I used to be afraid of exotic pets. I thought they look a little scary and hostile. However, after working in a pet shop for 2 months during my first year in university, that perception changed.\u00a0 I had to take care of two bearded dragons that were for sale. I was terrified of them because they looked aggressive. The thing I could not accept the most was the mealworms that I have to feed them with.\u00a0 However, slowly but surely, I got used to them and I even mustered up enough courage to pet them. They did not feel soft or hairy like dogs or cats that I was used to. Instead, they feel cold, slightly scaly, and not very rough to my surprise.\u00a0 After I got used to them, I would carry them around the shop on my shoulder while I went about my daily tasks. They would not move much. They would just perch on my shoulder like a parrot on a pirate\u2019s shoulder. Whenever people saw the bearded dragons, their first reaction was fear and then curiosity. Some people could not even look at them but some were brave enough to pet them. That was when I started to develop an interest in bearded dragons. When I brought up the idea of owning a bearded dragon to my friends and family, their first reaction was disgust. I did not blame them because that was my reaction too before I knew how gentle they were. There were so many kinds of exotic animals out there and bearded dragons are just one of the many. Since I never owned any exotic pets before, I figured it would be wise to interview three exotic pet owners who have the relevant experiences to talk about the reality of owning exotic pets.\u00a0 Sher Lynn Used to Own A Pop-Up Store When Sher Lynn was young, she thought house lizards were cute when she found them stuck in the kitchen sink or in the toilet. \u201cI would move them to safer ground. I was not scared of them at all!\u201d \u201cMy mom would then use me to get rid of all the pests in the house. On the other hand, my dad thought it was cool and taught me how to catch spiders under leaves and put them inside matchboxes.\u201d Then, she developed an interest in these exotic animals that people would consider as disgusting. She found them to be quite gentle in fact. \u201cLast time, a snake came into my neighbourhood. As it was fleeing, a neighbour whacked it to death, but it wasn\u2019t doing any harm!\u201d Sher Lynn always felt bad for the animals, who were simply trying to survive and didn\u2019t know any better. \u201cWe\u2019re the ones who are taking over their homes and they are only defending themselves out of self-preservation.\u201d \u201cI do not have a favourite species of animal, but I do have a female hedgehog that was close to me a long time ago. She passed away in old age. I still miss her now and again.\u201d She started her own exotic pet shop After that, it inspired her to start a pop-up store for exotic animals to show people how gentle the animals were.\u00a0 Her mantra with all life is: \u201cWe don\u2019t need to immediately settle things with violence. They\u2019re just misunderstood.\u201d \u201cWe had hognose snakes, ball pythons, corn snakes, chameleons, fat tail geckos, leopard geckos, sand skink, and bearded dragons. As for the arthropods, I had scorpions, giant millipedes, and tarantulas. For mammals, I had hedgehogs and sugar gliders.\u201d At one point, Sher Lynn had up to 15 types of exotic pets in her pop-up store.\u00a0 \u201cWe didn\u2019t keep venomous snakes. The only venomous animal we exhibit was the Asia forest scorpion but they\u2019re so tame I never got into an accident with it before.\u201d Sher Lynn said when you\u2019re handling a scorpion, you have to grab them by the tail. \u201cThey won\u2019t sting you if you don\u2019t harm them. They\u2019re actually very gentle beings.\u201d \u201cTry not to scare them. To the animals, our hands and open palms look like the mouth of a predator, so be careful how you approach the animals.\u201d Sher Lynn said that when hedgehogs feel threatened, they will curl up and harden their quills. Then, they will start sniffing before they fully uncurl from their cute little ball shape. As for tarantulas, they will walk up to your palm when you approach them calmly and slowly. However, if you shock them accidentally, they will use their hind legs to brush off the fur of their butts as self-defense. The hair will then cause itchiness to the skin. Snakes will hide and go to a corner depending on how tame it is. They might curl their bodies into an \u2018S\u2019 shape like a spring being pressed. When that happens, it\u2019s time for you to back away. The fear of aggression may cause it to jump at you. Once they uncurl themselves, try again in a less noisy environment and approach them with your hand. Sher Lynn handles her pets by understanding their habits and needs \u201cI borrowed the snakes from my friends because my parents don\u2019t allow snakes at home.\u201d \u201cAnd I can\u2019t bear the fact that I have to feed them baby rats, or pinkies as we call them. Mice are very cute too!\u201d \u201cAs for other reptiles like chameleons and bearded dragons that were mine, I would feed them with live mealworms and crickets.\u201d Sher Lynn recalled the time her geckos ran out and how she managed to get them back to their cages safely. \u201cI know their habit, so I know where to find them.\u201d \u201cThey would usually be in darker and covered areas like under sofas or behind shelves. They would look for a place to hide when they\u2019re out and about because they\u2019re easily spooked.\u201d She said that it was easy to take care of the animals compared to dogs and cats as they mostly spend time in tanks or cages. It is important to bond with them to make sure they are tame.\u00a0 \u201cIt usually takes up to a total of 2 hours a week.\u201d \u201cI also talk to them when I bring them out or when I feed them. Not a full conversation though, that would be funny.\u201d \u201cI separate the males and the females so they rarely fight with each other. Also, most exotic animals will live in solitary so it\u2019ll be difficult for them to stir a fight.\u201d Breeding baby hedgehogs Aside from owning a pop-up store, Sher Lynn also bred hedgehogs. She said that it was pretty easy as hedgehogs are more related to pigs than they are to porcupines.\u00a0 \u201cWe know how pigs are natural birth givers. They will give birth to up to 8-10 hoglets in one go.\u201d When she was in primary school, her parents wouldn't allow her to keep dogs so they compromised and got her a hamster instead.\u00a0 When the hamsters gave birth, her father would ask her to sell the babies back to the pet shop. \u201cAnd that was how I learned to make my own pocket money!\u201d Then, during secondary school, she got bored with hamsters and started breeding hedgehogs instead. She only sold them online with only 9 batches a year because she only had three pairs of hedgehogs.\u00a0 \u201cI won\u2019t allow the sows (female hedgehogs) to give birth more than 3 times a year.\u201d \u201cI only sold and delivered them throughout Penang island and the mainland. I also offered hedgehog taming services. It was fun.\u201d Sher Lynn stated that hedgehogs are prone to skin fungal infections because of the humid weather in Malaysia. After some incidents, she contacted a supplier for the specific cream that could cure the infections.\u00a0 \u201cA lot of owners bought hedgehogs only to realize that they\u2019re scared to bath the hedgehogs. Eventually, the hedgehogs will end up with skin diseases.\u201d \u201cA few of my customers contacted me when that happened and I would go over to teach them how to bathe their hedgehogs and then properly nurse them back to health.\u201d Sher Lynn\u2019s advice on keeping exotic animals is that you shouldn\u2019t fear them.\u00a0 \u201cYou have to make sure you have time to bond with them. Keeping an exotic pet is not a hobby. You need a lot of time to care and understand them.\u201d \u201cMake sure you keep their environment clean and provide them with big tanks of cages if possible. They need space to move too!\u201d It is cheap to own an exotic pet because they are so wide-ranged. They range from the expensive, exclusive ones to the common ones. \u201cIt\u2019s really up to what you\u2019re interested in. I would say the commonly acceptable reptile is the leopard gecko. They range from RM60 to RM1600 depending on their genes.\u201d \u201cTheir habitat can be either a simple shoebox container or a fancy terrarium.\u201d \u201cI think anyone can afford an exotic pet. It is definitely cheaper than having dogs or cats.\u201d Caven owns pet snakes Caven has three corn snakes that he got from a pet fair and his breeder friend. They are named Ameow, Ahbut, and Ahbing.\u00a0 \u201cMy mother doesn\u2019t like furry animals because she\u2019s allergic to their fur. Plus, she\u2019s a very hygienic person.\u201d \u201cDue to her habit, I also developed the same symptoms. However, it\u2019s \u2018terbalik\u2019. I like furry animals but I can\u2019t pet them because I\u2019m allergic.\u201d He said that his snakes are not the first exotic animal that his family owns. His father once owned iguanas, geckos, and also bearded dragons. \u201cMy snakes are the first exotic pets that I own. I had no idea I would actually like them until I got them.\u201d \u201cI was like \u2018Woah, snakes are so cool!\u2019, and they\u2019re not as vicious as depicted on those stereotypical channels and platforms.\u201d \u201cMy friends would be shocked when they saw my snakes. Some would even feel geli about the idea of having snakes, but I generally do not bother about what they think.\u201d \u201cThey are gentle, smooth, and quiet. However, when they attack, they do not hold back. They only attack when they feel intimidated and when they are hungry. They also attack when they\u2019re shedding because they\u2019re more sensitive at that moment.\u201d \u201cSo, after I got the first one, I decided to buy the second one and a third one. I hope to have more in the future.\u201d \u201cI keep them separated from each other so they would not fight.\u201d Corn snakes are very timid and gentle, unlike pythons or hognoses which are more aggressive. Caven said his snakes will become pale when they are shedding and that\u2019s how he knows it\u2019s time.\u00a0 \u201cEvery time I check up on them, they\u2019ve already done shedding. I\u2019ve never seen them in action so far.\u201d Caven claimed that he only feeds his snakes live mice while some people would feel them frozen mice. \u201cIt\u2019s a little bit cruel, but if I keep frozen mice in the fridge, my mother will kill me!\u201d After the snakes eat, Caven will clean the snakes and their cages as it\u2019s also the time that they will poop.\u00a0 \u201cI only rinse them with warm water and then I\u2019ll do the cleaning. I\u2019ll change the bedding and then put them back.\u201d There are special beddings especially for snakes called aspen bedding which is non-toxic for snakes. Some other bedding might contain materials that\u2019ll harm the snakes. That\u2019s why, Caven says, it\u2019s better to purchase beddings from exotic pet stores. \u201cIt\u2019s not expensive to keep the snakes since their food and the bedding are cheap. The expensive thing is the snakes themselves, and their cages.\u201d Caven keeps their cages at room temperature so it\u2019s not too cold nor too hot. \u201cSome people put heat lights for the snakes at one corner so they can get warm there if they\u2019re cold.\u201d Caven wishes to get a ball python in the future.\u00a0 \u201cAlthough exotic pets look vicious, with proper care and treatment, they can be very cute too.\u201d Some exotic animals require special environments, some would require a certain temperature and some would not. Special attention is required if you want to rear an exotic pet. \u201cTo be frank, they\u2019re relatively easier to take care of compared to cats and dogs as they do not need a great deal of attention.\u201d \u201cHowever, their food is kind of gross and this can disgust a lot of people. You need to have the mental preparation for this.\u201d \u201cFor me, my snakes are easy because I only feed them once a week or once every two weeks. In addition, I don\u2019t need to spend so much money on them.\u201d \u201cBuying a snake is a little expensive but their food and daily expenses are cheap. If you want to own them, you\u2019ll be able to get a common species as long as you have a bit of saving.\u201d San keeps a Tarantula named Tata Aside from having a fluffy cute little Pomeranian, San also has a pet that people will cringe at the name of it.\u00a0 \u201cI have a Brazillian whiteknee tarantula that I got from a pet fair and its name is Tata. I have it since December 2019.\u201d \u201cI\u2019m actually not sure about its sex. It\u2019s still too small to identify the sex.\u201d The Brazilian whiteknee tarantula is a species from Brazil that\u2019s usually kept as pets. The most distinctive part of this species is the white colour on its knees, which it is named after.\u00a0 https:\/\/unsplash.com\/photos\/xvrnLb8VyVY San said that she got Tata just for fun. \u201cI like to observe the web-building, burrowing, and hunting of it. I think it\u2019s quite interesting.\u201d \u201cHowever, unlike other spiders, tarantulas don\u2019t catch their prey by web-building, hence, they rarely make webs. I\u2019ve never seen Tata making any webs so far.\u201d \u201cI don\u2019t talk to Tata like I talk to my dog. I don\u2019t think it\u2019ll understand me.\u201d Her family did not mind her keeping Tata. As long as she keeps it in its cage, they are fine with it.\u00a0 San claimed that taking care of a tarantula is easier than taking care of her dog.\u00a0 \u201cI just keep it in a glass terrarium with a substrate of coco fiber, bark, or spider life substrate mixed with moss.\u201d \u201cYou can also get a ready mixture from the pet store.\u201d \u201cThankfully I haven't had any accidents with it yet. Tata is a good tarantula, it won\u2019t run away from its cage.\u201d San said Tata is quite scared of humans. Whenever she opens its cage during feeding time, it will try to run around and hide.\u00a0 \u201cSo far, Tata hasn\u2019t shown any signs that it\u2019s okay with me approaching it.\u201d When she just got it, San fed Tata with one to two crickets per week, but now she switched to feeding it with mealworms. \u201cIt\u2019s not that expensive taking care of Tata. Mealworms are only RM2 for a small cup. It can last for an entire month.\u201d She bought Tata when it was just one month old and she said it was a little troublesome taking care of a relatively young tarantula. \u201cSince it is still small, it\u2019s hard to find food that\u2019s suitable for it. Tata could only eat tiny mealworms. The bigger worms will hurt it.\u201d San said that Brazillian whiteknee tarantulas are venomous \u2014\u00a0 however, their venom was not considered to be medically significant. \u201cI\u2019ve not gotten bitten before because I never took it out from its cage before. I have to be extra cautious when I\u2019m handling it.\u201d \u201cThis species of tarantula is usually somewhat defensive. They have urticating hairs that can be quite irritating to the human skin. Since their urticating hairs are their primary defense, they won\u2019t usually bite unless they\u2019re in real danger.\u201d \u201cSome of my friends are scared of Tata. However, I will share more information about tarantulas with them and educate them about the species.\u201d \u201cIf I get the chance, I might get more tarantulas.\u201d San advised to always ask permission from your family about keeping exotic pets if you live with them.\u00a0 \u201cNot everyone is okay with exotic animals. Make sure your family or housemates are fine with them before taking the next step.\u201d \u201cHowever, most of the time, having an exotic pet is still unacceptable to some people.\u201d \u201cAlso, think twice before making the decision. You don\u2019t just handle the animal itself. You also have to handle their food which sometimes can be even grosser than the animal itself.\u201d \u201cI think there is a potential for the exotic pet market in Malaysia. I feel that more and more people are open to the idea of keeping unconventional pets.\u201d \u201cWho knows? We might see a boom in the exotic pet industry in a few years.\u201d https:\/\/unsplash.com\/photos\/pLyekKpjXH4 In conclusion, exotic animals are not as scary as they seem. They are often even gentler than conventional pets. There are still stigmas surrounding exotic pets, but if people are willing to accept them, maybe exotic pets may become the conventional pets that people keep as well. For more stories like this, read: We\u2019re Muslims And We Love Dogs \u2014 Here\u2019s Why It\u2019s Not Haram and 3 things I Learnt After Working in a Pet Shop for Two Months.