Three-quarters of reptiles kept as exotic pets die within a year.
Exotic reptiles continue to be prized as pets across Europe. On the surface that does not seem to be too much of a problem: many of these reptiles aren’t endangered, after all. But that’s on the surface. Dig a bit deeper, though, and you might uncover a rather different picture.
Digging deeper is what a team of authors, including veterinarians from the University of Ghent in Belgium, did for a recent study, published in the journal Veterinary Record. Most reptiles and amphibians fare badly in captivity, the authors contend. “Compared to dogs, which achieve natural longevity in the domestic environment, 75 percent of reptiles die during their first year in the home,” Clifford Warwick, a British herpetologist, says.
You’ve read that right: three-quarters of reptiles kept as exotic pets die within a year. Among the reasons for this massive death toll are improper housing, substandard care, as well as inadequate diets.
“The keeping of reptiles and amphibians in captivity encompasses all the potential issues identified with keeping exotic pets, and many of those relating to traditional domestic pets,” the authors of the study note.
Of course, the problems of inadequate and substandard care are not confined to reptiles among exotic pets. Many others species suffer from them, yet they may experience much lower mortality rates in captivity.
“Herptiles [reptiles and amphibians] have become increasingly popular in the pet trade,” says Gordon M. Burghardt, a professor of comparative behavior at the University of Tennessee. “While hatchling turtles and green anoles were an ever present dime store item, at least in the 1940s and 1950s when I came of age, they were cheap, disposable and the suggested housing and diet horrendous. Most died,” Burghardt adds.
“I still remember when green anoles (chameleons) were sold at state fairs and other events harnessed to pins to be worn as living jewelry!” he elucidates. “Green iguanas were the first breakout pet species in the 1970s and since then there has been no looking back as they were overtaken in popularity by bearded dragons, ball pythons, boa constrictors, designer snakes of all types, tortoises and exotic salamanders and frogs.”
Yet even as all manner of reptiles become ever more popular, they are at increasing risk of dying prematurely through neglect, abuse and inadequate care. Ignorance of animals’ behavior is, Burghardt stresses, “a major factor in how reptiles and amphibians are treated, and most people around the world have little empathy for these animals as sentient beings.”
In an earlier version of this article the quote “Compared to dogs, which achieve natural longevity in the domestic environment, 75 percent of reptiles die during their first year in the home” was accidentally misattributed. We apologize for the error.