HSUS Position on Keeping Reptiles

The article below is HSUS’s written, published opinion that no reptiles should be kept as pets and is from the HSUS web site.

September 25, 2009

Live Reptile Trade
The reptile trade puts human health, the environment, and the animals at risk
The Humane Society of the United States

The recent explosion in the popularity of pet reptiles—the number topped 13 million in 2009, according to the American Pet Products Association—is bad news for people, reptiles, and the environment.

Hazardous pets

People who buy reptiles as pets get more than they bargained for. Virtually all reptiles (even healthy ones) carry Salmonella bacteria. This doesn’t cause a problem for the animals, but for humans, it can be deadly. In humans, salmonellosis causes diarrhea, vomiting, and fever, and may develop into invasive illnesses such as meningitis and sepsis. Children and the elderly are especially at risk.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 74,000 people each year get salmonellosis from reptiles and amphibians, which means 6% of Salmonellacases in the United States can be linked to these animals.

For the sake of human health, the CDC recommends that reptiles be kept out of households that include children and people with compromised immune systems, and that children and immunocompromised people avoid all contact with reptiles and items the animals have touched. Direct contact with a reptile is not necessary to become sick; Salmonella bacteria can live for days on surfaces.

Because of the health risk, it is illegal to sell small turtles (those with a shell length of less than 4 inches) as pets in the United States. The CDC reports that this ban prevents an additional 100,000 cases of salmonellosis among children each year.

Reptiles pose a threat beyond disease transmission. Snakes and lizards, often sold as hatchlings, can reach six feet or more—posing a physical threat to humans and companion animals. Even small turtles can outgrow their tanks, and their welcome.

A hazardous trade

While many pet reptiles are bred in captivity, many are still taken from the wild or born of wild-caught parents. Each year nearly 2 million live reptiles are imported into the United States, and about 9 million are exported. This poorly regulated trade leaves behind depleted wild populations and damaged habitats. Brute force or gasoline may be used to rouse reptiles from their burrows.

Harsh capture techniques, compounded by poor shipping methods and inadequate care, kill many reptiles before they reach the pet store or dealer. An estimated 90 percent of wild-caught reptiles die in their first year of captivity because of physical trauma prior to purchase or because their owners cannot meet their complex dietary and habitat needs.

Marketed as low-maintenance pets, reptiles are often taken home by families who become overwhelmed by the level of care required. Some reptiles will be abandoned to the wild, where many of them will die from starvation, exposure, or predation. Those who survive often compete with native wildlife for food and habitat, damaging the balance of the ecosystem. Others will be relinquished to shelters, which are not usually equipped to handle these unique animals and which have few options for placing them.

For public health, conservation, and humane reasons, The HSUS recommends that the general public forgo pet reptiles. Wild animals are best left in the wild where they belong.

2 thoughts on “HSUS Position on Keeping Reptiles”

  1. There is so much nonsense in that article! So they mean to tell me that 74000 cases of salmonella are caused a year by pet reptiles? Ok maybe that’s true but you mean to tell me that a simple ban of baby turtles prevents 100,000 thousand cases of salmonella when right now there is only 74000 for the millions of reptiles and keepers of them now? I highly doubt baby turtles would bring 100,000 thousand cases of salmonella when there isn’t even that many cases now, I have over 50 reptiles in my house and I have a family and no one has gotten salmonella, they are ridiculous with the nonsense they come up with.

  2. The following is a direct refutation of HSUS’s article on how keeping reptiles is hazardous to your health, and to theirs.

    It’s true–the reptile trade has been rough on reptiles in the past, and in some areas, it still is. While many reptiles are captured for the pet trade, others are headed for the meat market. Larger reptiles are eaten, skinned and turned into leather, and used in other ways. Some reptiles are used in traditional medicine. The pet trade alone is not responsible for all of the depletion of wild reptile populations, but its role must be acknowledged.

    Collecting reptiles for the pet trade provides work for indigenous peoples, and this income feeds their families. This is work they can do WITHOUT cutting down the forest and destroying vital habitat. If people can make a living by leaving the wild habitats alone, then reptiles will always have a place to live. If they can’t…then they will sell lumber, plant crops, or raise cattle instead. The reptiles will be gone anyhow, but this time with no hope at all of recovery in that area. The importation of wild caught reptiles is not a black and white issue. Stopping importation will not save these animals. If importation of reptiles into the US was ceased, no fewer animals would be taken from the wild–they would simply be shipped off to China and other countries instead, where they remain in high demand. Here in the US we have the knowledge and means to keep and breed these animals successfully. We can work to improve things over time, but do not be fooled–ending the importation of wild reptiles will NOT help reptiles in the wild. It’s sad, but it’s true! More than 50% of reptiles now kept in the US were not imported–they were bred right here, in captivity, and have never been wild. The HSUS’s statement that most reptile pets are caught wild is simply not true. It was true a decade ago…but no longer. If you don’t want to support the trade in wild reptiles, then buy captive bred instead!

    Some reptiles can be high-maintenance. It’s true! Some species require very special care to survive in captivity. Some of the reptiles that require more care than most people realize include turtles and tortoises, iguanas, and chameleons. Some reptiles grow large, and have big space requirements.

    Many reptiles remain small, and have very modest care requirements. They are no more difficult to care for than a tropical fish tank! Reptiles need a source of controlled heat (a thermostat or rheostat hooked up to a heat pad), a tightly locking cage, places to hide, fresh water, and a clean environment. Some species require special UVB lighting–easily provided, as pet stores carry these lights, which should be replaced every 6 months. Thermometers and hygrometers round out the equipment, to let you know that you’re keeping the temperature and humidity right. Insectivores need some calcium dust on their insects. No problem!
    Most snakes can be taught to accept frozen/thawed rodents, so there is no need to feed them live mice or rats. Most snakes do not need special lighting, so they’re even easier to care for than lizards are.
    So long as you do your research in advance, and get the species that is right for your level of experience, you will not find keeping reptiles to be difficult at all!
    HSUS’s claim that some reptiles grow larger than their owners realize comes back around to doing your research in ADVANCE. Some DOGS grow larger than their owners realize…we don’t say that dogs are bad pets just because SOME owners are ignorant!
    No responsible reptile owner–and most reptile owners ARE RESPONSIBLE PEOPLE–would release a pet reptile into the wild. This is no more acceptable than releasing a cat or a dog.
    Properly kept, reptiles aren’t any more prone to disease than other animals. Owners can easily learn what signs to look for to identify illness, and take their pet to a reptile-experienced veterinarian. Most reptile illnesses can be treated successfully by a vet for not too much money. Veterinary expenses are part of the ownership of ANY pet, including dogs and cats.

    Reptiles may carry salmonella. It’s true! They MAY harbor this zoonotic bacteria in their digestive system, and shed it in their feces. Salmonella is difficult to test for, because if they have it, it may not be shed at all times.

    They also might not. Not all individual reptiles harbor pathogenic salmonella. MANY other animals can carry salmonella, including cats and dogs, and quite a number of cases of salmonella occur each year because small children rarely wash their hands every time they play with the dog, or pet the cat. Of course the biggest salmonella risk in the average home is your chicken dinner. Salmonella infection is very easily prevented with simple hand washing. Wash your hands after handling your reptiles or their equipment, and you will not catch salmonella from them. You should wash your hands after touching ANY animal, or preparing raw meat, etc. That’s only common sense!

    Additionally, salmonella is the only significant health risk involved in keeping most reptiles. Dogs and cats carry a whole LIST of dangerous zoonotic diseases and parasites, and in a recent Australian study, as many as 10% of all dogs may be carrying something that could make their owner sick. Dogs and cats are FAR more dangerous to your health than reptiles are!

    So, don’t let HSUS pull the wool over your eyes–if you want a quiet, easy to care for pet that doesn’t take up a lot of space, consider a pet reptile. Do your research in advance and choose the species that you can comfortably care for, and enjoy your new hobby!

    (Reposted from my Squidoo lens, here: http://www.squidoo.com/reptilesmakegreatpets)

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