Self awareness: Not keeping What You Shouldn’t

Hey guys, I hope everyone had a great weekend. I decided to do a blog on the reality that many people ignore….not everybody is equipped to own and work with anything they want. Being self aware of your abilities and means is a very important thing for yourself, and the hobby as a whole. People who aren’t self aware of these things often are the ones that find them selves in a situation that can bring negative attention to the hobby. In parallel this would also let me discuss why some species are a terrible choice for 98% of keepers, even though they may be cheap at shows and small to start , there simply is no such thing as a throw away animal. The animals deserve more and we should require ourselves to give it to them. Don’t be the “I’ll sell it in a year or two” person. Animals are a commitment.

Big snakes. Everybody loves seeing them and getting to handle them. Retics, Burms, anacondas, etc etc. They are simply impressive animals to be in the presence of, especially once they reach over 12ft or so. But the far majority of folks in reality probably shouldn’t keep one. The adult size of these snakes mean they require much larger housing and food bills that can be higher if you don’t have a good source for larger prey items. This is something we have slacked with in our hobby. Unfortunately the snake niche has really lacked behind others when it comes to realizing what they should be given space wise, and instead keep giant snakes in relatively small enclosures. It’s a bitter pill for many, but that doesn’t make that pill any less true. The other issue is the inherent danger of handling large constrictors. When these snakes get to a certain size, they should no longer be handled alone. I once had a 9ft African Rock decide it wanted to kill me while taking pics holding it. Luckily I was with multiple people so was in no real danger, but the strength in that animal in kill mode, was truly a reality check for the ability of the big snakes. People get to complacent when being used to tame individuals, and don’t expect there to be that one bad day for the snake. If your someone who doesn’t have the financial means and/or space to keep these snakes, as well as not willing to always have other people there when handling adults…you simply shouldn’t keep them and stick to smaller species.

Larger lizards. Likely the type of animal that so many in the hobby feel most attracted to because of the relation to dinosaurs in their minds. Monitors, iguanas, tegus, and the like. Absolutely amazing animals. But a group that should not be kept by everybody. They require an incredible amount of space for caging, specialized care, and financial freedom enough to afford this and the food bill. This mindset has really stuck with me in recent years, while my wife and I have traveled to multiple Caribbean destinations. Spots that all have one well known group in common, iguanas. Watching these animals in the wild, and how they behave has been an eye opener compared to what we see in captivity. First off when you get off a plane in one of these locations, the weather is instantly noticeable. Hot, humid, and very sunny. Now stick your hand in your iguana enclosure. It should be noticeable(obviously for those in Florida and similar habitats that house them in large outdoor enclosures, this doesn’t apply to). The other big thing is enclosure size. Watching iguanas in the wild, they are extremely active at times and forage over quite a bit of space and utilize multiple trees. In reality, are you, or could you house an adult iguana in a large enough enclosure to provide it at least a minimal amount of good useable space while heating, lighting, and giving proper humidity. If the answer is yes than by all means, it’s about self awareness. And while I focused on iguanas, this is applicable to the rest of large lizard species as well.

Those two groups cover a big majority under this topic, but I wanted to quickly touch on a couple others. First, venomous reptiles. They are some of the most incredible and beautiful species in the hobby, and it’s understandable why many would want to push their personal boundaries to work with them. On the other hand they should only be worked with by individuals with experience and if possible some training from an experienced keeper. Keepers should realize they are not only putting their own body in jeopardy, but can also potentially have a negative influence in mainstream media if the worse does in fact happen. That’s not to mention the financial burden a bite and treatment will incur. It should also be noted that like everything else, there are species that require specialized care. But if you have self awareness and experience, this group of animals can be extremely rewarding. The second group I want to touch on quick is tortoises and turtles. These may be the most unexpected but most guilty in this topic. Tortoises require specialized care and a ridiculous amount of space to be kept correctly. Turtles require the same but with the added difficulty of water. If your not ready to keep one of these a very long time, and provide them a custom built outdoor pond or pen, it may be best not to work with them. They require correct lighting that usually includes time outdoors to really see them thrive, or if nothing else specialized indoor lighting that can be costly. Like the rest of these groups though, if you have self awareness and the means to keep them, they are so rewarding to keep.

This blog isn’t meant to discourage folks from keeping these species, but rather be a reality check into what it takes to keep them. If your passionate about these animals then you should realize that at the end of it all, it’s the animal that suffers if you slack. I’ve been fairly lucky this far and have a moderately sized collection of animals…but even still I have had to be realistic and not work with certain species. Years ago when I worked with hots, I stuck to species that I felt comfortable with such as tree vipers. I steered away from cobras and things of that nature because I didn’t feel comfortable enough. More recently we own a red foot tortoise who is kept outdoors durning the warmer months. I wanted to add a Burmese mountain tortoise to our collection, but realistically we don’t have the space or means to keep the 3rd or 4th largest tortoise species in the world. Lastly I’ve always loved rhino iguanas, but never felt in a place where I could realistically provide them what they deserve, especially living in the northeast US. As I stated I don’t want this to discourage, but more so be a truth. I don’t want you to go to a reptile show and purchase a Savannah monitor or an iguana sitting on an importers table as a baby for 15–20$, and long term get over your head and end up having the animal suffer. At the end of the day, this is all about the animals health and well being, and making sure you have a positive experience. Do your research, practice self awareness…and enjoy the hobby while working with species you can help thrive in captivity.

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