Get Serious About Reptiles

Do you want faceless politicians deciding what animals you are allowed to keep?

For many years, not long after reptiles began growing in popularity, a variety of “animal rights” groups amped up their efforts to fuel their cause to ban the keeping of reptiles as pets. Organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Defenders of Wildlife, simply put, don’t want anyone to keep reptiles as pets. Their grievances are not restricted to the keeping of reptiles; some especially fanatical members of some of these groups don’t think any animal should be kept as a pet, pretty much equating an animal’s pet status to that of slavery. It doesn’t matter whether animals are captive bred or wild caught, or whether the captive breeding of them may have alleviated the numbers that were being removed from nature. Many members of these groups don’t want them kept, period.

ball python

Proposed legislation often takes a blanket approach, seeking to restrict entire genera if even one species causes concern. Because Burmese pythons have been found in the Everglades, activist groups seek a ban on the importation and transport of all snakes in the Python genus, and all snakes in the Boa and Eunectes genera to boot.


Dogs and cats are obviously very popular in today’s culture, and widely kept by millions of people. Naturally, there are correspondingly huge amounts of money involved in the business side of keeping dogs and cats, too. The anti-pet-keeping forces know this, and though they’re known to picket dog shows and conduct other such publicity stunts, rather than aggressively attack the people who keep and companies who support these popular pet animals, they often focus on what they take to be the fringe element in the pet world: reptiles and other “exotics.” Even though reptiles have surged in popularity and are kept by millions of household in the U.S., they still somehow retain that “fringe” label, and people who are against the keeping of pets know that many people still don’t accept the fact that reptiles are popular pets. They exploit the fear of reptiles that some people retain.

Groups against the keeping of reptile pets will cite the possibility that pet reptiles could cause irreparable and widespread damage to the U.S. environment if they escape, including eating indigenous species. Never mind that free-roaming domestic cats kill birds, certainly by the thousands and maybe even by the millions. They will cry that reptiles – whether a baby red-eared slider that may carry Salmonella or an adult reticulated python that could injure a careless keeper -- pose a serious risk to the health of the human population. Never mind that undercooked eggs and chicken pose a more likely risk of Salmonella contagion (dogs and cats, too, can carry Salmonella), and way more people are injured by dogs every year than by large snakes or any other types of reptiles.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love dogs, like cats, and love chicken, especially kung pao chicken. I’m also quite fond of reptiles, and I don’t like it when groups that are thirsty for publicity and power focus on reptiles during their attempts to advance their anti-pet-keeping agendas. They seek to move ahead by enlisting as many people to their cause as possible, including senators and other politicians they use to introduce bills and propose legislation that could severely restrict, if not curtail altogether, the keeping of pet reptiles and amphibians. The fact that Burmese pythons are in the Everglades has done much to fuel the efforts of animal rights groups. Sometimes it seems they would have people believe that it’s only a matter of time before the snakes are coming through our windows in droves, though there’s no scientific evidence that backs up the possibility of widespread infiltration of the U.S. by these snakes.

Sometimes the groups themselves admit that their findings are inconclusive. For instance, in its report called “Broken Screens,” Defenders of Wildlife admitted, “The screening conducted for this report is not a detailed scientific assessment of the probability that a given annotated species could survive and/or cause damage in the United States….More detailed assessments on a case-by-case basis would probably find that some of the risk-annotated species would not in reality cause any harm in the United States.” Here they’re admitting that even though they’re suggesting that some animals (reptiles and others) could be detrimental to the health of the U.S. environment, they realize they probably are not. So what’s the point?

Luckily, there are advocates fighting on behalf of the reptilekeeping industry (and if you keep reptiles, you’re a part of the industry). The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), in the person of Marshall Meyers, has waged many a battle against unreasonable legislation that would affect reptile owners. Andrew Wyatt and the more recently formed United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK) is doing an admirable job of rallying reptile owners in protest against unjust laws being proposed. I recommend keeping abreast of the legal situation by visiting both organizations’ websites at www.pijac.org and www.usark.org and following the appropriate links from the home pages. (The bills of most interest right now in regard to affecting the reptile industry are S373 and HR669.)

While it may be infuriating to have to battle these forces, it’s important to try to keep your emotions in check. Part of the battle may be to participate in letter-writing campaigns, or by signing petitions, and while doing so it can be easy to begin ranting at the unjustness of it all. I admire people who are able to feel strongly about such things, and I myself sometimes wear my emotions on my sleeve, but when sending letters to politicos, be respectful and professional. If you froth and sputter and tell them they’re stupid, your comments will fall on deaf ears and you won’t be representing reptilekeepers in a good light. Try to keep your temper in check, be careful with spelling and make a good impression. Often sample letters are provided when a letter-writing campaign is underway; use these as a jumping-off point. Listen to those who know, and follow the advice of people who are used to these battles. Both of the websites mentioned offer advice in this area, so heed it.

With the U.S. economy suffering the way it is, de-railing the reptile industry could have far-reaching impact, with fallout worse than ever, affecting not just people who enjoy keeping reptiles but all of us who are enduring the current economic climate. Who knows what kind of ripple effect could be created. These days it’s more unfortunate than ever that there are those who are against the reptilekeeping hobby who will resort to utilizing alarmist propaganda, scare tactics and questionable science to further their cause. But that’s the way it is.

It is true that some self regulation among reptile folk is in order. Never release unwanted pets into the wild, for one thing. Everyone needs to pursue the hobby in a responsible fashion. Be safe. Make wise choices. If you don’t, you risk offering the people who seek to ban the keeping of reptiles just what they may need to finally push their proposals into the realm of actual law.


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