AfricaBioExotic Companions by Frank Trimbos

In South Africa, the market for trading exotic pets, either legally or illegally, is big. It all looks so nice and cool, having an exotic animal as your pet, and inspired by stories about the ‘real Tarzan’ and the ‘lion whisperer’, a lot of people want to be the next exotic animal whisperer.

In South Africa, the market for trading exotic pets, either legally or illegally, is big. It all looks so nice and cool, having an exotic animal as your pet, and inspired by stories about the ‘real Tarzan’ and the ‘lion whisperer’, a lot of people want to be the next exotic animal whisperer.

But once they have one and they have found out what they need to do to take good care of it, and the money it costs, it is suddenly not so cute anymore and rather a lot of work. It poses a lot of threats as well; not only to the wellbeing of the animal itself, but what if it escapes, and what will its presence do to the natural environment and the South African species? Those things most exotic pet owners have not considered before buying an exotic animal.

Charlie, the African Grey Timneh parrot, is waiting in his travel cage for his cataracts check-up. Cataracts is a common occurrence for African Greys. Therefore, Charlie’s owner annually schedules him in for a check-up

An exotic animal is a species that is not an indigenous species in South Africa. This means that an exotic animal has been imported (with or without the requisite permits) into the country and is either being kept in a captive situation or has been released. One of the reasons why the exotic pet trade is so big in South Africa is because it is fairly easy to get exotic animals in the country and to sell them to the buyers. Although initiatives and regulations have been launched over the recent years to strengthen compliance and enforcement of legislation to protect animals, wildlife and indigenous species, about 90% of exotic pet owners still don’t have a permit for their animals.

The permits for exotic animals are issued by authorities when people can prove that they have the means to take good care of the exotic animals in terms of space, funds and environment. The environment needs to be safe for both the animal and its surroundings. The permit further provides a manual how to take care of them and what actions to take in specific situations (e.g. should the animal escape).

Veterinarian Dorian Elliot, of the Veterinarian Hospital for Exotic Animals at the University of Pretoria, and her assistant Meissie are examining a fatigued and listless chinchilla. The chinchilla is brought to the clinic by her concerned owner, who is afraid that something is seriously wrong with her pet’s health

For some animals permits aren’t even required, even though the animals are seen as exotic, such as the weeper capuchin and other monkey species. The capturing of monkeys is not prohibited in South Africa and therefore, monkeys are one of the most common exotic animals that are used as pets in the country. Baby monkeys are of course very cute, but when they grow up, they can become quite a handful and can tear a living room apart without much effort. They are also vulnerable to diseases, especially when owners don’t know how to take care of them. This then soon becomes a problem for the animals, the owners and the surroundings, especially when being ‘released’.

For this documentary, ‘Exotic Companions’, I have met with owners of exotic pets, conservatories and veterinarians of exotic animals to highlight the trade of exotic pets in South Africa, to show what it entails to have an exotic pet and what the consequences are for the animals, the owners and the environment. With this series I want to look beyond the cuteness and excitement of owning an exotic animals and show what the impact is of capturing exotic animals as pets. Especially in these strange times with the Covid-19 crisis we are experiencing now, it is important to understand and re-balance the relationship between man, animals and nature.

A leopard tortoise is weighted and checked out. It turns out that his shell is broken on one side. The owner doesn’t know what caused this to happen

About Frank Trimbos

I focus on human interest documentaries and stories that are worth telling the world. An eye for detail and telling the story behind the observations play an essential role in this. In 2007 I started my professional career as documentary photographer at The Parool in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I am currently based in Johannesburg, South Africa, where I’m working for various photo agencies and making independent photo series. Since I live in South Africa, I don’t have a shortage of topics for new series. Currently Africa is in motion, and the responses to this motion is determent for the direction the continent will take. This has a major impact on people’s lifestyles and how they view life and how they interact. This impact is both visible and tangible and manifests itself in various ways, which I want to capture with my photo series. [Official Website]

Jackie Jamison is very fond of her pet capuchin, although the capuchin is getting more hostile and unmanageable now that he’s getting older. Jackie must consider to give the monkey away

Charlie, the African Grey Timneh parrot, is waiting in his travel cage for his cataracts check-up. Cataracts is a common occurrence for African Greys. Therefore, Charlie’s owner annually schedules him in for a check-up

Meissie, the veterinary assistant, prepares for the next meeting in the operating room of the Veterinarian Hospital for Exotic Animals at the University of Pretoria. The next check-up is done on the tortoise who was just brought in

A crab-eating macaque looks through the bars of its cage at the Primate Conservatory in Pretoria. The capturing of monkeys to keep them as pets is not prohibited in South Africa. Therefore, monkeys are one of the most common exotic animal species that are used as pets in South Africa. Naturally, baby monkeys are cute, but when growing up, they can be quite a handful and can tear a living room apart. They are also vulnerable for diseases, especially when the owners don’t know exactly how to take care of them. The Primate Conservatory offers shelter for these monkeys who grew too big or have become too troublesome for their previous owners’ liking.

A serval is getting a CT-scan to check the severity of the wound caused by a Rottweiler attack. The result of the CT-scan shows that she can get better, but because the operation will be very expensive, the owners have decided to put her to sleep

A serval, who is kept as a pet, has been bitten by the pet Rottweiler of the family. The dog bit her in the neck and made her paralysed

Mazda the capuchin has been feeling sick and listless for the last week and is taken to the Veterinarian Hospital for Exotic Animals in Pretoria for a check-up to see what is wrong with him

Angie, the bearded dragon, has been put to sleep by Doctor Steven Steyn. He gives a lethal injection to Angie, who accidently fell off a table. Her ribs were broken and her intestines were so severely damaged, that there was no other option left but to put her to sleep. Jacqueline van der Merwe is heart-broken by the loss of her pet and is supported by her friend

A 12 weeks old marmoset is getting a check-up at the Veterinarian Hospital for Exotic Animals in Pretoria

A small wild bird is brought in to the Veterinarian Hospital, transferred in a shoe box by a good Samaritan who was looking after it when it fell out of the nest

A meerkat is being monitored during a M.R.I scan at the Wilgers Animal Hospital in Pretoria. The meerkat suffers from seizures for reasons yet unknown

Michael Jamison pets his Bengal tiger Enzo. Enzo is three years old and he has been living in the Jamison household since he was a cub. Michael Jamison has two pet tigers in his house in Brakpan, South Africa. Two years ago, he divided his entire house, in- and outside, by means of bars, for the tigers to roam through the whole premises. He misses playing with his tigers without the bars, but they’ve grown too big for that. Three months ago, Michael was sued by the SPCA for the surgical removal of the claws of both tigers for his own protection. He has won the court case

Veterinarian Dorian Elliot, of the Veterinarian Hospital for Exotic Animals at the University of Pretoria, and her assistant Meissie are weighing a fatigued and listless chinchilla. The chinchilla is brought to the clinic by her concerned owner, who is afraid that there’s something seriously wrong with her pet’s health 

The pet meerkat of Family van Heerden is put under narcosis to get neutered. Meercats are difficult to keep as a pet, because they cannot be tamed fully. The owners hope that he will be tamer after this operation

These lemurs were intercepted at the South African border when smugglers tried to get the lemurs from Madagascar into South Africa to sell them illegally

A green Alexandrine Parrot is getting a little irritated during a check-up at the veterinary hospital in Pretoria

Chino is holding the bars of his cage with his left hand at the Primate Conservatory in Pretoria. Chino is a weeping capuchin and lost his right arm while he was getting imprisoned and transferred out of South America



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