Question: How do traffic deaths rate among all the threats to reptiles in the United States? How, in particular, would you compare them to over-collection for pets as one group I’ve seen claim? I’d think you should be consulted when they try to pass new laws based on others’ gut feelings alone.
D. Newcomb, Arlington, Va.
Answer: In the U.S., the number of herp roadkill deaths surpasses the number collected for pets by mega millions. For anyone to believe otherwise seems like sheer folly to me—I spend a lot of time driving annually. Yet, I can imagine how it might not appear obvious to the growing percentage of our citified populace that doesn’t see the carnage on our roads firsthand, or to those with an agenda to push.
Very few studies on herp road kill numbers exist, however, and they don’t exist for the U.S. as a whole.
If a person lives in a downtown apartment, walks past a local pet shop daily and sees herps languishing in cages, and if that person rarely ventures beyond their city’s limit, he/she could be duped into accepting assertions that the pet trade is the biggest cause of herp deaths. I’m sure there are people out there who would make such claims, and not all of them out of ignorance. Two groups come to mind immediately, although I don’t know if either of them is one you were referencing.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and PETA constantly try to convince their minions of twisted ‘data’, using emotions rather than logic to stir up contributions. They know that once they hook you emotionally, facts no longer carry much weight. They count on gullible followers pausing to consider the issues only after they’ve sent their donation checks in (if at all). This, of course, only applies to fund-raising within those organizations, not the implementation of actual laws. Well, that’s the way it should work, at least.
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Pet trade journals and surveys provide rough censuses of numbers of animals being sold nationwide, and documentation of wildlife shipments are required by law, so that information is accessible and countable with some work. Very few studies on herp road kill numbers exist, however, and they don’t exist for the U.S. as a whole. That fact stacks the odds in favor of the anti-pet-trade people at the starting gate.
I agree that genuine, common sense experience should count for something, but I’m afraid it only works that way when someone is using it for introducing new restrictive laws, not for providing proof against them. Emotions alone are all it takes to get a government representative to introduce legislation when he/she is simply reacting to constituents’ concerns by sponsoring a bill. Contesting such claims, to the contrary, usually requires testimony from academically trained Ph.D.s with scientific evidence. Even then, the number of supporters rallying behind the emotionally charged issue often weighs in more heavily and helps pass new ‘dumb’ laws.
Bill Love photographs herps in nature, writes and lectures. He assists his wife, Kathy, with her business, CornUtopia, and via his company, Blue Chameleon Ventures, leads nature tours to view herps in Madagascar.