A COUPLE who breed and raise exotic rodents are distraught after a sudden burst of loud fireworks caused several of their animals to die.

Neville and Mandy Townsend have lived in Highworth for 28 years and spent two decades looking after possums, voles, zebra mice and other little creatures which are then sold to private owners, zoos, and even Longleat Safari Park.

The sound of explosions in the sky startled their conservatory full of critters and when Mandy went to calm them down, she was met by a grim scene.

She said: “It was horrendous. The bangs and flashes had triggered a mother possum’s fight-or-flight response and she had eaten her 10 four-week-old babies.

“The other animals were throwing themselves at the cages and bouncing off the glass, or they went completely still. They didn't know what was going on and there was an awful noise.

"We lost two beech mice, two stack lemmings, and a couple of bandit voles. This is the first time we have ever lost any animals because of fireworks. I was shocked and so upset, it's senseless."

The most frustrating thing about this tragic loss for the Townsends is that it could have easily been avoided with a bit of courtesy.

Mandy added: "Normally we don't mind because we are given notice if there's an event on or a neighbour is celebrating something so that we can take precautions.

"We then have time to move the animals or turn music on or cover their cages to ensure they don't see or hear the fireworks - but this just came out of nowhere.

"A polite notice would have been nice and stopped us losing any animals. They are not easy to breed and something like this is very distressing for us and for them."

Neville wrote on Facebook urging people to be more considerate when he first heard the bangs, but was met with dismissive or insulting responses - until he posted an update to share the consequences of the display. Since then, the Townsend's animals have been unusually quiet and shy.

Neville added: "We were sat watching the telly and heard bangs and crashes from close by outside, then heard crashing from where we keep the animals.

"People don't realise how much of a shock it can be to some animals. Even our dogs - who don't normally react to fireworks - jumped up barking, it was that loud.

"Mandy went over to ask the neighbours to stop letting fireworks off, which they did after a while but they didn't understand how the animals had died, they didn't care, they just did what they liked.

"Fireworks are fun for us humans but for the animals, it's like an attack. It's really knocked them for six."