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Is Your Reptile Husbandry Up to Standard? — Expanding on the 5 Freedoms of Animal Welfare

Although the reptile hobby dates far back in human history, the reptile industry as we know it today is quite young. It wasn’t long ago when the average reptile enthusiast was left to their own devices to care for their animals. This was due to the lack of development on both a technological and knowledge-base level, and animal welfare was a barely a blip on the radar for reptiles. 10 years ago, the crested gecko was just starting to break into the mainstream pet market—today, they’re an industry staple. Go back 20 years, and you’ll see the industry riddled with aquariums and metabolic bone disease (MBD). Travel back 30 years, and you’ll find black lights and other bizarre devices being used in lieu of proper equipment.

As crazy as the past seems, it was necessary. Modern animal welfare activists may be shocked by the practices and standards of the past, but the pioneers of our industry were restricted to trial and error for just about everything they did. This created a firm foundation of knowledge and technology for us to stand on in the present. Just think of how far the industry has come in just the past decade—we’ve seen massive advancements in housing, lighting, diets, and substrates, and continue to add new species to the list of animals that we can competently rear and breed.

The Three Eras of the Reptile Industry

The reptile industry can be roughly broken into three distinct eras of progression. I’m a very visual person, so I will use some imagery to illustrate the industry’s progress:

Imagine you are standing in a very, very large room. This room is full of knowledge. Everything there is to know about keeping reptiles is waiting to be discovered inside this room. Unfortunately, there are no lights, and the room is pitch black. You must first bumble around in the dark in hopes of stumbling into something useful. In this metaphor, your knowledge-base is represented by the instrument you use to illuminate your surroundings. Or more specifically, your knowledge-base is represented by the amount of light your instrument throws off. As you begin to move around the room you use a single-flamed candlestick. This does not allow you to see very far but does allow you to start investigating the room. Fortunately, the act of exploring the room is all that is necessary in order to increase the power of your lighting instrument. As you move around the room and discover novel information, your knowledge-base begins to grow and your lighting instrument is exchanged for something with more power.

Now imagine that you have a flashlight instead of a candlestick. The flashlight sheds light on a larger radius and thus exposes more of the knowledge kept within the room. This process continues to repeat itself until one day the room is nearly illuminated in its entirety. Likewise, one day you could get close to understanding “everything there is to know about keeping reptiles”. It may not be a realistic goal, but it is one we should always be striving for.

We should always be striving to learn more about the incredible creatures we choose to keep in our homes.

1) The Dark Ages

Let’s return to the eras of the reptile industry, as I mentioned above. I refer to the first era of the reptile industry as “the dark ages”. During this era of the industry, everything was new. Every species, every care method, everything. Many of the captive reptiles who were alive during this time were sentenced to premature death due to lack of knowledge and experience. This was a necessary evil.  

2) Mainstream

Eventually, the reptile industry grew out of the dark ages and began to emerge into the mainstream pet market. This marks the second era of the reptile industry. At this point in time, animal welfare and husbandry requirements for common pet reptiles such as ball pythons, leopard geckos, and bearded dragons were accurate and clear enough that the average novice off the street could care for them relatively successfully. However, technology was still lacking. For example, both heating and lighting were not well understood, which left heat mats and red-light bulbs with the impossible task of replicating the sun. During this era, breeding was, for the most part, left up to professional breeders or advanced enthusiasts.

3) The Era of the Breeder

The third era is our current one and I refer to it as the “Era of the Breeder”. As the reptile community’s knowledge continued to expand, there was a shift that occurred in the breeding of common species. Suddenly there was enough information and proper equipment that the everyday enthusiast could tackle a breeding project. This did have an effect on the reptile industry, although maybe not in the way you might have initially guessed.

It is not that people began to over-produce animals—although there is some of that—instead, people began caring for their animals as if they were breeding on a large scale. Despite the ability to breed becoming more accessible for many people, the percentage of breeders within the industry did not increase significantly.

Instead, the most potent change was the visibility of the major breeders. As the internet shot from infancy to adolescence, reptile enthusiasts were suddenly brought directly into the facilities of major breeders via online picture and video. This meant newcomers were perpetually exposed to industrialized breeding standards without necessarily realizing that what they were seeing on YouTube was appropriate for mass-scale breeding but not individual animal husbandry.

Consequently, many captive reptiles are currently subjected to ultra-sterile, ultra-bare, unenriched environments with no plan to be bred. This, I will argue, is an unintentional violation of basic animal welfare standards. “Unintentional” being the key word here.

visual representation of the natural progression of animal welfare for reptiles in captivity

Defining Industrialized Care

For the sake of clarity, I will define what I mean by “industrialized care”. When I use the term “industrialized,” I am referring to rack systems with small, bare tubs, typically lined with paper substrate and little to no décor.

I am going to focus specifically on snake breeding systems for two main reasons: 1) to keep a tighter scope on the article and 2) although rack systems can be used for other reptiles, they are most popular with snakes. Keep in mind, though, that everything you are about to read can and should be extrapolated to other reptile species.

The quality of a snake’s captive environment can be thought of as a continuum. On the left side of the continuum we have industrialized tub setups and on the right side, we have zoo-level, bio-active enclosures. (It is probably important to note here that I am ignoring downright inexcusable husbandry i.e. the conditions you might find on Craigslist.)

The issue I perceive with being on the “tub” side of the continuum is, it offers no room for growth. Once you have established your set up (the tub, paper sheet and water dish), you’re done! The opportunity to continue to develop your snake’s environment for the better vanishes. As far as I am concerned anything just to the right of “tub” end on the continuum is all that is necessary to achieve appropriate welfare standards, I will explain this further below. Tub setups are static with no ambition to change—they simply are what they are. On a psychological level, a tub is static because as a keeper you don’t think about developing a tub beyond the simple practically of what it is and also, the physical restraints of a tub mean that extensive development is not even possible.

Creating a habitat that has the potential for environmental enrichment is key. It is as if the continuum is flat line, followed directly by a long, low-grade downward slope. The tub side of the continuum lies on the flat surface and the rest of the continuum (ranging with everything from simple enclosures with a few enrichment features to zoo-level exhibits) flows down from there.

Once you budge yourself off the flat surface on the “tub” end of the continuum, development toward greater animal welfare flows naturally. Without momentum, there can be no change. Nobody would recommend starting on the far-right side of the continuum with a complex bio-active set up. However, novice reptile keepers should be encouraged to A) understand the natural history of the animal they are keeping and B) be able to visualize how they might further develop their animal’s enclosure in the future when they are ready to do so.

Quite often the “rack debate” is centered around ball pythons—even while writing this my mind wants to drift in that direction. The common claim is that ball pythons spend the majority of their time in underground burrows, therefore, a dark, cramped “tub” is a suitable environment because it is replicating the snake’s natural habitat.

This is incorrect, and there is plenty of peer-reviewed evidence refuting this claim (see the references at the end of this article).

Moreover, the reality is that racks are used for many different species of snakes. The “burrow defence” does not translate well for colubrids for example, who are generally quite active and are prone to climb. This alone should be enough to begin to expose the flawed logic behind keeping snakes in tubs.

Advancing yourself

Before I move on, here is something very much worth noting— I am not against the everyday enthusiast striking up a small breeding project provided the finer details are ironed out beforehand (such as offspring care, responsible selling, etc.). Small batch breeding (to steal a TC Houston term[1]) at home is a great way for an individual to advance themselves in the industry. This is especially true for those who no longer feel challenged while performing the everyday tasks of basic husbandry.

Whether you are aware of this or not, as an enthusiast you are perpetually in the pursuit of improvement. Your most enjoyable moments in the reptile industry are when you are pushing yourself just beyond your current skillset and toward a greater understanding and application of animal welfare. I’m talking about those moments when time disappears and you pour hours into a project without stopping to eat, check your phone, or even sleep.

Carving out new territory for yourself in the “dark room” is where most people derive their purpose from. We have a need to push ourselves into the darkness to discover something new. Repetitive motions of task already mastered are boring, and the only cure to that boredom is using creative energy to tackle a new challenge.

Breeding solves that problem almost perfectly. It doesn’t matter how long you have been breeding animals for, there is always a new problem around the corner, a new challenge for you to solve.

However, breeding is just one of the ways to advance yourself in the industry. There are many others. For example, you could attempt to go bio-active, you could read academic material on the animals you keep, you could develop a clearer understanding of the natural ecological niche your animals thrive in. You could even try to train your animals, for example you might try target training or using puzzle feeders[2].

Again, I am not advocating to stop people from breeding. However, I believe it is important to understand why someone might decide to breed and offer alternatives that would satisfy the same need.

Where We Have Gone Wrong

In my opinion, the Era of the Breeder is a speed bump in our industry’s progress. Again, the problem is not that too many people are breeding, it is that the care standards have been dialed back to industrialized style care for everyone. And as I have stated many times, I believe industrialized style care has its place. We need breeders to supply the market with high quality, healthy, captive-bred animals. It’s possible rack systems and small tubs are the only way to mass-produce animals while maintaining a healthy breeding stock. It’s also entirely possible that we discover somewhere in the “dark room” some information that would allow us to breed in a more enriching way, though that is beyond the scope of this article.

However, most people who own snakes are not big-time breeders, or even small-time breeders! The large majority of people involved in the reptile community are pet keepers, not pet breeders. But the promotion of “industrialized” style care is being confused with proper pet husbandry.

I think the popularity of YouTube is to blame here. Snake breeding businesses are romanticized online, which causes beginners to assume that you should keep your single ball python in the same way a popular breeder keeps 1000s of snakes. After all, it’s the way the “experts” online are doing it, so why shouldn’t the average enthusiast? If the animals kept in these industrialized settings are breeding then they must be healthy and thriving, right?

To quote John Courtney-Smith:

Just because you can keep a leopard gecko in a 12”x 12” x 3” box in the dark, and it will live and reproduce doesn’t mean to say we ought to. It just proves that the power of reproduction within nature is a far greater force than any level of poor care we feel selfish enough to visit upon them.” (23:17, Animals At Home Episode #24)[3]

Having said that, the questions above are still valid, and the only way to answer them is by running an audit on industrialized-style care. The only way to do that is by using an objective set of standards and guidelines as a baseline.

I propose we use the Five Provisions and Animal Welfare Aim paradigm as our guideline.

5 Freedoms and Provisions

Here’s a quick overview of the creation of the Five Freedoms and how they have since been modified. The Five Freedoms were developed by the UK government in the 1970s and were initially intended to increase the welfare of farm animals. Since their creation, the Five Freedoms have undergone some changes. Here are the original Five Freedoms[4]:

  1. Freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition
  2. Freedom from discomfort and exposure
  3. Freedom from pain, injury, and disease
  4. Freedom from fear and distress
  5. Freedom to express normal behaviour

David J. Mellor has since adjusted the original Five Freedoms, a process which he outlines in his paper Moving beyond the “Five Freedoms” by Updating the “Five Provisions” and Introducing Aligned “Animal Welfare Aims[5].

Mellor received his PhD in 1969 from Edinburgh University and spent 10 years as a Professor and Head of the Department of Physiology and Anatomy in the Veterinary Science Faculty at Massey University, New Zealand. Currently, he is still at Massey University where he holds the positions of Distinguished Scientist, Director of the Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre, Professor of Animal Welfare Science and Professor of Applied Physiology and Bioethics”.[6] This is an individual who is actively researching what it means to care for animals ethically.

According to Mellor, the scientific definition of “animal welfare” has evolved in the past 30 years[7], which is what required the Five Freedoms to be updated. Initially, “animal welfare” was defined using biological function alone and the focus was on minimizing negative experiences (e.g. thirst). Now, mental states are incorporated into the definition of “animal welfare.”

Here is how the University of California – Davis defines it:

“Animal welfare is the biological and psychological state of an animal as it attempts to cope with its environment. Therefore, welfare includes both pleasurable and unpleasant mental states such as contentment, anxiety, and fear.  While animals may display quick, emotional responses to a stimulus (such as a startle response when confronted with a predator), affective states are longer lasting mood states (such as anxiety or depression) which are not caused by a single stimulus but are the results of an accumulation of experiences.”[8]

Mellor’s adjustment to the Five Freedoms better represents how we define animal welfare today. He does this by A) placing focus on positive goals and outcomes and B) providing applicable welfare aims.  I highly recommend reading his short paper, but to be brief, one of the limitations with the Freedoms is that they are technically impossible to achieve.

For example, freedom from thirst is not possible. An animal must feel thirsty in order to be motivated to drink. So instead of a rule stating, “freedom from thirst,” it makes more sense to say, “provide ready access to fresh water.” Also, there was the issue of the Freedoms focusing on negative experiences without providing any specific directions for producing positive experiences.

To solve this, the Five Provisions and Animal Welfare Aims[9] were created, and they are as follows:

Provisions Animal Welfare Aims
1. Good nutrition: Provide ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour   Minimise thirst and hunger and enable eating to be a pleasurable experience
2. Good environment: Provide shade/shelter or suitable housing, good air quality, and comfortable resting areas   Minimise discomfort and exposure and promote thermal, physical, and other comforts  
3. Good health: Prevent or rapidly diagnose and treat disease and injury, and foster good muscle tone, posture, and cardiorespiratory function Minimise breathlessness, nausea, pain and other aversive experiences and promote the pleasures of robustness, vigour, strength and well co-ordinated physical activity  
4. Appropriate behaviour: Provide sufficient space, proper facilities, congenial company, and appropriately varied conditions   Minimise threats and unpleasant restrictions on behaviour and promote engagement in rewarding activities  
5. Positive mental experiences: Provide safe, congenial, and species-appropriate opportunities to have pleasurable experiences Promote various forms of comfort, pleasure, interest, confidence, and a sense of control  

The Five Provisions and Animal Welfare Aims paradigm is a very straight forward set of rules that are very commonly cited by animal welfare professionals such as animal hospitals and rescues. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE), and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) all list the Five Freedoms as integral to their operation and mission.

These guidelines are followed and respected by the most important animal related professionals on the planet, and because of this they provide us with an objective framework to audit the current state of industrialized-style reptile care.

It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of having a consistent set of rules to follow. Simply stating “take good care of your animals” is far too broad of a statement to be useful. For example, it’s like saying to someone in the education field “be a good teacher”. This statement lacks enough detail to be rendered completely meaningless. If veterinarian use these guidelines, so can we.

1. Good Nutrition

Provide ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour Minimise thirst and hunger and enable eating to be a pleasurable experience
young mourning gecko enjoying the five provisions of animal welfare

I think one could argue that we are doing an okay job here. To be clear, we are only discussing nutrition here, this is separate from feeding enrichment.

Whole prey items are typically considered sufficient when it comes to feeding snakes. Of course, it could just as easily be argued that a variety of prey items would be more beneficial, however some snakes do not respond well to variety and may refuse to take different prey items. This is may be a good place for a product like Repti-Links[10] to jump in, as they offer reptile meals with a wide variety of prey items.

The “pro-tub” argument you might hear in this domain is that tubs are better for feeding. Many keepers have success feeding picky or nervous snakes in a tub because it is dark and quiet. Therefore, it could be said that without the comfort of the tub, the snake would not eat which would be a failure to meet the requirements in this first provision and welfare aim.

Does this mean dark tubs are a requirement to ensure optimal nutrition? Nope, it tells us some snakes are more comfortable eating in a dark, quiet space. Dark, quiet spaces can be incorporated into any enclosure.

2. Good Environment

Provide shade/shelter or suitable housing, good air quality, and comfortable resting areas Minimise discomfort and exposure, and promote thermal, physical, and other comforts  
plated lizard enclosure that meets the five provisions of animal welfare

This is certainly a subjective provision, as the word “suitable” is open for interpretation. Those who keep their animals in a bare tub would certainly argue that they are offering an adequate environment. To keep within the confines of the Provision and Welfare Aim, you may be able to argue that a snake living in a properly heated tub has what it needs to “minimise discomfort and exposure and promote thermal, physical and other comforts”. However, as soon as you add something as simple as a light cycle to the equation the argument falls apart.

Providing a “good environment” should certainly include access to light (if not UVB). Many tubs are opaque and do not allow for a natural light cycle, and to quote John Courteney-Smith again:

“If a species is in any way able to encounter unfiltered, natural daylight, in any quantity whatsoever in its wild environment then it will have a dedicated use for, and level of protection against that energy source, that is how nature works. Whether that is in its visual acuity, or producing its own vitamin D3, or sterilization of the skin or maintenance of the respiratory tract tract or bringing on hormone surges leading to reproduction, there is uses for, and protection against that energy.” (1:01:24, Episode #24)[11]

I would argue that access to a light cycle is fundamental to fulfilling the minimum requirements for this Provision, even for nocturnal animals. Nocturnal does not mean that the animal requires no daylight, it simples means they are active during the night. Animals that require no daylight are animals that are never in contact with light at all (e.g. deep-sea creatures).

The last three Provisions and Welfare aims are where industrialized style care for the average pet owner falls very short.

3. Good Health

Prevent or rapidly diagnose and treat disease and injury, and foster good muscle tone, posture, and cardiorespiratory function   Minimise breathlessness, nausea, pain, and other aversive experiences and promote the pleasures of robustness, vigour, strength, and well co-ordinated physical activity
oh hey it's a ball python CLIMBING in an enclosure that meets the five provisions of animal welfare

Keeping a snake in a bare tub without a doubt aids in your ability to prevent and diagnose disease. Bare tubs make it easy to spot changes in a snake’s appearance, behavior and feces and also allow for easy sterilization. This may be a crucial factor in a facility breeding a large quantity of animals. It is also certainly a crucial factor for mending sick animals or quarantining new animals.

Fortunately, disease and illness are actually a rare occurrence, especially if you are dealing with a small quantity of animals. I am not suggesting illnesses do not occur, but I am suggesting that keeping your pet in a bare tub to proactively deal with illness is an extreme measure. Provided you are looking at your snake daily, you will notice illness immediately. I am not sure what the probability of a snake becoming ill is, but I do know that the probability of your snake becoming unfit in a restricting enclosure is 100%.

For this provision I won’t discuss tub size, as that is addressed in the next one. Instead, I am primarily auditing physical fitness.  To achieve good health the animal must have “good muscle tone and cardiorespiratory function” this does not happen unless the animal can be physically active. Small, bare tubs do not allow an animal to climb, burrow, or even travel a short distance. Physical activity is crucial for good health. An animal that is free to climb or dig will be more physically and mentally fit than one that doesn’t have access to such behaviors.

4. Appropriate Behavior

Provide sufficient space, proper facilities, congenial company, and appropriately varied conditions Minimise threats and unpleasant restrictions on behaviour and promote engagement in rewarding activities  
crested gecko enjoying the 5 provisions of animal welfare

This is where industrial standards run into a major issue. The adult ball python tub size recommended by many of the big-name breeding rack companies is roughly 32”x 16“x 6”. Even a small adult male would not be able to fully stretch out in one of these tubs.

Defining what constitutes as sufficient space can be quite a controversial topic, as many keepers claim ball pythons are sedentary animals in the wild despite this being a myth[12]. There is plenty of evidence that ball pythons are active foragers in the wild, so a tub less than 3 feet long would be considered by most as an “unpleasant restriction.”

Plus, as I have already mentioned, ball pythons are only part of the equation. Colubrids are also kept in breeding racks with tubs of similar size (or smaller). These are very active snakes in the wild, and everyone knows it! All the classic myths that are used to defend ball python tubs do not work with colubrids, as they are very active animals, and many of them are great climbers as well! Yet they are kept in the same confined conditions.

It is very much worth restating that this is not an appeal to alter the care standards of mass-breeding operations. Instead, this is an appeal to differentiate between mass-breeding standards and individual care standards.

If you ask a breeder to define “sufficient space” they tell you the guidelines they use for breeding. I can’t think of any other animal industry that uses breeding standards as a guideline for pet care.

For example, look at the way the discus, the popular tropical fish, are bred versus how they are kept in the aquarium hobby. Discus breeding tanks are small (usually 25- 30 gallons) and usually have little to no décor aside from a breeding cone. On the other hand, the care requirements for keeping discus in your home as a pet include a tank size of between 50-100 gallons, with drift wood and plenty of live plants with emphasis on replicating the Amazonian flood plains, to encourage naturalistic behaviors. Can a school of discus survive in an empty, breeder style set up? Yes. They will however, be robbed of the opportunity to engage in rewarding, wild-type behaviors because the conditions are perpetually static. The animal will never be required to solve a problem or explore.

Breeding animals are fulfilling an entirely different purpose than an animal kept as a pet. Why do you keep the animals you keep? If you keep them because you love interacting with nature on a daily basis, then you will only be rewarded if you encourage your animal to display wild behaviors. Keeping animals in an industrialized setup only reveals a tiny fraction of their potential.

5. Positive Mental Experiences

Provide safe, congenial, and species-appropriate opportunities to have pleasurable experiences   Promote various forms of comfort, pleasure, interest, confidence, and a sense of control  
boa imperator hiding under leaf litter according to the five provisions of animal welfare

Provisions #4 and #5 are closely related. The only way to provide “species-appropriate opportunities” is by including some level of environmental enrichment in the animal’s enclosure. As I have stated before:

“If your animal is not displaying wild-type behaviors, your setup is lacking in necessary environmental enrichment which can lead to stress. Ideally, you have created an environment that promotes animal activity that correlates with healthy species-specific behavior (digging, climbing, basking, swimming, etc.).”[13]

The key to this Provision is providing the snake with a “sense of control” of their environment. This is accomplished by creating problems for the snake to solve. Whether that be forcing them to climb to a raised basking spot or dig through substrate to find food or make a burrow. Forcing problems upon your animal—which they might naturally encounter in the wild—while simultaneously providing them with the tools needed to solve them is crucial for accomplishing this Provision.

Minor levels of privation are a necessity in order to thrive. This is as true as for the animals we keep as it is for humans. There is no growth without struggle. Imagine a life where you never have to solve another problem again, at first thought that might sound appealing, but spend some time thinking about what that implies.

As I have already stated, the most profound form of satisfaction an individual can extract from caring for reptiles (and in life) is accomplishing something difficult by advancing your current skill set. We use our animals in order to challenge ourselves, and advance our skill set. The desire to do this is not a trait inherent to Homo sapiens, but a trait inherent to life. If we are using our animals as an outlet of creativity to satisfy our need for self-advancement, can we not offer them the same thing in return?

I am not suggesting that reptiles experience the same emotional response we do when we achieve a goal, but they do have similar goal orientated circuitry in their brain. They have a designated reward center in their brains that has the single purpose of positively reinforcing behaviour related to survival (burrowing for shelter, climbing for thermal regulation, hunting, etc.)[14] Industrial care standards allow those sections of the brain to wither on the vine.

To claim that this is just a form of anthropomorphism is to also make the claim you do not understand the brain of a reptile.

One could expand greatly on each of the Five Provisions, however I believe I have laid out enough to make my point clear. Here is a simple summary of the Five Provisions:

Conclusion

The Five Freedoms needed some clarification, which is why the Five Provisions were proposed. The Five Provisions still may not be the best framework for determining the welfare of our reptiles, but at this point if that’s not…then what is? If you don’t agree with the standards outlined in the Five Provisions than you need to provide concrete, well-defined alternatives. Without clear animal welfare aims and standards, everything becomes open to subjective interpretation.

I am proposing that we use the Five Provisions and Welfare Aims to push us from out of the Third Era into a Fourth Era by fostering technological improvement and shifting our focus to maximizing the life of each individual animal within our care. Industrialized-style care opposes animal welfare, it is as simple as that.

Here are three key points we can focus on to establish a Fourth, more productive Era of greater animal welfare within the reptile hobby:

  1. Show newcomers to the reptile industry that the industrial standard for breeding is not the standard for keeping individual pet reptiles. The simple message to newcomers should be: understand what your animal’s native environment looks like and incorporate enrichment into their enclosure with aims at reproducing some of their natural habitat and behaviour as a consequence. Enrichment can be accomplished through enclosure size, climbing branches, large water tub, etc. Start small and set a goal to develop the enclosure slowly over time as your competence increases.
  2. Promote “Wild Re-Creation®[15] to current reptile enthusiasts as an outlet to advance themselves in their level of care. This is not to dissuade keepers from starting up small breeding projects, but instead exposing them to different options to fulfill the need to advance their skill set. I suspect some enthusiasts yearn for a more advanced challenge and take up breeding to satisfy that desire. It is possible that they would have been equally inclined to participate in “Wild Re-creation ® ”[16] instead. This would both increase the welfare of the animal’s in their care and reduce the chances of producing unnecessary offspring (i.e. offspring the market has no place for).
  3. Encourage small batch breeders to bump themselves off the “tub” section of the continuum. Potentially, there are ways to create a more enriching, practical and feasible environment for breeding stock. If such a way exists, it will almost certainly come from the small-time breeders as they can afford to be creative with their procedure as they are not solely driven by a bottom line.

The organisms that we decide to care for in captivity are a by-product of their natural environment, and any deviation from their natural environment is at their peril. To quote Dr. Kelsey Chapman “reptiles are very stoic beings.”[17] Reptiles have the incredible ability to patiently and silently suffer as we work to illuminate more of the “dark room” to better understand exactly what they require from us.

Our reptiles have entrusted their lives to us, and it is our job to become worthy of that trust. We can do this by making the promise to continue to walk down the path of advancement, whether you are taking the first step of environmental enrichment by adding a climbing branch into your enclosure, or by studying precisely how infrared wavelengths interact with reptile physiology. Our individual position on the continuum is not important—committing to advancement is. Keeping in mind that the most satisfaction you will get from caring for reptiles is self-advancement, this promise should be an easy one to keep and reinforce.


Our goal this year is to spark a positive change in the reptile industry as a whole. You can do your part by committing to improve your own reptile husbandry. Post your New Year’s Resolution to social media with the hashtag #5Provisions, and be sure to SHARE this article like crazy so as many reptile keepers as possible will be able to see it! 

The 5 Provisions of Animal Welfare for Better Reptile Husbandry

About the Author

dillon perron - animals at home podcast hostDillon Perron is the host of the Animals at Home podcast. He has been in the reptile hobby for over a decade, and has been passionate about animals as far back as he can remember. You can tune in to his podcast on YouTube or Spotify.


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