By Erika Chen-Walsh
There have been excessive rumors flying on the internet about Andrew Wyatt resigning as president and Chief Executive Officer of USARK and the founding of the United States Herpetoculture Alliance, Inc. (the “Herp Alliance”).
Wyatt was one of the founders of USARK and together, the USARK team enjoyed phenomenal success from 2008-2012. On a shoestring budget, USARK was able to do extraordinary things for reptile and amphibian keepers at the federal, state and local levels. Wyatt spearheaded a massive grass roots campaign to defeat federal HR669. S373, and HR2811 in 2009-2010. He also launched a successful federal case to remove five species of large constrictors from the Injurious Wildlife listing of the Lacey Act in 2008-2011. His team filed the Information Quality Challenge with USGS on the Constrictor Report in 2010, laying the groundwork for a federal lawsuit on the rule change issue. He commissioned the Georgetown Economic Services comprehensive assessment of the reptile/amphibian industry in 2011 and he participated in the defeat of anti-herpetoculture legislation in more than two dozen states. Perhaps most notably, Wyatt has put USARK on HSUS’s radar screen and made the reptile community a force with which to be reckoned.
Those successes with USARK were hard fought and hard won and although Wyatt was the main strategist and face of USARK during his tenure, those successes belong to every person who contributed ideas, time, resources, talent and money to the cause, including but not limited to every member of the USARK board and every member and volunteer of USARK.
After such a long and colorful history, leaving USARK could not have been an easy decision, and Wyatt wishes USARK continued success in the years to come.
Many members of the reptile community have come forward with strong opinions regarding Wyatt, USARK and the Herp Alliance. Bob Ashley and Brian Potter of NARBC have released a public statement throwing their support behind USARK and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (“PIJAC”) and criticizing Wyatt as being a divisive figure. Other prominent individuals have reached out to me personally and privately expressing concern over the impact on the industry. Brian Potter has been a close and respected personal friend of mine and my experience with Bob Ashley is that he is an ethical leader in this industry. I respect their opinions. In fact, I value them, and I take seriously their concerns about division in the community and the future of herpetoculture.
USARK has come forward with a bold plan for 2013 and has set forth their goals and alliances, and USARK board member, Dr. Warren Booth, has been generous in his communications with the community even while on vacation overseas, trying to assuage concerns about the change in leadership and to calm anxieties.
The goal of the Herp Alliance is not to further divide this community, but to provide additional voice to our numbers. We, too, can learn from the model of the Animal Rights Industry. Invariably, when legislation is introduced seeking to restrict the rights of animal owners, HSUS shows up alongside PETA, Born Free, and other animal rights organizations. Indeed, HSUS unashamedly admits to bringing others in from out of state to testify at their side. The sheer number of these groups that appear, give them multiple opportunities for testimony (both written and oral), multiple witnesses, and multiple bodies to call upon legislatures. That numerosity makes them appear to be a majority interest when often they are (as in Ohio), by far, the minority. These groups do not have identical goals, but they are able to find enough commonality to stand together toward a single purpose.
There is no reason that the reptile community, indeed the exotics community, cannot do the same thing. In fact, we must.
Bob Ashley was correct when he said that the pet industry can help the reptile community. There are many situations in which our interests are perfectly aligned. And then there are issues of concern within the reptile community that are not related to the pet industry (such as large constrictors, venomous animals, crocodilians and varanids) and it would not make sense for the pet industry to be involved. The Herp Alliance is interested in vigorously defending the private right to responsibly keep all species of herpetofauna.
Similarly, it’s true that the interests of zoos and researchers are not always aligned with private keepers. However, the ability to keep species and to move them easily across state lines presents more commonality.
Commonality is what binds us and what will help the entire community – private breeders, large and small pet stores, researchers, educational institutions and zoos – to be able to continue to work with the animals that we all love and in which we are interested.
The Herp Alliance will work in tandem with any group that seeks common ground toward our common goals. We would welcome the opportunity to work alongside USARK or PIJAC in any engagement.
The Herp Alliance is in the process of finalizing the details of our 2013 Strategic Prospectus. Once it is completed, it will be available. Our Board of Directors will include breeders of large constrictors, venomous animals, crocodilians and varanids. Our financial statements will be public and we will provide significant transparency of our goals, actions, and finances.
Some goals of our 2013 road map include, but are not limited to:
Our number one goal in 2013 is to file a federal lawsuit to challenge the Constrictor Rule;
To establish a separate legal fund to enable the filing of lawsuits to challenge inappropriate legislation and bills where we have legal justification for doing so;
To continue to evaluate and oppose federal, state and local legislation adversely affecting the rights of responsible herpetoculturists;
To contribute to conservation efforts, with a focus on conservation aided by captive breeding programs; and
To work with zoos and research institutions on common issues.