Press Release: Animal Ark
September 12, 1997
Mike Fry, Animal Ark
My name is Mike Fry. I am the Reptile Rescue coordinator for a no-kill animal shelter in Minnesota. I am aware of a serious and growing problem related to the collection, importation (often smuggling), distribution and sale of exotic reptiles in the United States.
This is becoming a very large business. Depending on the sources you talk to, you will see different numbers. Some suggest that this year alone, the USA will import more than 2 million Giant Green Iguanas (Iguana iguana) for the pet trade. These animals are usually sold in pet shops as cute pets for young children. What is not generally known is that these animals will grow to 6 feet in length; live for 25 years; are highly aggressive during mating season; and are listed by CITES (Convention on Trade in Endangered Species) on Appendix II (Threatened Status).
Because of the huge volume of abuse in the pet trade, shelters and rescue groups are being swamped with calls relating to Giant Green Iguanas that have been abandoned, neglected and abused. Large commercial pet store chains like Petco and PetsMart are making the problem worse by failing to educate employees and clients regarding the proper care these animals require. In fact, much of the information they provide, and the products they sell, cause the premature death of countless animals.
The story of other exotic reptiles is even worse. Imported animals are run through a gauntlet of collectors, exporters, importers, jobbers, wholesalers and dealers who deprive them of food, water and proper shelter. The overwhelming majority of these animals die BEFORE they reach the pet stores. Some very delicate species, like Chamaeleo senagalensis have been imported in huge volumes, but due to high mortality have never been successfully bred in captivity. These rare and very delicate animals are considered the most difficult of reptiles to keep, even for expert herpers, but are sold to young children as "beginners" pets. People who buy these animals have a zero percent chance of being successful with their new pets. The pet shops that sell them do not stock or sell cages in which these animals CAN survive, long term. Instead, they sell cages and other products that are useless or downright dangerous to the animals they are sold for.
A 10-page cover story in the New York Times' Parade magazine uncovered some of the story earlier this year. But there is much more to the story. This is a story of rain forest being emptied of its natural inhabitants; of animals being neglected and abused; of children being mislead and taken advantage of; of consumers being sold sick, dehydrated, malnourished and parasite-infested animals that are labeled "healthy".
Some animals sold actually pose a danger to the people who buy them. Pet stores sell cute hatchling animals to clients, without informing them that the animal they are purchasing will grow to enormous size and become highly aggressive when sexually mature. Every year people are killed by their pet pythons. Monitor lizards grow into very large (7+ feet in length), aggressive, fast, agile, carnivorous animals. But for $35 or $40, any kid can walk into a pet shop and buy one.
Large, corporate giants are making huge profits participating in the wholesale destruction of threatened species, while misleading their clients. Ever wonder what is behind the Petco add in the Sunday newspaper which reads "Iguanas great pets only $9.95"? Ever wonder why you do not know ANYONE who has a large, healthy, adult iguana?
A small group of reptile rescuers are currently working to change corporate opinion on this subject. The large pet store chains, like Petco and PetsMart, are unwilling to give up the large profits involved in these activities. Both of these superstores have marketed themselves as being sensitive to animal welfare concerns, while stonewalling complaints of animal cruelty, abuse and neglect.
US Fish and Wildlife has shown their are strong connections between reptile importation and drug smuggling and gun running.
Additional information about this story can be found at:
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