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Big Reptiles, Big Commitments
by Andy Acevedo, Assistant Reptile Curator, Sarasota Jungle Gardens

Among the diverse species of reptiles found in the pet trade today, many are of the large variety. Animals such as Burmese Pythons, Green Iguanas, & Nile Monitors are not uncommon anymore. They are readily available in pet stores throughout the U. S. as so called "low maintenance pets". When in fact certain reptiles do require only little maintenance, this could be farther from the truth when talking about an adult Green Iguana. Baby Green Iguanas can easily be called the hottest reptile seller ever. It has been estimated that 700,000 - 800,000 Green Iguanas are sold annually in the U. S. for the sole purpose of becoming someones pet.

When considering the large number of these animals sold annually combined with the prospect of these lizards reaching lengths of 5-6 feet, one might wonder what's becoming of these animals when the novelty of owning an exotic animal wears off, or the burden of caretaking exceeds your expectations of a so-called "low maintenance pet". Many iguanas get released into the wilds of Florida by their thoughtless owners, many thousands more succumb to death from disease or malnutrition within the first year of life due to improper husbandry techniques.

Within the past year and a half I have recovered 22 iguanas in a 40 mile radius. The iguanas ranged in size from 18 inch long babies to 5 foot long adults. Most of the iguanas were in extremely poor shape. Once these iguanas are recovered (which is usually not an easy task), the next step is to find them permanent homes which can sometimes take several months. Not even the most enthusiastic iguana fancier would even want a sick or dying 5 foot lizard with razor sharp claws and an attitude to go with it. A similar situation occurs with the large constrictor type snakes, such as pythons and boas. As a professional herpetologist working at a local zoological park, I receive many phone calls weekly from people who have purchased these snakes as hatchlings not realizing what they've gotten themselves into. Record lengths of up to 32 feet long and weights up to 400 pounds have been documented. Although 16 - 20 foot long specimens are more realistic, they are nonetheless big animals. Large constrictors crossed with inexperienced reptile keepers can make a deadly combination. Of the many new first time python owners I've run across, the vast majority disregarded the fact that these snakes would get large fast. Most figured that if they kept their animals in small enclosures the snakes wouldn't grow so fast or they would only grow to the size of the enclosure. Most reptiles will grow throughout their life, therefore constantly outgrowing their previous cage.

That's one major aspect to consider when making a purchase of a small Burmese or Reticulated python. If you or someone you know wishes to purchase a python or other exotic snakes as a pet, try and gather as much information on that specific animal as possible. Most pet stores offer many different species of reptiles for sale along with "How-to Books" on each species. If they do not have the book you're looking for contact your local zoo. I would be more than happy to provide the information you request. I receive dozens of phone calls every month from people inquiring about specific reptiles. Most calls come in after the individual has already made the purchase, and by that time most realize they have gotten in over their heads. With the ever increasing laws being passed in the U. S. governing the keeping of reptiles, it will only be a matter of time when almost nobody will be able to keep them. Even the most honest, reliable, and caretaking animal lover will be denied. It's up to you, and other reptile enthusiasts to be aware and responsible of the choices made when purchasing a new "pet".


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