(ECNS) -- Cats and dogs are the most common choices when it comes to pets. But in China, more and more people prefer the blue-ringed octopus, leeches, poison-dart frogs, snakes and many other unconventional companions, Beijing Morning News reported.
A number of unusual species have joined crocodiles and foxes to become popular among younger people, reshaping a business landscape usually dominated by cats, dogs, birds and aquarium fish.
The main reasons behind the rise of these unusual pets are their lower cost, exotic appearance and less demanding care, according to the newspaper's investigation.
Qin Fen, a senior university student, said his initial motivation for owning a snake and chameleon was out of vanity, because he wanted to appear different from his classmates.
He said he spent 200 yuan ($30) to buy a snake at Beijing's Guanyuan Market, a pet market for fish, birds and insects, in his freshman year. After the snake got bigger and his family opposed it, he secretly let it go in the Fragrant Hills in the northwest of the city, a decision he feels guilty about today.
Chengzi, another pet lover, used to keep spiders and scorpions, but is now most interested in keeping a chameleon, a hobby he has had for 10 years.
It costs Chengzi about 600 yuan ($90) a month for food, a housing box, heat lamp and other supplies. But the real challenge is feeding it live cockroaches, which he is most afraid of.
White-collar professional Li Dan keeps two leeches in her home. Li said she has kept the wriggling, blood-sucking creatures -- a species that left unpleasant memories for China's elder generation -- for half a year and feeds them with fish.
She added that she is a member of a mobile app WeChat-based group that has more than 30 members who are fans of leeches. Although her family objects to her hobby and calls her a "freak", Li said she found a kind of mysterious connection to the pets and will certainly keep them.
A Beijing store selling blue-ringed octopi, one of the world's most venomous marine animals, said many young customers are fond of the animal simply because it is thrilling.
Jin Long, who has kept exotic pets since 2004, said the market changes very quickly and some pets popular five or six years ago may soon fall from favor. At a pet store in Beijing, flying squirrels have been the hottest pet in the past two months.
Almost all keepers of unusual pets said they are afraid of being reported to authorities. Jin said it's highly likely that police will take the unusual pets away.
Wildlife Conservation Association director Tian said the association has received many phone calls for help, mostly from owners unable to deal with their ever-growing crocodiles.
Tian also said the macaque, ball python and fox have all been kept as pets and then set free, which only led to their deaths in the wild or resulted in threats to humans.
He also said China still lacks laws or regulations on the keeping of unusual pets.
Beijing's police and market regulators both intensified control over the trade in recent years, but the creatures are still available in covert shops.
At Beijing's Shilihe pet market, buyers and sellers sometimes use coded language to negotiate deals after first gaining information on WeChat, and can receive the exotic animals after paying a down payment, Jin told the newspaper.
Pets lovers usually have their own WeChat groups, where members share pictures or tips on care, and facilitate deals.