From the archive: the alarming rise in exotic pets, September 1965

‘They are the affluent society’s new pampered prestige symbols’ and are ‘becoming more flamboyant every year’ wrote a horrified Charles Bloomberg. ‘People are even installing private zoos in their backyards.’

There was nothing new about pets, of course, but what was new was the fad for ‘weird, grotesque and outlandish house pets’. Nearly a million of these pets ranged from ‘gorillas to giant water dragons, boa constrictors to bush babies, tigers to terrapins, monkeys to mynah birds’ and – slightly ruining the alliteration – ‘iguanas to eagles’.

The India mynah bird topped the popularity list of novel pets – they were ‘the poor man’s parrot’ said one dealer. ‘He talks like one for a third of the price.’

Rex Stacey, 43, spoke about his love of snakes and his pet python. He even managed to keep a series of pet snakes during his war service in India and Italy. ‘Hyderabad was wonderful,’ he said. ‘It was crawling with snakes.’ He admitted that he felt lonely without a snake. ‘Once I didn’t have a snake for two weeks, and couldn’t sleep.’

Bloomberg asked a psychologist why people keep pets at all, an insight into how our attitudes have shifted. ‘Society arouses a conflict between our friendly and aggressive feelings by forcing us to compete with our fellow-men. But a pet is a subordinate object. Pets do not have unkempt Beatles-style haircuts, or stagger home drunk in the early hours. If they do you can always give them away or have them put down.’

Just don’t talk about anything like than in front of a mynah bird.