Reptiles and amphibians make great pets. But at what cost?
Meet Bruce. When Bruce was purchased from a pet store as a baby, his owner probably thought the same thing that most reptile/amphibian owners think when purchasing one of these exotic animals: they are cute, quiet, hypoallergenic… Bruce will make a perfect pet! And he’s not alone—in fact, it’s estimated that 4.6% of households in the U.S. are home to a reptile or amphibian. The pet store didn’t even give him any special instructions, how hard could it be?
10 months later, Bruce’s tail started to turn black, and his owner knew something was wrong. When he came to Teatown, it quickly became apparent that his tail was the least of his problems. A visit to the veterinarian revealed that Bruce had tail rot as well as a metabolic bone disease caused by improper husbandry, lighting and diet. His bones were littered with fractures—both old and new—from a lack of proper lighting and calcium in his diet.
This is not uncommon. The mortality rate for reptiles and amphibians in captivity is staggering– 75% die in the first year. To put this in perspective, these are animals that can live decades in the wild. Thanks to months of supplements, careful handling & a lot of TLC in the animal care office, Bruce is well on his way to being healthy. While he will always have kinks in his spine and tail, he will soon be able to go on programs to show people just how important it is to do your research before getting a pet.
I want to own a reptile/amphibian. What should I know first?
The difference between “wild caught” and “captive bred” pets:
How does a reptile or amphibian get into the pet trade in the first place? Wild caught/collected is just what it sounds like. Someone is trapping masses of wild animals to sell to retailers for consumers to buy. Being loaded into crowded crates and shipped to far off locales often results in high mortality rates. Stress, disease, and poor conditions means the animal you buy is most likely not very healthy to begin with. Many species are on the verge of being endangered or threatened due to over-collecting of native wild populations. Poaching is lucrative business– many species garner lots of money when sold illegally. Many of Teatown’s own animal ambassadors were illegally taken from the wild or poached and placed here by state and federal authorities to live out their lives in captivity.
Captive Bred is the process of breeding animals in controlled environments. These animals are for the most part healthy and in good condition, when purchased from a reliable dealer. This practice gives people the opportunity to own a reptile or amphibian but not impact the wild species.
Reptiles and amphibians have very specific needs.
These animals need very specific environments to thrive, and doing your homework is a must. Improper husbandry (substrates, temperatures, humidity, lighting, and housing) and nutrition (supplements included) cause metabolic issues often resulting in suffering and death.
Your pet may live decades in the proper conditions.
Unaware owners may not know the life span of the animal they choose to keep and often grow tired of them. Teatown receives many calls from parents whose child has gone off to college and left their pet boa behind! What happens to unwanted snakes, lizards and salamanders? There are very limited resources for unwanted reptiles and amphibians. Considering how long your pet may live should be a huge consideration when looking to buy one.
Releasing an unwanted amphibian/reptile into the wild is not only unethical, it’s illegal.
Releasing your pet into the wild is never an option for many reasons. Not only is it illegal to release non-native species into the wild, but you could be doing a major disservice to the animal and your local ecosystem.
The animal will most likely die from predation, illness or hypothermia in colder climates. And in the unlikely scenario in which it does survive, you may have introduced an invasive species (or even foreign diseases) into your local ecosystem. Foreign species can disrupt entire food-webs by outcompeting wildlife native to your home. In the Hudson Valley for example, illegally released red-eared sliders, a common turtle in the pet industry, inhabit many of our lakes and outcompete our native painted turtle populations for limited resources.
About Teatown’s Animal Ambassadors
Many of the non-native reptiles and amphibians in Teatown’s collection came from people who no longer wanted them. These animals stand in as ambassadors for native wildlife in education programs and serve to teach people about responsible pet ownership. Teatown’s animal care staff work with veterinarians that specialize in herpetology to give them the best care possible, but even with a knowledgeable staff and professional assistance, making sure each one has the proper living conditions, food and care is a complicated process.
Please understand that Teatown is not a resource for your unwanted pets, and we strongly recommend against purchasing exotic animals unless you fully understand the care required by these animals including how long they can live, and what the repercussions are should you no longer be able to care for them.