DEAD snakes found curled together for warmth and a family of African land snails dumped at the roadside were among the exotic animal cruelty cases probed by the RSPCA.

The animal charity said it had received almost 150 calls about neglected abandoned and stray exotic animals last year in Wiltshire alone.

Across the county, the RSPCA investigated 1,554 reports of animal cruelty in 2018

But the charity said it had real concerns about the welfare of exotic animals, like snakes and lizards.

Stephanie Jayson, the RSPCA’s senior scientific officer in exotics and qualified exotics vet, said: “Reptiles and other exotic pets are completely reliant on their owners to meet their welfare needs including requiring the correct levels of heat, light and humidity, plus an appropriate diet. Some species can grow very large, live for a long time or require a licence or paperwork to be legally kept or sold. Many of the animals we’re called to help are found stray outside, where they can very quickly suffer in the cold.

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“These animals are commonly found for sale in pet shops and are advertised online. In the past, animals have often been handed over to buyers with little or no information about how to care for them properly, although new regulations in England should improve this. In some cases, we believe owners take them on simply because they believe they will be easier to care for than other pets, but it is essential that people research what is required in the care of their pet, including food, equipment, environment and vet care, before taking one on. We would also urge them to ask for help if they’re struggling to meet their needs.

“We believe that people may buy them with little idea of how difficult they can be to keep and the animals are sometimes neglected when the novelty wears off and the commitment hits home. This is why we would encourage anyone thinking of getting an exotic pet to find out as much as possible about the animal’s needs and whether they’re the right pet for them.”

Last January, RSPCA officers were called to Pinehurst after a pair of boa constrictor snakes were found dumped in a plastic box near garages off Pinehurst Road.

The two snakes, who were found in the box alongside a heat mat and bowl, were both between 1.5m and 2m in length.

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Stephanie Daly, RSPCA deputy chief inspector, said: “It’s heartbreaking to think that someone could simply discard these poor snakes like rubbish next to garages in a residential street.

“Both snakes were underweight and in poor condition and veterinary experts believe they sadly suffered before their deaths.”

Three months later, the RSPCA discovered a group of giant African land snails that had been left by the side of the road in Trowbridge.

RSPCA animal welfare officer Sian Fry, who saved the snails, said: “Giant African land snails are completely reliant upon their owners to be provided with the correct accommodation, heating, humidity, lighting and food. To abandon them alone without consideration for their welfare is completely unacceptable.”

Nationally, the RSPCA has seen the number of calls to its 24-hour animal cruelty hotline increase by 13 per cent last year compared to 2017. The service took 1,175,193 calls in 2018.