FIVE new animals have joined Sparsholt College’s Exotic Animal Collection after being rescued by the RSPCA.

The raccoon dogs, originally from East Asia, have become a novelty pet, despite their complex needs.

After being rescued, they were re-homed within the college’s animal management centre in a newly-built enclosure that students had prepared across six months.

This comes days after the RSPCA revealed it had received almost 500 calls about neglected, abandoned and stray exotic animals in Hampshire in the past year.

Head of exotics at Sparsholt, Gary Clarke, said: “We are very pleased to provide a new home for these ex-pet raccoon dogs as part of the animal collection we maintain here for teaching and training.

“Our animal management students have grafted for months to prepare the enclosure for them - burying mesh underground, building lots of dens, planting shrubs and grasses, and even making them a pond and roof terrace to enjoy!”

He added: “Already, three students have begun projects on their behaviour, using night cameras to see what goes on after dark.

“We look forward to discovering more about these wonderful little animals over the coming years.”

Last year, the number of calls to the RSPCA increased by 13 per cent when compared with 2017, with a total of 1,175,193 calls being made to its 24-hour cruelty hotline.

Stephanie Jayson, from the RSPCA senior scientific officer in exotics and wildlife trade, said: “We’re so pleased we were able to introduce and integrate these five individuals into a bonded group and it’s wonderful to see them settling in so well at their new home at Sparsholt College.

“In some cases, we believe owners take them on simply because they believe they will be easier to care for than other pets, but it is essential that people research what is required in the care of their pet.”

The species will be useful in teaching students the issues around the exotic pet trade and invasive species.

Students will also be able to study the raccoon dogs’ behaviour as part of the projects they complete.