Exotic Pets

Exotic species are those not naturally occurring in New Zealand. The NZHS mainly promotes interest in native species, but provides information and support for all reptiles and amphibians that may be legally kept in New Zealand. It is important that exotic reptiles and amphibians are not released into the wild; any species not naturally found in New Zealand can have a devastating impact on native species and ecosystems.

Below is a list of commonly held exotics in New Zealand. Many of the species (including turtles, tortoises, the dragons, leopard geckos, and blue tongued skinks) live for up to 20 years or more, so require a serious long term commitment.


Also known as the Mexican salamander or Mexican walking fish. These animals are found in high altitude fresh-water lakes and canals. They are on the CITES endangered species list, meaning that they cannot be taken from the wild. Luckily they breed well in captivity, ensuring the survival of the species. Axolotyls are a popular exotic pet which are available in various colour forms, and may be obtained from pet shops year round.

The following book is available through the NZHS:
Keeping Axolotls, by T.J. Thornton: NZD 13 (members NZD 11)

The following websites provide background information & guidance for keeping axolotyls in captivity:


Chelonians are reptiles which belong to the order Testudines; turtles, tortoises, and terrapins (several small species of turtle which live in fresh or brackish water). Turtles are more common than tortoises as pets in New Zealand. Turtles and tortoises are long-lived- over 20 years and this should be considered before committing to caring for one.


Red-eared slider turtles (Trachemys scripta elegans; USA), Eastern snakeneck turtles (Chelodina longicollis; Australia), box turtles (Terrapene carolina sp.; North America)  and Reeve’s turtle (Chinemys reevesii; China) are the most commonly held species of turtle in New Zealand. The red-eared slider turtle is known in the UK as the red-eared slider terrapin. There are suggestions in some circles that this species should be banned in New Zealand to prevent them becoming established in the wild as a pest.

The following book is available through the NZHS:
Keeping Red-Eared Turtles in N.Z. by T.J. Thornton: NZD 13 (members NZD 11)

The following sites have helpful husbandry information for the aforementioned species:


The Greek spur-thighed tortoise (Testudo graeca) is the most common tortoise kept as a pet in New Zealand, with Hermann’s tortoise (Testudo hermanni) being the second most common. Both species are protected under the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), with commercial trade in these species being strictly prohibited.

There are few tortoises in the country; in the past many died at a young age as new keepers did not have a good understanding of the dietary and husbandry requirements of tortoises. Importation of tortoises is strictly controlled by Biosecurity NZ.

A recommended text for tortoise keepers is “The Practical Encyclopedia to Keeping Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises” by A.C. Highfield.

Tortoises are uncommon in New Zealand and only a few species are available, typically at high prices. Tortoises can live for over 100 years if cared for properly, and this should be considered before committing to caring for one!


The Australian water dragon (Physignathus lesuerii) and bearded dragon (Pogonna sp.) have become popular pets in New Zealand. Water dragons and bearded dragons live for 10 – 20 years.

Adult Bearded dragons can reach 50-60 cm and are very easily tamed with regular handling.

Adult water dragons require a very large enclosure, with a large swimming area, to give them a decent quality of life. Males may grow to 1m in length and can be very difficult to tame. Adults can inflict a painful bite if not handled correctly.

The following book is available through the NZHS:
Keeping Australian Dragons Successfully in New Zealand, by Chris Burn: NZD 15 (members NZD 13)

www.thebeardeddragon.org has helpful books on husbandry and terrariums.

Leopard gecko

Leopard geckos (Eublepharis macularius) are a desert species which are found in Asia, Pakistan, and northern India. Over the last 30 years the species have become a popular pet worldwide. Leopard geckos have a life span of 6 – 10 years, but can reach 20 years in captivity.


Newts are semi aquatic amphibians found in North America, Europe, and Asia. Japanese and Chinese fire bellied newts (Cynops sp.) are allowed in the New Zealand pet trade, with the Japanese species being the most common. Fire bellied newts live for 10 – 15 years on average (though they can live to 30).

The following book is available through the NZHS:
Keeping Fire-bellied Newts: A Guide to the Maintenance and Breeding of Fire-bellied Newts, by T.J. Thornton: NZD 13 (members NZD 11)


Common blue tongued skink

The blue tongued skink (Tiliqua scincoides) are an Australian species which live for 10 – 15 years in captivity. The species is a popular pet due to their good disposition and personality, however, they are best kept alone to avoid issues with fighting. They are seasonally available around December.

Cunningham’s skink

Cunningham’s skink (Egernia cunninghami) is another Australian species, but are much less common in captivity. They naturally live in rocky outcrops where they live in close family groups.