Currently I as I slowly peel myself away from burnout I'm working very part time at a reptile shop, and it's taught me some things.
I have loved animals all my life, my passion for beasts with scales was inevitable when I met my first bearded dragon. I love reptiles, I am also obsessed with husbandry, it actually keeps me up at night.
So the pet store business is not an easy one, and I'm lucky to work at a mom and pop shop that truly cares about the animals we are selling, it's rare and I know other small businesses that don't, I'm not going to comment on conditions I've seen at the big box stores.
I digress, I was talking about learning things. Well, I've learned a lot of specialized care for some strange and sometimes kinda dangerous species. I've learned that just because you CAN keep something doesn't mean you should.
And I've learned that those of us who love and care about the hobby have to get our collective shit together.
I'm going to use Florida as an example, because why not. Now everyone knows that Florida is kinda overrun with Burmese pythons and Iguanas. Two fairly common species that are purchased at a reptile store. Two species that just happen to have ideal breeding conditions in this non-native land of theirs.
When animals do not have predators in the wild they become invasive and destructive of the environment. Therefore it becomes open season on the reptiles because there has to be open season on these reptiles because they are decimating the local ecosystem.
This wouldn't have happened if reptile owners were more responsible. Snakes and a lot of lizards live a long time, Ball Pythons the most frequently purchased snake can live 15-20 years, the oldest corn snake clocked in at 30 years. Sulcata Tortoises will outlive you, and zoos don't want them.
Recently I got bit by a monitor that shouldn't have been sold to a person, this animal an Argus Monitor from Northern and Western Australia is 3 feet of pure muscle with jaws that break bones. I got really lucky he only got the tip of my finger. Now, these are incredibly smart animals and can be tamed down, but the owner never bothered and then surrendered him to us (he was not purchased through us as we would not sell that kind of monitor). He's past being tame-able and frankly he shouldn't be put in a home with people. He needs a zoo where he can act like a monitor. The longer he's boarded with us the more dangerous he gets.
So yes, reptile keepers need to get our shit together, because if we don't start demanding higher quality of care of each other someone is going to decide that the trade needs to be more regulated.
We need to slow breeding down, if a snake lives fifteen years where are all these purchases going? Yes I know that most people have multiple animals, I have multiple animals, but I know without a doubt I can care for them AND I know where they're going if something happens to me or if I cannot care for them anymore.
This one is going to be unpopular, but if you are not a breeder why do you need racks? So you can have twenty animals that you don't see? These are living creatures, they deserve the best quality of care and for most of them that means they need room, racks just ain't it. If you don't have the space for large tanks or tubs would the animal be better off not with you?
I work at a store that accepts surrenders, there are so many that come in starving and thirsty. All animals deserve access to fresh water at all times even if "I never see them drinking". Just because an animal cannot get in your face like a cat and a dog would if they were hungry does not mean they should be ignored.
That brings me to husbandry, I'm finding more and more people coming in with knowledge of basic husbandry (some of our customers know way more than I do) and wanting to fulfill the needs of the animal they're buying. This is extremely exciting to me, since it means some of the advocacy coming from the cheap seats is starting to seep through to the public. More and more people telling me okay that's the minimum requirement what do you actually recommend?
Some things to learn before bringing your scaley friend home. (experienced keepers can gloss past this one)
1. Omnivore, herbivore (this one's rare but Uromastyx are herbivores if you don't want to handle live bugs), carnivore, insectivore?
2. Locality. Where am I from? What do my natural behaviors look like? What does my natural habitat look like? If I can't recreate the natural habitat is there information on how to keep this animal healthy?
3. Heat, humidity, and lighting requirements. This is so important, the most important after food and water this determines the efficiency of your animals digestive system, their bone strength, their ability to eat and sleep.
4. Is this animal a look don't touch pet? Many reptiles (like chameleons) and all amphibians fall into that category.
5. Can this animal be dangerous when it gets larger? Am I prepared for that?
6. For snakes: if my snake refuses frozen thawed food am I prepared to feed live mammals?
7. Will I be able to find a vet for my animal if it gets sick? Exotic vets are hard to find, good ones are even harder.
8. Do I have a plan that does not involve release if I can't handle my animal? If my kids can't handle the animal?
9. Can I safely transport a full grown version of my animal when I need to clean their enclosure?
10. Do I understand that all reptiles are still essentially wild animals?
Now I love these creatures, I even love the asshole that almost took my finger off, and the tegu that's becoming very bold when I go to change his water. I love the gopher snake that HATES every thing. In fact I scattered pictures of some of my favorites, some of my own, and some of my not favorites throughout this article with stories about them. They have HUGE personalities and are fun and challenging and fragile. I want everyone to appreciate them (and stop killing native snakes please they are so important to the eco system).
What I want more is those of us who appreciate them already is to come and collect our people. For stores that don't understand them to stop selling them, for breeders to think about the betterment of the species rather than the beauty of the pattern. I want certain monitors and snakes to be taken off the market unless a person can prove proper husbandry (ideally I want a buyer to prove proper husbandry for every kind of purchase but I know that is not what the reality of the situation will be)
If we don't start policing our hobby someone else is going to do it for us. I know keepers who care so much and do everything they possibly can to make a good home for their animals. I'm asking for us to raise our expectations on our fellow humans. When a dog or a cat gets neglected they get Sarah McLaughlin, when a snake does you get me and my coworkers desperately trying smaller and smaller prey items or tube feeding it in the back room, hoping it's going to survive. Often by the time it comes to us it's too late because it should have gone to the vet.
We can't keep up with the surrenders we are getting, we're a tiny shop. We do what we can and we've rehabbed some fabulous animals (see my personal favorite below).
About the Creator
I make things with paint and words and light. I was once described as an asshole with Mr. Rodgers vibes.
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