A RHEA-PEAT escape artist was one of hundreds of exotic animals to be spotted across Essex the last year.

New figures have revealed animal charity the RSPCA received 567 calls about exotic animals in 2018 across the county.

This is an increase of 42, or eight per cent, on 2017, when 525 calls were made about out of the ordinary beasts.

One unusual animal who flew the nest was a stray common rhea who was first discovered in November amongst the flowerbed of a shocked caller's garden in Colchester.

The large bird, whose lives in Great Horkesley and is named Colin, is a known escape artist and was also spotted lost in drivers' rhea-view mirrors walking on the A12 last month.

READ MORE: Rhea on A12 home safe

Clacton and Frinton Gazette: Unusual - Colin the rhea left drivers in a flap on the A12 after making his way onto the carriageway PICTURE: Luke ScofieldUnusual - Colin the rhea left drivers in a flap on the A12 after making his way onto the carriageway PICTURE: Luke Scofield

In November RSPCA Inspector Ann Bennet, along with a team from Colchester Zoo, rescued Colin, who had taken a nap in the resident's shrubs after strolling in through a garden gate.

Insp Bennett said: "The homeowner said that the rhea casually strolled into his garden and after having a look around, sat down and went to sleep in their flower bed. It must have been quite an unusual sight.

"We are so grateful to them for keeping the rhea safe in their garden until we could arrange to move the bird.

“As you can imagine catching and then transporting a rhea can be a little tricky so we were extremely grateful to the staff at Colchester Zoo who came out to collect the bird and kept the rhea until the owner got in touch.”

READ MORE: Rhea-united! Wandering bird Colin is back home after flocking off

Colin, whose species is more suited to the climate of South America than Essex, was one of 15,790 escaped exotic animals reported nationally to the RSPCA in 2018.

The charity believes the reason such reports are on the rise is that some owners do not research the animals' needs correctly and some are even abandoned or neglected.

Exotics officer Joe White said: “Although their numbers are small compared to more common pets, we have real concerns about the welfare of reptiles and other exotic animals kept as pets in this country.

“We believe that people may buy them with little idea of how difficult they can be to keep and the animals are sometimes neglected when the novelty wears off and the commitment hits home.

"This is why we would encourage anyone thinking of getting an exotic pet to find out as much as possible about the animal’s needs and whether they’re the right pet for them.”

Nationally the RSPCA, which has a team of specially trained exotics officers, rescued over 4,000 exotic animals in 2018, including more than 500 snakes, more than 300 turtles, 145 bearded dragons, five raccoon dogs and even four marmosets and one wallaby. In Essex, officers rescued 227 exotic pets in 2018.