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RSPCA attack reptile keeping in Europe.

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Posted by Chris Newman on March 19, 2002 at 03:06:21:

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, (RSPCA), have extended their attack on reptile keeping into Europe. A report published last week, Far From Home, called for the banning of certain reptile species from being imported or kept in captivity (see the C-view Media website for details). The Society, which is opposed to keeping animals in captivity, has been attacking the UK reptile trade for some time and they now seem poised to launch a similar attack on the hobby in mainland Europe. No reptile hobbyist can be complacent, we need to work together to prevent further restrictive legislation being introduced anywhere in the European Community.

The Reptilian magazine issued the following press release in response to RSPCA campaign.


Responsible reptile keepers throughout the UK are increasingly alarmed about recent inaccurate and irresponsible press releases from the RSPCA. The most recent of these reports “Far From Home” chooses to highlight a few case studies of reptiles supposedly suffering from poor husbandry. What the RSPCA do not reveal is that during the same period there were thousands of cases of poor husbandry relating to domestic animals, principally cats and dogs, and that a great many animals are annually killed by the RSPCA, over 90,000 in the year 2000 alone, either because they cannot not be re-homed or for other reasons. The cases involving reptiles are, by comparison, infinitesimal.

In fact, with the equipment and knowledge currently available keeping reptiles in the home is now a much more sensible option for many households than keeping a dog or cat. Indeed, a recent (February 2002) Draft Report by the Companion Animal Welfare Council (CAWC) Working Group on non-domesticated animals noted that “… may be simpler to keep, to high welfare standards, some non-domesticated species than some that are domesticated. For example, it may be easier to meet all the requirements (space, dietary, social etc) of some species of reptile than to meet all the requirements of some breeds of dog”. The keeping of any animal in captivity involves both a sense of responsibility and the knowledge of the particular needs of the animal. Any potential keeper of any animal should, therefore, research the needs of that creature, whether it be reptile, dog, cat, etc. before acquisition.

The same report previously quoted acknowledges that “It is widely accepted that companion animals can contribute to the quality of human life”. The RSPCA wish to stop thousands of people deriving a great deal of pleasure from keeping reptiles as companion animals, falsely suggesting that the needs of these animals cannot be met in captivity. This is utterly without foundation. Reptiles can now be effectively maintained in their own micro-environment and the vast majority of species should be expected to thrive, and actually outlast the life expectancy of their wild counterparts. If one lives in a flat, or goes out to work all day, a dog or cat could be expected to undergo a great deal of stress and suffering, cooped up all day with no food and no exercise. Does this mean that anyone in this situation should be deprived of the chance to experience the life-enhancing pleasure derived from keeping an animal? Surely the logical answer would be to discourage keeping unsuitable large mammals in such situations but to promote more suitable pets, such as reptiles.

Keeping reptiles in captivity, far from endangering the species involved, can actually have a sound foundation in the long-term conservation of these much-maligned animals; in fact over 70% of reptiles and amphibians sold in the UK are captive bred. Ignorance remains a very real threat to reptiles around the world and millions of animals are needlessly slaughtered, simply because they are regarded as dangerous or as pest species. By keeping reptiles, particularly snakes, in captivity our knowledge increases and the myths and exaggerated claims which surround them can slowly be addressed. Scare-mongering press releases are currently a major problem, as the RSPCA are aware, and have a severely detrimental effect on public education and awareness programmes which have, thus far, been remarkably successful in giving reptiles a better image. It is, therefore, considered incredibly irresponsible to continue to promote the out-dated and inaccurate image of reptiles as slimy, dangerous, nasty creatures which are impossible to interact with.

The conservation of reptiles is further served by the vast increase in the number of animals bred in captivity every year. It is only by keeping so-called exotic animals in captivity that we find out more about them and we can then use this knowledge to improve their situation, both in captivity and in the wild. The fact that reptiles do breed so readily in captivity is surely not consistent with the RSPCA’s claims that they do not make suitable pets.

The RSPCA actually commissioned a 252-page study by two independent researchers entitled The UK Trade in Live Reptiles and Amphibians. The results, however, were not what the RSPCA wanted to hear and the report has, therefore, effectively been buried since its publication in 1993. Much of the data subsequently released to the press by the RSPCA is actually refuted by their own report.

The RSPCA quoted case studies sound appalling but are taken totally out of context. It is most unfortunate that a young girl’s chameleon died but if a dog had died would the RSPCA conclude that “Even in caring hands dogs are difficult to keep and do not make suitable pets”? If this is the conclusion at the untimely death of a lizard, it is only fair to apply the same criteria for all animals, but that would be ridiculous wouldn’t it?

The case of the abandoned iguanas is much in the same vein. How many dogs are abandoned every year? How many feral cats roam our streets and countryside, decimating local wildlife populations? Perhaps the RSPCA should address the real issues, not invent problems where none exist.

The final case study involved a teenage girl hospitalised after a bite from a pet lizard. Any bite from any animal, including humans, can lead to infection, as can any small would or cut resulting from everyday domestic accidents. Bites from reptiles are no more likely to lead to infection than any of the other sources mentioned. The 23rd annual report of the Home Accident Surveillance System (HASS), which analyses A&E admissions, shows that in 1999 there were 70,581 accidents involving dogs and 16,022 involving cats. In the same period only 310 accidents were attributed to pet reptiles. None of the reptile-related accidents was serious and most were actually trivial or non-existent. None required further treatment.

The RSPCA is willing to spend vast fortunes on almost anything other than helping educate people. Recently the society spend 16 million pounds on new headquarters and over 90 thousand pounds trying to discover which of its ruling council members spoke to the press without permission. It does not, however, appear prepared to spend money on education initiatives. A complaint was recently lodged about a girl whose sick tortoise the RSPCA refused to even look at, on the grounds that the organisation does not approve of the importation of tortoises as pets.

The RSPCA seem determined to severely restrict the animals we keep to those species which meet with their own approval and are not prepared to listen to any argument, even matters raised by their own research, which is at odds with their current stance against so-called exotic species. Responsible reptile keepers, breeders and conservationists throughout the UK call for the RSPCA to adopt a more responsible, and more rational, approach to a group of animals which already suffer enough from persecution and misconception.

Chris Newman
Editor Reptilian magazine
Chairman Federation of British Herpetologists

Tel: 023 8044 0999
Fax: 023 8044 0666


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