Disposable Pets | Reptiles
Every year hundreds of thousands of pets are abandoned each year. www.petfinder.com states the following.
“According to the World Wildlife Fund-US, imports of reptiles into the United States exceeded 2.5 million in 1996. Add to this the tens of thousands of captive-bred reptiles sold at reptile expos around the country and at local herpetological society meetings, and you begin to understand why this fast-growing market is not likely to dry up anytime soon.”
No one will answer the why. Not with any truth anyway; depending on who you talk with the answers vary. I’m not an animal activist; I am concerned with animal welfare however whether it be scaly or not. The reason for this particular post is that every week I get numerous emails regarding the captive care of reptiles. They come from an “expert” website as well as via social networks that I frequent. Every week I hear;
‘I bought such and such a reptile and it has (insert your choice of disease or ailment) and I can’t afford a vet can you tell me what to do?’ At least once.
I do my best to answer the questions and have even helped some people find a properly trained reptile veterinarian in their area. But the sad fact is, when I worked directly in the industry I collected too many reptiles which people couldn’t take care of for whatever reason. My collection up until a month or so ago consisted of at least 7 out the 10 reptiles I owned being rescues of one type or another. The above question leads me to my point of the
“disposable reptile nation“
For reasons beyond my comprehension people are under the impression that reptiles are easier to get rid of than many other pets such as mammals as there is more connection with mammals. This leads to them to think that rather than fixing the issue, they can just abandon the reptile
A) (with) someone else to take care of it
B) are released into the wild with the thought that nature will take its course.
Most issues arise from poor husbandry in the first place due to people not being educated on how to care for their new pet. With all of the captive bred and imported species I would say most issues are related to one of two things mentioned above if not both.
The first issue in the reptile industry is that of dietary nutrition whether it is through food or dietary supplements, which if allowed to continue will lead to the reptile(s) not only suffering but dying a horrible death. The secondary biggest issue is that of heating or lack there of. Reptiles are not capable of generating their own body heat and rely on their environment for their warmth which allows them to operate and live.
So far the reptile industry hasn’t begun to approach the stages of the ‘goldfish at the county fair’ but we are not far away. Each year more and more people are purchasing reptiles as an ‘impulse buy’ without any foreknowledge of what they are getting into when it comes to care or natural history of the animal. Contrary to popular belief reptiles are not as resilient or adaptable as our mammal companions are. Therefore the general public at large needs to be educated in order to stop this disposable attitude.
Psychologically speaking people that own reptiles as a casual enthusiast are not as attached to them as they would be to a mammalian pet. This could be in part to the large amount of certain species in captivity that allows retailers to offer them at lower prices when compared to other pets. Simple economics come into play here when we look at supply and demand.
When Leopard Geckos Eublepharis macularius first came into herpetoculture there were few breeders. This allowed them to command a higher price, sometimes hundreds of dollars for a single animal. Today you can buy the equivalent for less than half of their original prices and sometimes find them for less than $30 a piece. Couple this with the fact that we now have hundreds of “internet experts” and it’s not a far stretch to recognize that we have a recipe for disaster.
The sad fact is, most websites, magazines, and other reptile media aren’t helping the situation. Most of the articles written today are not as informative as they once were and are just glossing over the latest fad in the industry. Not to mention the fact the authors and editors don’t mention buying a book unless their specific company is publishing it.
As an author/journalist myself, I recommend all the time that after reading my articles or books that you read someone else’s book or article. Hell, read a few resources. No one on the planet is such an expert that they cannot learn something new about reptiles.
It’s evidenced weekly in the media as well that we humans have become a lazy culture. We joke about spending ten minutes to find the remote rather than walking across the room to change the channel on the television itself. So how can we ask someone to engage in such an intimate act as reading a book? This is actually hard to do and I haven’t found the answer yet. We can start however by talking truthfully to the people who are buying reptiles and look beyond the money they are spending.
Many reptile store employees are not up to date on their knowledge of the species they are selling and the ‘educators’ in the industry are taking their information from internet resources and have never had a practical working experience with the species that they are selling. This of course leads to incorrect information being relayed en masse and then the reptiles becoming sick or injured. Then when they become a “problem” they either wind up dead, abandoned, or released into the wild which we have all seen the repercussions of in certain states with them banning entire species.
Reptile Community or Industry
There is also the matter of the herpetocultural industry itself being in constant flux as new techniques are discovered to take better care of our reptiles. While these techniques are highlighted in magazines, books, and a few websites there are far too many ‘internet experts‘ out there who claim to be veterinarians and reptile experts. As of this writing there is no industry standard in place that is recognized and used across the industry. PIJAC itself gives general guidelines but these are vague at best.
Is it even possible to develop an actionable plan to take to the table of reptile retailers that they could all agree on? I’m sure there is. For now however, we need to examine the industry as a whole. A majority of people are getting upset about government regulations encroaching on our “rights” to own reptiles but they do nothing to fix the issue at hand.
That issue comes back to the simple fact that people are not being educated about their reptile pets prior to purchase and this as I’ve mentioned earlier leads not only to health problems but also opens the door to abandonment of reptiles which the person can no longer care for. The reason for this lack of education is due to the fact that the employees are under-educated and therefore this damages the customer relationship not to mention the reputation of the company as a whole which has been evidenced by recent lawsuits against major pet corporations. The public at large has a certain expectation of the person or company selling the item to have knowledge of the item in question. Too often this is not the actual case and the employee gives out information that is either completely inaccurate or not based on valid experience. This must stop otherwise the herpetocultural industry as a whole will face further persecution and quite possibly prosecution.