The increasing popularity of reptiles as pets has brought with it a corresponding increase in the number of displaced and unwanted pet reptiles. Just like the clogs, cats and pot-bellied pigs before them, reptiles are being discarded after they’ve lost their novelty appeal or they become too big, difficult, expensive or problematic for their owners. Humane societies, zoos and reptile rescue organizations receive a seemingly endless stream of calls from pet owners wishing to dispose of their reptiles.
Unfortunately, many reptile owners assume that if they tire of their pet, or if for some reason they find they are no longer able to keep their animal, they can just take it to their local zoo and the zoo will be happy to accept it. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Some zoos consider offers of unwanted pet reptiles and other exotic animals on a case by case basis, but most simply refuse them altogether.
Humane societies, wildlife rehabilitation centers, wildlife educators and others who deal with wild animals are not an option either. Most are already filled to capacity with unwanted pets and are unable to take in anymore.
Reptile rescue organizations
Because zoos, humane society shelters, wildlife educators and others are only able to accept a fraction of the unwanted reptiles offered to them, reptile rescue organizations (often home-based and entirely volunteer) have formed in Canada and throughout the United States.
Unfortunately, even the combined resources of the many organizations involved in reptile rescue can make only the smallest dent in the problem, the cause being the easy availability and low price of pet reptiles.
While there are many reasons why reptile owners want to dispose of their pets, the most common reasons are:
1) the size and temperament of their animals;
2) time and financial commitment;
3) ill health; and
4) loss of interest.
Green iguanas are the most popular lizards in the pet trade. Reaching lengths in excess of 2 meters, male members of the species oftenbecame territorial and aggressive as they matured sexually, prompting manyowners to look forways of disposing of them. Some became so problematic their owners employed shields to fend off attacks when they were near their pets.
Young, Burmese pythons, which grow into large, potentially dangerous adult snakes were also offered to zoos, rescue operations and humane societies on a regular basis. Purchased when they were young, they became far more than their owners bargained for when they reached adult size.
Every year thousands of pet keepers look for new homes for their reptiles.
Releasing a reptile pet is cruel
Some reptile owners abandon their animals in the wild when they no longer want them. The majority of these animals are stressed, physically depleted and unable to survive. Most die of starvation, cold or predation.
Occasionally, abandoned or escaped reptile pets survive. Some even reproduce and establish self-sustaining populations. This can have devastating consequences on native wildlife species. For example, wild Nile monitor lizards, voracious predators that will consume snakes, other lizards, young alligators, birds, eggs and small mammals, are now established in several locations in Florida. In addition to out-competing native species, these lizards may pose a threat to the protected burrowing owl.
In Canada, non-native red-eared slider turtles have become established throughout the Great Lakes and in many parts of western Canada. These aggressive turtles compete with native turtle species with potentially damaging results.
Other introduced reptile species include eastern box turtles in southern Ontario and Western pond turtles and European wall lizards in British Columbia. No one in Canada has yet studied the impact these introduced reptiles have on resident, native reptiles or the ecology of the areas in which they are established.
Releasing reptile pets into the wild also has the potential of introducing potentially damaging disease organisms to existing wildlife populations.
The release of reptiles, or any wild animals for that matter, may also be illegal. Many jurisdictions have recognized the danger posed by foreign reptiles and have outlawed their release.
Increasingly reptile pets are being disposed of to humane societies, zoos, and rescue organizations. When these facilities are filled to capacity, reptiles are frequently abandoned in the wild. Since they are usually ill-equipped to survive, released animals typically suffer and die from starvation, cold, predation or other causes. If they survive, they pose a serious risk to native wildlife species. Therefore Zoocheck recommends that reptiles not be acquired as pets and that they never be released into wild environments.