Urban Jungles Radio

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Jen Greene's Editorial on UJR!

Posted by Danny Mendez on August 15, 2012 at 1:25 AM

Seem like many of you loved Jen's editorial on our episode last week.....


She was Awesome enough as Awesome Jen usually is to write up her editorial for you to peruse! Check it out and commment here so that she can see what you have to say.  

As usual, thanks for listening!


The Following was Written by Jennifer Greene for UrbanJunglesRadio:

As reptile keepers and generally responsible, high functioning adults, we are all aware of the common sense sort of things that go with taking home a new reptile. I won’t waste your time regurgitating the same bits of wisdom and common sense that go into acquiring a standard new pet. Yes, you should do your research, have the cage ready, be prepared for the new life you will now be responsible for. You know that, I know that, that is not the issue here. Instead, I am talking about the wild animals in your yard that you come across, that one snake you found that you want to keep, interacting with the reptiles you see in the wild, and even those times you think you’re rescuing a wild animal from a terrible fate.

Let’s talk about that last part first. Rescue. When are you really “rescuing” an animal? This term is one that many keepers have a bit of a pet peeve about, including myself. Let’s get this straight: Unless you, yourself, are taking an animal from poor conditions and putting it into better conditions, it is not rescue. If you PAID for that animal, it is not being rescued – you paid for a sick animal knowing that it was sick. You are funding that store’s ability to continue to sell sick animals. If you saw a 3 legged lizard labeled as only having 3 legs and got it at a discount, you did not rescue a 3 legged lizard. You bought a 3 legged lizard knowing it had only 3 legs, which again, is NOT rescue.

Another common “rescue” situation is “rescuing” wild animals. Finding an animal on the side of the road by a bush and then taking it home without knowing anything about it is not rescuing it. You just took an animal from its natural environment (and yes, baby lizards, adult lizards, snakes, you name it, they all are often found in suburbia!) and are now keeping it in an artificial environment that is probably not meeting a single one of its needs because you don’t know what those needs are in the first place. I fail to see how that is an improvement on that animal’s living situation! This sort of “rescue” is the worst because you are, in fact, putting the animal into the kind of conditions it should probably be rescued from.

Along that train of thought, there is the idea of catching your own pet reptile from the wild ones you find in your yard. Many of the older (40s or 50s +) herpers remember doing this with impunity when they were younger, back in what some call the “golden age” of herpetoculture when interest in reptiles was really beginning to boom. However, these days, times have changed. Many reptiles and amphibians that were once extremely common just aren’t anymore – this includes horny toads, rosy boas, certain box turtle species, and indigo snakes, just to name a few. Urban sprawl, overcollection for the pet trade, just plain human encroachment on the environment has drastically reduced most wild populations of animals. We just aren’t able to sustain the kind of willy nilly collection that took place back in the 1950s up through to the 90s and even to a certain extent now.

Something that makes me sad every time I talk to someone about reptiles that was a kid during the “golden age” is the following bit of dialog that I hear far, far too often: “Oh, those! I used to catch those all the time! Whenever one died, I’d just go out and catch another one. You never see them anymore, though.” Okay, one person, catching one reptile, is not going to crash a population. But imagine 100 people catching one kingsnake, one box turtle, one horny toad. Imagine 200 people. Imagine 1,000. And each time one died, they’d just catch another one! Suddenly, the reason there aren’t any native species left isn’t such a mystery. If that many people are catching and keeping not just baby reptiles, but breeding size adults, that is a huge, huge drain on the wild population. That isn’t just the adult animals being taken out of the wild, that’s the dozens, the hundreds of babies they would have had if they had been left in their natural habitat.

This sort of over-collection issue is at the root of an issue with box turtle populations around the Gulf of Mexico. For many years, several species were very heavily collected for the pet trade, particularly lots of breeding age adults that were within a certain size range. Collecting in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing when done with an eye towards the future – unfortunately for the box turtles, this was not the case. When most of the breeding age adults are removed from the population, all that was left were old, non-breeding turtles, and babies, no adults to repopulate for the 10 to 15 years it takes for the babies to grow up and start breeding. So be aware that when you take an adult animal out of the wild, you aren’t just taking that adult animal, you are taking away all of the babies that reptile or amphibian would have had if you had left it where it belongs.

Okay, you say. I won’t keep any wild animals. I’ll just catch something, keep it for a few days, feed it real good, give it a head start, let it go again. I’ll give it a head start, that’s great, that makes me awesome, right?


No it doesn’t. That might even be worse. Let’s think about what you’ll be feeding this little lizard you caught in your yard. You’re going to feed it crickets from the pet store, right? Maybe for the tortoise you found, feed it greens you got at the grocery store. A mouse from the pet shop for that snake. Think about what else is in that pet store – in any reptile store, any pet shop with reptiles, any pet shop, period, there are animals from all over the world that have been exposed to (and could be carrying) diseases, parasites, illnesses that those reptiles have developed some immunity to, but our native species likely haven’t. Think the Native Americans and how well they fared against smallpox when the Puritans came over. That is the kind of thing you are not only exposing the wild animal in your care to, but if you release it, that is what you are sending out into the wilderness to infect anything else that reptile comes into contact with.

The California Desert tortoise is one such example of this. The population that resides in the Mojave Desert area has been hit hard by a disease referred to as URTD, Upper Respiratory Tract Disease. How did this population get exposed to this illness? Evidence suggests that someone released a sick tortoise into the wild, infecting the wild tortoises and as a result, wiping out a huge portion of the population.

Okay, so you’re not going to catch and keep the reptiles at all. You’re going to catch them and relocate them. That’s fine, right? No. Wrong again. Reptiles and amphibians are particularly poorly suited to relocation, with the vast majority typically dying once they have been relocated. One study looked at a broad range of relocation data for various species of reptiles and amphibians, hoping to find a trend that would indicate if certain species (or many species) would be suitable for more dedicated efforts at relocation and attempts to re-establish wild populations. What they found was that prior to 1991, the last time this sort of study was undertaken on a grand scale, the rate of success (just based on whether or not the population increased due to new recruits from relocation) was at a measly 19%. In the 20 years since then, the success rate has slightly more than doubled to 41%. That is still a success rate of less than half of all relocated or released reptiles and amphibians.

One likely reason for this kind of poor success is that many reptiles and amphibians, especially longer lived ones such as box turtles and tortoises, have very high site fidelity. They spend their entire lives in a specific area, learning where they can find food, shelter, water, and mates, all during the times of year when they need each thing most. The learning curve for these things is steep, and a majority of baby reptiles and amphibians do not figure this out, and either do not survive or are eaten by predators before they can reach breeding size. Again, back to that idea of not taking breeding size adults – You’re taking away an animal with ideal genes for survival, an animal that should be contributing to the gene pool! So, when you take an animal with high site fidelity, and relocate it to a completely new area, it is just not able to figure out the same scope of places to hide, eat, and drink within a single season. The result is that when hard times come during an off season, the animal that was moved simply cannot adapt quickly enough and ends up dying.

If there is one thing you take away from all this, it is that there is so much more to interacting with wildlife than just playing around with what you find in your backyard. If you’re not sure what you are doing is going to be for the benefit of the animal, don’t mess with it. Take pictures, look it up online, document your sighting and share it with others who want to experience it in its natural habitat. If you are forced to take an animal from the wild, don’t release it – find a nature center, find a school, find a home for it that will care for it in captivity for the rest of its days. When it comes to interacting with wildlife, be responsible, be aware of the greater impact your actions could have, and above all, let wildlife be wild.

The study referenced: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1523-1739.2008.01123.x/full

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