Herpetoculture’s Need for more Responsibility

Choose a word that is one of the most important attributes a keeper should have, while still being one of the most ignored. For me, it has to be responsibility. A few months ago I did a blog on this very topic that briefly discussed responsibility in regards to a few different parts of the hobby. After seeing multiple stories lately with the common factor being irresponsible sellers, I decided it was time to write on this important topic once more, only this time with a focus on the responsibility we have as a seller, and to realize we are not selling car parts, or trading cards…we are selling living animals.

A week ago or so, a story started circulating the reptile groups. It was an article about a reptile rescue’s frustration with an on going problem in their home state of Pennsylvania. They had just received their second call in short order looking to turn over an alligator. This one was specifically frustrating as it was a mother who was furious that her 17 year old son was sold a 4ft alligator. As someone who has helped friends that are educators work with their alligators, I can tell you that 4ft is a size when things start to get pretty dangerous in the wrong hands. At the same time this article was circulating, another story close to my home was hitting the online news circuit. A 4 foot alligator was found in a park literally a short walk from where I park my truck every morning to hop on a train. We live in NY, so for those that don’t know…our law regarding exotics is basically your common sense restriction in regards to the species. All the large constrictors, large monitors, venomous, and of course crocodilians are illegal to own with out a permit. The thing about where we live however, is we are only 3 hours from the very same show where many of these species are sold, including. alligators.

The point of this blog is not to single out a certain show. Because in actuality every show has something that falls under this topic. Every show has some sellers that are not living up to their responsibility. Many big names with huge fan bases, are not owning the responsibility their fame should demand. Poor keeping, over breeding, and poor animal husbandry practices should not be celebrated or defended. As sellers we all share a responsibility to our hobby not to sell certain species to those that are either to young, or very obviously not capable of working with them in the long term. We need to start asking hard questions and interviewing potential customers. Our hobby deserves it, but more so our animals deserve it. This type of thing actually ends up bad for the animal way more often than it does the hobby as a whole, and at the end of the day that should be what matters.

How many of us can really say we have refused a sale based on these principals. If you breed and sell any of the large and potentially dangerous species, and you answer no to that…well I’m sorry but you are contributing to this problem. We need to stop making it about the sale and the cash in the pocket, and change the focus to what’s best for the animal, and parallel to that, what’s best for our hobby. I’m friends with many big snake keepers, venomous keepers, monitor keepers, etc. Don’t mistake my words for saying these animals should not be worked with at all. There are many fantastic responsible keepers of all these species who are a testament to dedication. But there is no excuse for a teen to walk out of a show with a cobra in a deli cup, or someone mass producing retics when they will end up in a large number of keepers homes who don’t have the means or experience to care for them. It’s time we stop being our own worse enemies in this hobby, and start policing our own, as well as taking a hard look at ourselves.

In conclusion it’s time for all of us to take a hard look at how we apply responsibility in our animal sales, as well as those around us. Personally I really don’t want to have to answer a zillion question and inquiries because a 4 foot alligator you sold to a teenager got released near where I live. The hobby shouldn’t suffer, because you sell potentially dangerous animals to anybody that clicks the buy button on your website, regardless of the law or that buyers age and experience. As always though, my mind goes to the right thing for the animals. And all of these things that are happening very commonly, end up bad for the animals. That’s my primary concern, our rights to own is secondary. It’s November in New York. That means temperatures are getting cold at night, far to cold for an alligator. Or think about that 15 year old who just purchased a retic online. That baby snake one day will be 15–20 foot, but the teen will only be able to keep it in a small enclosure. Or the new keeper buying their first lizard, a Nile monitor at a show right now, that’s planning on keeping it in a fish tank, then free roam in a room that stays in the 60s all winter. These are situations where the seller needs to say NO to the sale. My friends…please stand up and take responsibility starting now. Do it for the hobby. Do it for the animals.