, how long before we have inter-galactic pets on sale in our city centres?

I can picture it all now with Martian mice perhaps and giant bugs from the Pleiades - creatures from the outer limits of our sci-fi writers, brought to life in our homes and daily lives.

In an episode of Star Trek, Captain Kirk and his crew are taken captive by an alien race to become exhibits in their interplanetary zoo. It makes me wonder could this not someday become a grim reality? The mind truly boggles.

Footnote: First published as "Exotica" in Big Issue Cymru No. 102, May 25-31, 1998.

Copyright © 2012 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.

Updated: 10/12/2012, BardofEly
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