The Evils & Ethics of Breeding Reptiles in the Anthropocene

We have entered the Anthropocene. A new geological age of this world shaped by human activity. Renowned physicist Michiu Kaku explains:

 

Every animal on the planet is threatened in some way from human activity. We are changing the landscape of this entire world, from redistributing the balance of water-weight on the planet by storing water in dams, to nuclear radiation being detectable on every surface of the earth, to introducing invasive species from one continent to another. We are Terra-Forming the globe into something new, something unprecedented in natural history. I believe this is ultimately a good thing, as we will one day need to transform other planets in order for us, and everything else on Earth, to survive elsewhere (the Sun is going to consume us all, you know).

We are in the first stage of creating a galactic civilization, and the first step was globalization. Globalization introduced us to exotic species we could keep as pets. By having an interest in reptiles, you are playing a historical role you don’t even know about. You are preserving the genetic diversity, and very existence of the animals you love so that one day they may be reintroduced to the environment on this planet – and possibly another. Here we explore the evils & ethics of breeding reptiles.

CASE STUDY: Reptile Leather

reptile-skin

Animal rights activists will go to extremes to make their impassioned point. What they do not realize is that many animal populations have been saved from extinction by the exotic leather trade. To remove the economical benefits of keeping animals around, will destroy the monetary incentive for mankind to keep those animals around. It is controversial and unfortunate, but it is the truth.

  • Alligator and crocodile populations have been saved from extinction through farming. In fact, many crocodile ranches release 10% of their animals back into the wild. Because the luxury goods industry has a reliable stream of product, illegal poaching is reduced.
  • Just as we saw with the rhino population in South Africa, it was actually hunting of rhinos that saved their population. When locals had a monetary incentive to have rhinos around, the rhino population grew from 100 to 11,000 individuals. In other parts of Africa, that did not adopt hunting as a means to save the rhinos…those rhinos are now extinct or critically endangered.
  • The Siamese Crocodile (which you probably never heard of) is extinct in the wild. Once found throughout Asia, only small pockets exist, not enough to keep the species going. However, they are bred extensively in captivity for the leather industry, and it has been this desire for their skin that has kept the species in existence. There are 10,000+ in captivity.

While many activists and advocates will say we need more animals and less humans, the fact remains that the wild is no longer so wild anymore…..and is never going to be truly wild again.

Let’s take the recent extinction of the famous frog named Toughie. Toughie was collected in 2005, and his species was not described fully until 2008. By 2016, and with his own death, his species is considered extinct.

Ethics of Reptile Breeding

Effects Chytrid Fungus on wild amphibians.

In 2005, researchers rushed to Panama to save as many amphibian species from the destructive Chytrid fungus, which has devastated amphibian populations worldwide. The fungus was spread worldwide via the introduction of African Clawed Frogs, which were used globally as pregnancy tests for women! Once we had better pregnancy tests, the frogs were released – spreading the fungus. This deadly fungus thickens the skin of amphibians, making it harder for them to keep an equilibrium of water and oxygen, causing them to die. The chytrid fungus is so bad, that with the death of Toughie, it is believed that over the past decade no other of his species in the wild survived the invasive infection. This is example #1 of why the wild is not the best place for some animals anymore.

Ethics of Reptile Breeding

Clear cut jungle in Borneo, for the mono-crop of palm.

One side of the argument is that the pet trade itself is to blame for extinctions, such as with the Borneo Earless Monitor. This is a species that had a photo circulating online, making everyone want one. Certainly, many species have become threatened in the wild from the desire of collectors, however, those same species would suffer much greater declines had they NOT been taken out of the wild and bred into the pet trade. Borneo, the oldest rainforest in the world (by about 80 million years) – 94% of this forest has been cut down to grow palm oil. The same story applies to so many species in the Amazon, Madagascar, and elsewhere. Crops for soy, corn, coffee, and other mono-crops are destroying land. The land required to keep species alive is now in the living rooms of collectors and breeders.

Next case study is that of the Axolotl, which existed only in one lake in the world…which also happened to be in the middle of Mexico City. This lake is a party cruise destination….and I’m not talking cruise ships, I mean teenager trashy booze cruises on covered wooden docks. So much trash has washed into this lake, that the last axolotl was seen in 2012. There are thousands, if not millions, of axolotls in captivity. They are studied in labs and kept as pets, they still exist only because they were taken from the wild despite their small natural range. The ethics of breeding reptiles here is expressed in the duality of axolotls: they are kept to be experimented on, yet they survive only because of this. This is a balance.

The evils & ethics of breeding reptiles:

When breeders sell a reptile to someone inexperienced, and that reptile dies…there are many who would call the SPCA or ban that person from their groups. Truly, it is tragic to see any animal suffer at the hands of a human. However, this is the ‘new natural selection‘ we have to deal with. In the wild, so many hatchlings would be eaten or squashed by a range of predators. In captivity, the role of the predator is now played by the inexperienced noob.

And I’m saying, that’s OKAY. It’s a complicated part of the ethics of breeding reptiles.

Bare with me here. It’s not okay for someone to abuse an animal, or knowingly neglect it – but there is a natural order to life, and part of that is untimely death. In captivity, nearly 100% of hatchlings of any species survives. In the wild, maybe 1% to 10% survive. For every 100 hatchlings, there are 1,000 hungry predators: birds, spiders, mantids, wasps, centipedes, monkeys, other reptiles….even getting stuck in tree sap! The fact some animals die in captivity is what we call, relativity. The survival rates far outweigh the death rates, and for every death in captivity…we learn from. Husbandry since the 1970s – when reptile keeping was popularized by pet stores and importers – has improved dramatically. Those improvements could not have been made without the sorrow of devastating mistakes.

So that is the evil of breeding. Now the ethics of breeding reptiles:

  • Ethical breeders will screen their customers by asking them to answer a few simple questions about husbandry.
  • Ethical breeders will critique the caging either in person or via photo.
  • Ethical breeders will offer lifetime support, and never make noobs feel stupid to ask questions.
  • Ethical breeders will not breed more than they can comfortably handle.
  • Ethical breeders will not breed only for money. While profit helps maintain ones collection, it should not be the motivator.

In conclusion, it is important to understand that nature has a balance of life and death. This balance is extended into captivity in the ethics of breeding reptiles, and the balance is tilted in favor of survival – despite all the bad news and radical activism. The benefits of keeping animals in captivity, even for such horrible reasons as to make a leather handbag out of, beats complete extinction due to habitat loss, disease, pollution, and human expansion. I hope you consider both sides of the evils & ethics of breeding reptiles from now on.

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