By Erica Ramus

Editor/Publisher, Reptile & Amphibian Magazine

As snow storms and floods pummeled much of the country this past January, a deceitfully simple query appeared on the Internet's rec.pets.herp newsgroup: why breed reptiles in captivity?

"I used to believe that widespread captive herp breeding would lead to reduced importation of wild-caught animals," wrote the questioner, "[but] recent U.S. government data on reptile importation show that the opposite has occurred. Many wild populations ... cannot sustain this additional pressure from collecting. People all over the world who keep and breed reptiles and amphibians in captivity are not stopping to take in the big picture. Because they are having success, they do not contemplate the need to create self-sustaining [captive] populations ... Many believe they are doing some wonderful thing to 'save species.' Meanwhile, what they are doing is generating even more interest so more people want even more (and new and different kinds of) herps for pets or 'breeding stock.'"

Dozens of impassioned herpers answered ... mostly attacking the person who dared question captive breeding efforts. But the author--Frank Slavens--is not some newbie. Slavens is Curator of Reptiles at a Seattle zoo, and the author of Reptiles and Amphibians in Captivity: Breeding--Longevity, which is THE catalog for herp inventory and breeding data.

Slavens' point is not that captive breeding is the direct cause of the problem, but that captive breeding as it stands today is not enough. There are simply not enough herpetoculturists to supply the pet trade. And as herps become mainstream, the demand outweighs the supply, so more and more animals are imported to fill the gap. In 1994 the U.S. imported 70,000 Ball Pythons; as many as 15,000 breeding females would be needed to produce this number of hatchlings in one year and eliminate the need for imports. Breeders should work together to provide quality animals to hobbyists, with the ultimate goal of producing strong, self-sustaining captive populations.

Why breed reptiles? Because collecting and importing massive numbers of herps from the wild will slow down only when the captive-bred supply comes closer to meeting the pet trade's demand.

Erica Ramus



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