Exotic pets don’t belong in Auckland’s natural environment

Last Updated : 05 Jul 2024
Exotic pets
Rainbow lorikeet

Whether you’re a cat person or a dog person, fish fanatic or lizard lover, pets can bring great joy and companionship into our lives.

But while loving our pets is easy, being accountable for them takes more effort. It means doing everything we can to keep our pets happy, healthy, and safe, while preventing them from causing harm to our natural environment and the community.

By taking the time to learn about what it means to be a responsible pet owner we can ensure our pets, native plants and animals all have the space they need to thrive and survive. Want to make sure you’re playing your part? Here’s what it means to be a superstar owner of some of our more obscure types of pets:

If you want to test your knowledge of exotic pets and how to care for them, try out our quiz here


Colourful and compact, it’s hard to imagine how your harmless little Nemo could ever cause any mischief. 

Pet owners may think their goldfish will love the freedom of a large stream or pond to swim in when they release them into the wild, but doing this causes ecological mayhem. Releasing exotic fish into waterways upsets natural ecosystems, by forcing native species to compete for habitat, degrading water quality, introducing parasites and disease, and depleting native insects, fish eggs and plants. What’s worse: they can breed quickly, making pet fish difficult to get rid of once they are established.

The good news is that avoiding this mayhem is easy. All you have to do is keep pet fish well away from waterways, which means never releasing them into the wild and, if you have an outdoor pond, ensuring it is securely contained.

If you can no longer care for your fish, it’s important to find a new owner, return it to the pet store or find a fish rehoming group on Facebook. Releasing exotic fish also raises serious welfare issues. Pets are used to being fed daily by their owners and kept in safe enclosures; they are ill-equipped to survive in the wild. It’s a bit like sending your pet into a survival reality show with a multitude of dangers from hungry predators to harsh environmental conditions. Pets released into waterways are likely to suffer from malnutrition, injuries, and stress.


Much like fish, pet birds can upset the delicate ecosystem when released into the wild. Unlike fish, they fly, meaning escapees are common.

Once they’re lost from home, pet birds can impact native species, especially native parrots such as kākāriki and kākā, by introducing diseases and taking away food resources and places to nest.

To prevent this, a responsible bird owner needs to ensure their birds are always securely contained and provide enough space and quality food to meet their behavioural needs. If you’re no longer able to look after your pet bird, try to find someone else who can give it a long-term home or look for a bird rescue centre.

Research from the University of Auckland estimates there are on average 491 pet birds on the loose in Auckland in any given month, particularly in summer when owners are more inclined to leave windows and doors open.

Bird owners might think their pet won’t escape or will always find its way home, but the statistics say otherwise. Birds do escape, so it's important to keep them securely inside the home or aviary.


Credit: Nick Ling

Credit: Nick Ling

Red-eared sliders are the most popular pet turtles and usually adorably tiny when you first buy them. What many people don’t realise is that they can grow to the size of dinner plates, leading many turtle-owners to find themselves out of their depth as their pets no longer fit in home aquariums.

When this happens, many owners think they’re doing their pet a favour by setting it free outdoors. Unfortunately, this can be dangerous for the turtle as well as the environment. As omnivores, turtles eat a wide variety of aquatic plants as well as fish, baby birds, insects, lizards and frogs, putting more strain on an already stressed ecosystem. 

The first step to being a responsible turtle owner is to realise that turtles are long-term pets (they can live for more than 30 years!), and to think carefully about whether you can handle one, once it’s fully-grown. Keeping turtles securely contained is a must, and if you can no longer care for them, then try to find a new owner, or take them to a turtle rescue centre or turtle haven.

Our waterbodies are already under pressure and red-eared slider turtles are notorious for escaping, with the dubious honour of being one of the world’s top 100 worst pests. If we act now, and prevent the release of unwanted turtles into waterways, we may still have an opportunity to prevent exotic turtles being too prevalent in the future.


Lizards are not your usual pet, not one you would immediately think about buying; they are not for the faint-hearted as they are expensive, require a specific living enclosure and have an average lifespan of 20 years.

But some people are enamoured with lizards, until they’re not.

Escaped exotic lizards are becoming increasingly common as more and more are reported in the wild, in Auckland.

Many of the species available here feel quite at home in our climate and could readily establish invasive populations if allowed to escape or if they are released into the wild.

Allowing these animals to escape, or dumping them, puts these pets at risk of harm. Exotic lizards also pose a risk to our indigenous species, spreading diseases, eating insects, and competing with our beautiful native lizards.

So, if you own a lizard and can no longer take care of it, be kind to it and contact an exotic animal rescue.

And a big thank you to all those pet owners who are playing their part to make Tāmaki Makaurau a great place for pets, the community and native wildlife.

Test your knowledge of exotic pets via this fun and exciting quiz.

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