Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014

The Grim Reality

Unwanted Reptiles

©1996, 2002 Melissa Kaplan


Sad to say, the increase in popularity of reptiles, in the United States at least, has put too many of these animals in the same situation as dogs and cats and, increasingly, potbellied pigs and house rabbits: abandoned, neglected, dumped at shelters and rescues, or worse - in the parks and neighborhoods and wild areas around our cities

Iguanas now exceed Burmese pythons in the rate at which they are being discarded by owners. For some idea of the impact this has outside of strictly reptile circles, check out the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council's Up For Discussion: Ethics and Resources.

The most common reasons for getting rid of a reptile are:

  • "It's too big." (Mind you, many people know that iguanas get to be 6 feet and Burmese pythons 16+ feet, but suddenly being faced with a 3 foot iguana or 8-10 foot python, the whole thing isn't so cool any more...)

  • "It's not nice." (Most people expect reptiles to be tame and docile from the moment they bring them home, especially iguanas. Once they realize that it takes much work to make them tame, the fun seems to go out of it. It's tough to impress your friends when your arms look like you've been through a document shredder...)

  • "It's suddenly vicious." (Like, when the only time they spend with their 12 foot python is feeding it, and so the snake associates the owner's appearance with food. Or when an iguana hits sexual maturity and the owners don't want to deal with 4 months or so of male machismo.)

  • "It takes too much time." (Thanks to pet stores and the pet trade associations who say that reptiles are easy-to-care-for, low maintenance pets, people who suddenly find out that they require daily care, proper foods, etc., aren't so enchanted with them any more.)

  • "It's sick." (Why should they spend good money on a vet when they can give the animal to someone else who will spend the money on it and meanwhile they can go buy another $50 python or $10 iguana or turtle...? Worse are the parents I hear in the background when I'm on the phone with their tearful children, yelling at their kid "It's just a damn turtle! Let it die and I'll buy you another one!")

  • "It's my kid's and I don't want to care for it..." parents come to the realization that their kid is bored with it or their kid can't afford the animal because it takes daily care, requires special foods, proper environment, veterinary supplies, etc. Of course, their making the kid give it away is preferable to what I hear too many parents doing: sitting back while the animal dies for lack of proper care or veterinary attention to "teach" their child a lesson in responsibility [no, I have not been taking recreational substances; this is really happening]. And we wonder why the world is in the mess it is today...

To be fair, there are people whose lives change so dramatically and suddenly that there is no way they can continue to care for their animals. Unfortunately, these folks who really need assistance and assurance that their animals will be found good homes are competing with the vastly more numerous animals coming from homes where the owners did not do their research first or were misled by the pet trade, the very people who purport to be experts.

Herpetological societies typically have adoption programs wherein members volunteer to take in animals that are not wanted and foster them until proper homes can be found. There is also an increasing number of individuals and organizations not associated with herpetological societies who are doing the same thing. Unfortunately, these same organizations and individuals are so inundated with cast offs, especially iguanas and large boids, that they may simply not be able to take in any more.

If you are looking to get another reptile, please consider adopting one who needs a home. It may not be perfect, it may not be completely tame, it may need some tender, loving care (and injections and assisted feeding and hydration), but you will be helping out an animal in need.

Reptile rescues are individuals and organizations who take in animals and adopt them out. They may or may not ask for an adoption fee. If they don't, please consider giving one anyway. The vast majority of these people are caring for these animals out of their own pockets, even ones doing it for herp societies. People who give away their animals generally do so with nothing else--no caging, no food, no medications, no donations--and caring for dozens of animals, many of whom require veterinary care, medical supplies and special foods, is not cheap, especially when one is also caring for one's own animals and families.

Some herp societies also have members or committees who take in reptiles needing homes and then find new homes for them.

Just in case you are looking for someone to treat and care for your sick animal for you so you don't have to go to the vet, think again. Not only is it illegal for anyone who is not a licensed vet or working under direct supervision of a licensed veterinarian to provide veterinary services to other people's animals, you are asking people to pay out of their own pockets to pay for the care your pet needs.

Keeping pets - no matter the species - is not a right. They are a responsibility and a privilege.

When you get an animal for a pet, even if it is "for" your children, you are the one who is responsible for it and all of its needs: proper housing and environment, diet, medical care, and taming to reduce stress and help prevent illness and injuries.

If you cannot afford or are unwilling to provide this care for and the investment in the time such care requires, for the entire natural life of the animal, then don't get one.

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