Unexpected Companions


Pets are not defined by what can or can’t be walked on a leash. Their companionship comes in all shapes and sizes, especially the unique and exotic ones.

What makes them exotic? Some of the species originate from distant foreign countries, others are just unique and not what people may think of as traditional pets. While dogs and cats may rule the pet ownership world, there are a large number of people who prefer to cuddle a pot bellied pig or pet a tortoise.

There are few places in the Palmetto State that treat these unusual pets. In fact, Exotic Vet Care in Mount Pleasant (formerly Birds and Exotics Animal Care) is currently the only state-of-the-art veterinary hospital in the state created especially for the needs of birds and exotic animals.

In 2000, the clinic was opened by Dr. Jose Biascoechea, the state’s first board-certified avian veterinarian. Alongside a team of specialists, practice manager Kerry Bateman, who’s had 18 years of managerial experience in the field, has practically seen it all.

Exotic Vet Care commonly deals with rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, sugar gliders and birds from the smallest parakeet to the largest macaw. Over the years, Bateman has seen everything from two-toed and three-toed sloths, a wallaby, a mara and an albino Burmese python. The latter reptile was owned by the Edisto Serpentarium.

When it comes to caring for exotic animals there are many rules of thumb. Bateman broke down into the most basic trains of thought for current and future pet owners.

Know what you’re getting into. Inform yourself from knowledgeable and factual sources about the burdens and blessings of ownership.

Don’t be impulsive. Bateman does not recommend rash pet purchases because often it leads to the pet needing medical attention shortly thereafter. Every time one is featured in a movie or TV series, for instance when “Tangled” came out, people rushed out and bought chameleons. During this time there was a spike in chameleon treatments.

Get a post-purchase consultation after obtaining the pet for proper health and habitat advice.

Bateman noted they are prey animals by nature, which means they naturally try to hide their symptoms to not show any vulnerability for fear of becoming part of larger species’ food chain. Bateman strongly encouraged investing in veterinary pet insurance upon purchase of the pet, especially to avoid expensive situations with unknown pre-existing conditions. “

Our goal is always to help the animals,” Bateman added. “That’s our specialty and that’s why we’re here.”

Located at 814 Johnnie Dodds Blvd., Exotic Vet Care typically has 20 appointments daily. For more information, visit birdsandexotics.com or call 843-216-8387.


There are a handful of folks on Daniel Island who are owners of exotic or unique pets. The following are vignettes of escapades that residents have encountered with their slimy reptiles, spiny mammals and silky rodents.


Country of species origin: Africa

Habitat: Savannah, grassy areas

Diet: Mealworms, waxworms, crickets Size: 6-12 inches

Lifespan: 5-10 years

As matriarch of the house, Tyler Love typically calls the shots for her family. Except for when it comes to matters of the heart.

When another family on the island was in search of finding a new home for their hedgehog, the Love family stepped in and filled his spiky, pincushion-like heart with love. After all, it’s their last name.

His name is Ozzie, he is 4 years old and a middle-aged man. He is also one nocturnal son of a gun, who likes to sleep all day and party all night. Sources could not confirm at this time if he’s related to the legendary rock star Ozzy Osbourne.

After the first couple of weeks in the Love household, Ozzie began to learn the family’s voices. He also grew a liking to dried cat food and mealworms.

Ozzie loves to be held and paraded around the house in his fabric pouch, similar to a miniature couch. Gloves don’t do the trick because of his sharp quills.

One Halloween, Ozzie dressed up as pumpkin. He was the sharpest dressed trick-or-treater that year.

He also loves a good bath. Specifically 2-3 inches of lukewarm water that enables him to swim laps around the tub.

Ozzie is as laid back as a hedgehog comes. Although, if you catch him unawares, he can be a bit prickly.


Unexpected Companions

Country of species origin: Andes mountains (Chile)

Habitat: Rock crevices

Diet: Grass hay Size: 9-15 inches

Lifespan: 10+ years

Wandee Humphreys and her family have always operated in dramatic fashion. The mission of rescuing a pair of fluffy but rambunctious chinchillas to surprise her daughter as a birthday gift was no different.

“Our family, weirdly enough, are very attracted to exotic pets so we’re kind of an exotic pet family,” Humphreys said. “We’ve had just the gamut of fun things over the years.”

A few months ago, she told her family they were going to Charlotte for a weekend getaway. The premise was that they were going apple picking; however, it was getting dark.

Her daughter was beginning to question why they were trying to pick fruit at night in the boondocks of Roxboro, North Carolina. When they got to the breeder’s homestead, her husband said he had to use the bathroom.

When he came out carrying two chinchillas, he shouted, “Happy birthday!” Their daughter began to cry uncontrollably, tears of joy, of course.

The white chinchilla’s name is Sophie and the gray one is named Luna. Their age is uncertain because they are rescues.

Chinchillas can’t be in temperatures more than 70 degrees so the family has to have dual thermostats in their home.

Sophie and Luna sleep upstairs during the day and run wild at night. Don’t be bamboozled by their precious looks, they are devilish escape artists.

On top of their wire cage is a small opening that is covered with a towel and a heavy book atop of it. One night they managed to chew through the towel, skim through a few pages of dense literature and shimmy their way out into the girl’s bedroom where they proceeded to throw a party.

“If you can imagine mixing a mouse and a bunny and a squirrel together, that bounces like a kangaroo, you get a chinchilla,” Humphreys exclaimed.


Country of species origin: Madagascar

Habitat: Tropical rainforest biome

Diet: Crickets, roaches, hornworms Size 14-21 inches

Lifespan: 5-7 years

Since Chris Labombard was a little kid he developed a natural affinity to any type of animal he came across. He admits he’s always been attracted to weird animals.

At the age of 8, Labombard got his first pair of pet scorpions. When he turned 18, he upgraded to a red tail boa constrictor. Yes, you read that right.

Now, in his adult years, Labombard has become less adventurous on account of his girlfriend and daughter. A Massachusetts native, he recently moved to the area but not before purchasing a panther chameleon at a locally-owned pet shop in Connecticut during his family’s haul south.

The chameleon’s name is Gizmo, he’s only 1 and he’s still a juvenile. He will be full grown in six months, ranging between 14-21 inches and is expected to change a variety of colors from fluorescent reds, blues, yellows and oranges. He is also expected to live five to seven years in captivity.

“We did a lot of research,” Labombard said. “We wanted to make sure we knew what we were doing before we jumped into it because no animal deserves to be treated poorly. We wanted to make sure it has the best living conditions.”

Gizmo’s cuteness is what caught Lambombard’s eye. Regardless, his girlfriend and daughter made the executive call.

Gizmo loves to hide under a branch in his tank. He also loves horned worms. His diet mostly consists of crickets and Dubai roaches. (Yuck!)

Most of the time, panther chameleons don’t like to be handled. The best way to approach them is to put your hand out to gauge if they want to be held.

A sign of distress is when they develop a bubble under their chin. If they turn gray or brownish in color that means they are extremely stressed out, almost to the point of death.

Panther chameleons don’t shed their tails as an escape defense mechanism like other lizards. In fact, he uses his tail as leverage to grip branches. Gizmo has the grip of a true gentleman.

Labombard noted that the humidity level in his tank has to stay between 70-80 degrees and the room temperature has to stay between 85-95 degrees during the day.

Right now he’s in a glass tank, but eventually Labombard plans to get him a screen tank so he can truly enjoy all that the Lowcountry’s scenery has to offer.