A boa constrictor with a history of aggression was among the potentially dangerous pets found to be available online in an investigation by Blue Cross.
The charity is now calling for a Government review of the exotic pet trade after the research, compiled in partnership with wildlife charity the Born Free Foundation, revealed the huge extent of the problem.
The One Click Away report found that at any one moment across a sample of just six websites, there were around 25,000 adverts offering more than 120 types of exotic animals for sale.
Creatures for sale online included reptiles, exotic birds and primates, many of which are particularly vulnerable to welfare problems when kept as pets.
With little or no regulation of online sales, both charities are concerned for the health and welfare of the animals sold to inexperienced owners - as well as the safety of the public - and is putting pressure on politicians to bring laws surrounding the sales of exotic pets brought up to date.
Steve Goody, Blue Cross Deputy Chief Executive, said: “This report shows the shocking scale of the exotic pet trade and the urgent need for action. For the inexperienced, it can be difficult to care for many of these animals in a domestic environment and as a result the animals’ welfare can suffer.
“With ever-increasing demand for more and more unusual pets and the huge growth in internet sales, it is high time for the Government to take action to ensure that the internet sale of exotic species is more effectively regulated.”
Particular concerns the report uncovered were the many adverts not properly identifying the species for sale, a lack of any advice on the animals' history or how to care for them and sellers not even being required to state whether an animal is appropriate to be kept as a pet.
Examples of the shocking adverts seen by the charities included one for eight royal pythons in need of a 'quick sale' and another for a boa constrictor with a history of aggression, as well as various advertisements for wild cats and animals being offered in 'poor health' or for 'swaps'.
Abandoned exotic pets have also been seen by Blue Cross vets - including two bearded dragons dumped in a park, a badly neglected African pygmy hedgehog who had lost most of her spines and was covered in sores, and even a ring-tailed lemur.
Although existing laws in Britain - including the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the Pet Animals Act 1951 - offer all pets a certain level of protection, there is confusion over their application and enforcement.
The charities are convinced that the the Pet Animals Act 1951, which controls the sale of animals in pet shops, is no longer fit for purpose because it was drafted long before the birth of the internet or the growth in popularity of exotic pets.
Blue Cross and the Born Free Foundation would like to see this legislation amended to ensure that it becomes relevant and effective in today's world.
Chris Draper, Programmes Manager for Captive Wild Animals at the Born Free Foundation, said: “It is truly shocking how many exotic animals and of such diversity are available online, with so many advertised incorrectly or incompletely and with no indication of their often complex needs. The Government needs to review the Pet Animals Act as a priority to ensure people are made aware of the issues related to buying exotic pets online and we should urgently examine how these animals are faring in the pet trade.”
Angela Smith MP has held a roundtable discussion on the issue of exotic pet sales, which was followed by a drop-in photo call hosted by Sir Roger Gale MP where MPs will pledged their support for a review of the trade online.
Angela said: “As this report shows, the welfare of thousands of exotic pets is at risk and we need to act to change the situation for them. I am fully committed to raising awareness of this important issue and getting it onto the Government’s agenda.”
The full report, One Click Away: An Investigation into the Online Sale of Exotic Pets, is available here.