‘Good Practice Guidelines for the Welfare of Privately Kept Reptiles & Amphibians’ released last week by the ‘Federation of British Herpetologists’ (FBH) have received guarded support from the Animal Protection Agency (APA), an organisation that campaigns against the exotic pet trade. An independent scientific review of the document found that whilst the Guidelines were ‘largely replete with errors and misleading content’, some useful animal welfare information was also included that may help to address the appalling conditions inherent to the private ownership and trade involving wild animals as pets.
The scientific review found that numerous fundamental errors dominate the first half of the Guidelines but in the second half, valid information was also included based on historical research by reptile welfare scientists. Keepers are advised to “provide an environment which allows animals to exhibit natural behaviour, including climbing, hiding and bathing (where appropriate)”. Unfortunately, this advice is in direct contrast to the conditions routinely found in pet shops and private homes as well as those seen at reptile markets organised by the Guidelines’ own authors (the FBH). At such events, reptiles and amphibians are largely confined to extremely small plastic tubs where they are barely able to move and where little to no consideration is given to temperature, humidity or lighting control.
Based on the review, the Animal Protection Agency has welcomed only those sections of the document that may help to raise awareness of the biological needs of reptiles and amphibians.
Say Clifford Warwick, author of the scientific review:
“…the more qualified and discerning organisations and individuals will know enough to discard all but the few messages in the second half that most definitely favour animal welfare and do not seek to suggest any acceptability of selling and keeping these animals as pets. Unfortunately, I doubt that qualified organisations and individuals would be usual readers of it! Overall, I can guardedly welcome the Guide although I should recommend giving most of the first half a cold shoulder and the second half a lukewarm reception!”
Says Elaine Toland, APA Director:
“Much of the guidance for captive reptile and amphibian husbandry currently espoused on Internet forums and ‘care sheets’ is unfortunately geared towards convenience of keepers rather than animal welfare. This may be one reason why at least 75% of reptiles die within their first year in the home. Buried within these Guidelines, however, is some useful husbandry information but we would urge reading the document alongside our scientific review - available to read at www.apa.org.uk - in order to discern the useful guidance from information that is misleading or just plain wrong.”
The APA suspects that authors of the Guidelines sense the beginning of the end for the reptile and amphibian trade and hobby in its current form. Far-reaching changes are needed to urgently address the high premature mortality rates currently seen in exotic pets. Increasingly, across Europe and beyond, legislation is being considered to restrict exotic pet trading and keeping on animal welfare and other grounds.