This is the first in a multi-part opinion series on Ethical Reptile Keeping. The series seeks to urge keepers, new and old alike, to evaluate their own husbandry habits and to think about the impact their choices, from housing to breeding, have on their personal animals as well as on the herpetology hobby as a whole. While some aspects of reptile and amphibian keeping have evolved to focus on pushing and advancing husbandry techniques to ensure that a species thrives in captivity, others have become stuck in antiquated and short-sighted practices which do not promote progress. And certain species, particularly entry-level species, are suffering as a result. I wish to draw attention to these embarrassing aspects of the herp community and encourage people to take a look at how they can grow as hobbyists and keepers, push what we know about great husbandry together, and strive for excellence, personally and as a community.
"Reptile Keeping: 9 Signs You're Doing It Wrong!"I'm going to go into some of the points he makes, and why I wholeheartedly agree with him. I think the most striking statement is that most people cannot recognize the difference between an animal surviving vs. an animal thriving. Thriving. This is what we should be striving for if we're going to take on the responsibility of keeping any sort of pet in captivity, and if we're not, then we shouldn't be keeping these animals at all. It just seems to obvious, but somewhere in the miasma of information online, Youtube video tutorials, and forum ramblings, it seems that people miss the mark.
Reptile keeping becomes more about minimalist, efficient housing and "collecting" and less about striving to build a good, enriching environment for a pet that could live 15 years or more. There's always one more morph to purchase, there's always one more way to streamline their housing, there's always one more way to get around taking the time to do things properly, they way they should be done. But lead by the example of large-scale American breeders that, as Sean says, "stack ’em high, & rack ’em wide!" even new keepers, with only a handful of animals, feel compelled to live up to that example. Suddenly the 4-5 pet leopard geckos they have which could very comfortably live in 10-20 gallon terrariums with enriching decor end up stacked in cheap plastic totes. And to make matters fundamentally worse, they tout this minimization as "better for their health!"
Let's stick to the leopard gecko example for a while, which is the one that grinds my teeth the most, although many species suffer the same injustice. Here is an burrow-dwelling animal, an animal that would dig out nooks and tunnels in the sandy soil of their native Middle East home and spend its evenings climbing and hunting among the rocky terrain. Curious, active, and an intelligent little creature. And in captivity we put them in a shallow plastic tote, with a paper towel, a moist hide with maybe a little soil in it if we're feeling generous, a feeding bowl (for their 100% mealworm diet) and a separate bowl for calcium supplements. Are we serious? Is this really the best environment we can provide as reptile lovers? This is purely and simply a symptom of laziness, a symptom of wanting to acquire as many of these animals as we can fit on a rack system and offer them the absolute minimum needed to survive. And then have the audacity to claim that they are happier this way, because too much space will stress them out! Because they like living in a dark, condensed space with zero external stimuli! Frankly, I call that out as nonsense.
This is NOT how you should be keeping any reptiles. Large-scale breeders might have an excuse, but you should not follow
their example if your animals are intended to be PETS and not just a collection of captive creatures for profit.
|The top two photos show a tropical African fat-tailed gecko cage that housed a group of three females. The bottom cage was for a Standing's day gecko.|
|A drier forest-theme gecko for a different colony of African fat-tailed geckos.|
Thrive, thrive, thrive. To be happy, healthy (physically as well as mentally), and well-adjusted for the entire duration of their lives. If that's not the goal, then why do we even bother?
There is a happy medium that lays somewhere between the minimalist approach and the completely naturalistic approach that works for each individual keeper, the trick is to find it.
Do not take on more animals than you can properly and responsibly house and care for.
Do not take on so many animals that you have to cut corners in their care or downgrade their housing so they all fit.
Do not take on more animals just for the sake of having more animals.
Do not get caught up in the "collecting."
Do not get caught up in trying to be like the Big Breeders. It's OK to just have pets and enjoy them for the sake of having them.
Do not follow the advice of anyone that says that animals as "just as happy" or "healthier" in a barren, minimalist set-up.
Do not be one more "reptile mill" keeper.
Do not let anyone tell you that it's too expensive or too complicated to do things correctly. Trust me, it's not! You can do this! And you will be prouder for it.
Much ado about happy, healthy pets. Chameleons or otherwise.