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Sep 25

Exotic Pets in Southeast Asia

Cotton Top TamarinsA couple of months ago, my wife and I took a couple of weeks off from our daily lives to travel to Southeast Asia. I asked my parents to stay at our house to take care of the kids and my assistant to come in everyday to help with tending to our pets. I also hired a housekeeper to make things easier for my parents.

Now before we booked our trip, I told my wife that I really wanted to experience the local culture of the countries we would be visiting. That meant, I didn’t want to stay at some fancy hotel that had all the amenities you could ever need because frankly, I had no plans of staying indoors. My wife suggested we book our accommodations through AirBnB so we could get a dose of the true local hospitality. After doing some research, I agreed.

I exchanged a couple of emails with prospective hosts and within a few days, we were finally able to book a space with some homeowners in Beijing and Bangkok. We were also going to visit Bali but since this was on the last leg of our trip, my wife and I agreed to book a hotel room so we could get some much needed rest and relaxation before we headed back home.

Since this post is about the exotic pets I encountered on our trip, I will skip touristy stories and focus on the pets.

On the day we arrived in Beijing, our host was gracious enough to have breakfast ready when we arrived in her home. One of the first things I noticed when I walked in was her 2,000 gallon aquarium that had only one fish. A Golden Arowana that was about 4 feet long! It was beautiful. She informed me that according to Chinese beliefs, Arowanas that are given as gifts serve as good luck charms to their owners. Her fish was given to her by her father 6 years ago. I was really surprised to see an Arowana of that size being kept in an aquarium. I asked her whether it has ever jumped out of the aquarium and she said yes, it has at least twice in the last year alone which is why she was having a larger aquarium commissioned. As far as its diet goes, she feeds her Arowana 3 to 4 white mice every other day. Poor mice!

After a couple of days in Beijing, it was time to pack our bags and head to our next destination… Bangkok! Our host was a Dutch widow who owns a small hotel in Phuket which is managed by her son and his family. Seeing as it didn’t seem like she needed the extra cash, we asked why she was on AirBnB. She said that it really wasn’t about the money. Rather, she enjoyed playing host to tourists from all over the world. Now her pets were special in every sense of the word. She owned two Cotton-top┬áTamarin monkeys. In all my years as a veterinarian, that was only the second time I’ve ever laid eyes on this species. The first time being on a veterinary mission in South America. Cotton-top Tamarins are considered endangered so I was very curious as how she got hold of her pets.

She told me she bought them from an exotic pet dealer in Bangkok for $5,000 a pair. She was even provided with documents to prove her ownership of the animals. I asked her if she knew that they were an endangered species and she said yes, which is why they were worth the price. I wasn’t sure how to react to this piece of information but I made sure to make a mental note to report the incidence of “legal trading” of endangered species in Thailand.

One thing I noticed throughout our Southeast Asian tour is that exotic pets are very popular in that part of the world. Aside from the usual canines and felines, pet owners had an affinity to owning reptiles such as snakes and iguanas, exotic fish, monkeys, and even critters that could only be found deep within rain forests.