The sudden popularity of reptiles and amphibians as pets, particularly exotics, has created a number of problems for those who want them. Legislation on cage type, size, breeding restrictions and requirements has been quickly passed at many levels of government to ensure that the general public and local fauna are not at risk from the accidental introduction of non-native species. Meeting these requirements can mean frustration and unexpected expenses.
Animal husbandry can also be problematic for potential owners. When you have a dog or a cat, there is a general understanding of their needs and people are generally prepared to meet those needs. Reptiles and amphibians are not as easy to care for as conventional pets. On the one hand, they have a wide spectrum of environmental needs. One may require a constant supply of vitamin D through exposure to sunlight, while another is completely nocturnal and lonely. Failure to meet these needs can result in unnecessary suffering, large veterinary expenses, or loss of the animal.
Livelihood can be an even bigger challenge. One must be able to meet the dietary needs of the animal they plan to have. For example, most people do not know that snakes are carnivorous without exception. The cute and colorful animal from the pet store will not eat fruits or vegetables. Depending on the species, you will have to contribute mammals, fish, other reptiles and amphibians or insects. Even if you opt for pre-killed frozen foods, many find it a repulsive task.
Then there are the vermin that can come with the animal. Snakes are prone to mites, lizards and turtles to burrowing parasites, amphibians to fungi. Then there’s mouth rot, rickets, and eye lids, just to name a few of the ailments that can occur.
There is a lot to consider before choosing a reptile or amphibian for a pet. Responsible breeding must begin with knowing the facts before acquiring an animal. If you want to be happy with the creature of your choice and provide quality care, the urge must give way to knowledge. Don’t just jump on the first animal that catches your eye; research your needs and quirks to make sure it’s a good fit.
Libraries and the Internet are great resources for arming yourself with the necessary knowledge, but joining a local herpetological group or society will pay even greater dividends. Even if the nearest herpetological society is a two hour drive from where you live, it is worth the trip once a month to attend the meetings. There you will meet other people who already have the knowledge and experience that you are trying to gain. Most, if not all, will be willing to spend time with you before or after the meeting to answer your questions and provide suggestions.
You will benefit from the different speakers who will be headlines in the meetings and will be added to the mailing list so that the society receives relevant herpetological news. Through your networking, you will develop friendships and partnerships with other members that can benefit you in many ways.
Finally, for very meager annual fees, you will be a member of a group of people who come from all walks of life, who all work together for the common cause of society, which is to educate the public about herpetological interests. As a co-founder of the Everglades Herpetological Society, I became friends with many zoologists and other scientists, police officers, college professors, authors, professional soccer players, and many others. Our common interest in herpetology bridged all cultural and social gaps and a great friendship developed.
Best of all, my attendance at meetings and associations with other members provided me with a free education on reptile husbandry and care. As a result of my membership, in less than a decade I went from being a complete newbie to someone others sought out for expert advice on Florida reptiles and amphibians.
The conclusion is the following; If you want to have a successful and enjoyable experience with reptile and amphibian husbandry, first know what you are doing. To “know”, you must be close to those who have already been where you want to be. You will find them in your local herpetological society. Find them. Join up.