Responsible Herp Keeping

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RESPONSIBLE HERP KEEPING By Jonathan Rheins

There is simply no denying the growing popularity of reptiles in our country. We watch them on TV, read about them in the paper, and see them at pet shops. There are even reptile expos. We are clearly a people with a fascination for what is different and new. With growing frequency, households across America are taking things one step further by bringing these animals into their homes as pets. It has already become clear that reptiles can make rewarding pets if cared for properly. However, keeping exotic animals as pets is not without caveats. If we want to maintain our rights as animal lovers to keep reptiles as pets we must do so responsibly and with the consideration of others in mind.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK This is by far the most important aspect of responsible reptile keeping. Knowing as much as you possibly can about the species you intend to keep is of utmost importance if you wish for your reptile-keeping experience to be a good one. Additionally, it is a very good idea to do said research prior to actually obtaining your pet. By doing so, you will have plenty of time to set up the animals enclosure and make sure that all heating and lighting devices are operating properly and at the correct level.

This initial research should yield a wealth of information for you to consider when researching a potential pet. However don't quit after you determine that the animal you want is "from the rainforest"and "likes it hot." Look further. Dig deeper.

Hopefully with the following categories as a guide, you will be able to chose a pet that will work for you.

WHAT'S FOR DINNER? A fair amount of your research should be aimed at the nutritional needs of your pet. After all, your lizard will be what it eats, so you need to ensure that it is fed properly. There are many different types of reptiles with varying dietary needs, but some generalizations can be made. Snakes, with very few exceptions, require whole prey items. Typically these food items would include mice, rats, or even rabbits for exceptionally large species.

Other reptiles, including lizards, frogs, and turtles, will require a staple diet of live crickets and other insects. These creatures typically will not accept non-living prey. If the idea of bringing bugs or rodents into your home is bothersome, then perhaps a vegetarian species such as a tortoise or spiny-tailed lizard would be more appropriate.

HOW BIG IS TOO BIG? Reptiles and amphibian come in all shapes and sizes, but many are sold in the pet trade as babies or juveniles. This can make it difficult to appreciate the adult size of some species. Make sure you know the potential adult size of any animal you are considering for purchase, and the rate at which they grow. Keep in mind that a 20" burmese python can reach 6 feet in length within its first year of life. Likewise the cute baby tortoise you buy today could outweigh a third-grader in a decade or two.

HOME SWEET HOME Closely related to the size of your pet is the size of enclosure that it may require as an adult. Most species that are commonly kept as pets can be housed in small to moderate sized enclosures that could find a place in most homes or apartments. However, larger species such as iguanas, some monitors, and large constrictors will need very large habitats, in some cases the size of a room.

LONGEVITY People are often shocked by how long many reptiles and amphibians are capable of living when properly cared for. Cornsnakes, for example, can easily live 20 years. 30 years for a boa constrictor. How about a tortoise...sometimes over 100 years!

When you bring home a pet reptile you should be prepared to keep it for it's entire life. Never assume that you can find a home for it later when it becomes too big, or when you lose interest. Also, because reptiles can be such a long term commitment, you should not buy one impulsively or as a gift for an unprepared recipient.

ACT RESPONSIBLY Keep in mind that not everyone sees reptiles and amphibians in the same positive light as many of us. For many, they remain scary, misunderstood beasts that would make a better belt than pet. In any case, we have to respect their opinions, and this means being very careful about when and where you take your pets outside of the home.

Never take your pet into a restaurant or other establishment that prohibits pets. Likewise, you should never walk down the street with a huge snake around your neck or a giant lizard on your shoulder. First of all, you do not know you how your pet will react to the stresses associated with the outside world, and secondly you could easily startle an unsuspecting bystander. Any incurred liabilities would be solely your own.

Make absolutely sure that your cages are clean and very secure. Reptiles are persistent escape artists, and a flimsy tank lid will result in not only you losing your pet, but also potential bad press for the entire reptile-keeping community. The same goes for releasing an unwanted reptile into the wild. A released animal that is lucky enough to survive in such an alien environment posses a potential threat to our native fauna, additionally, such actions are considered animal cruelty and are illegal.

CONCLUSION My goal in this article has not been to frighten readers away from keeping reptiles or amphibians as pets. In fact, quite the opposite is true. I am a huge fan of reptiles and believe strongly that they do deserve a place in your living room. Likewise however, I feel that these animals deserve our respect and the very best care we can provide. And it is only under these conditions that they should be maintained.

All too often reptile owners (or any pet owner, really) find themselves in far over their heads as they begin to realize the realities of the commitment they have made. With exotic animals, it is vital for their survival that we take the time to properly research their needs prior to obtaining them. This includes learning about their environmental needs, diets, adult size, life span, and any other pertinent information. At the same we must act responsibly with our pets so as to avoid further negative press towards the reptile keeping community.

The reality is that a little work and forethought will go a long way when it comes to ensuring a happy life for your reptile. Doing so, along with acting in a responsible manner, will ensure our are continued ability to keep these wonderful animals as parts of our lives.