28 June 2002
FLAMING JUNE. Well, not exactly, but it's been quite hot at times here in the UK. In the northern hemisphere (at least outside the tropics and deserts) the breeding season will have finished for many herptiles, although some species do breed throughout the year. In Australia, by contrast, some will be having their winter cooling period, an activity (or inactivity) that often helps with spermatogenesis. If you are intent on breeding your animals, check to see whether they do have this period of inactivity (if not hibernation) in the wild. Some animals simply will not breed without it.
Mr Elliott Morley (the Animal Welfare Minister) and DEFRA have recently put forward proposals to speed up the phasing-out of battery hen farming. Contrary to what is probably believed by the more extreme animal rights lobby, those of us who do keep reptiles, amphibians and other exotics are in favour of a decent life for animals: after all, those of us who are responsible keepers know that unless a captive animal is housed in a stress-free environment with as much freedom to exhibit normal behaviour as possible, then it will not thrive and will probably die. Of course, the case is somewhat different for battery hens: they are kept not as pets but as egg-layers, whose output is to be maximised as much as possible. I am not an advocate of animal rights, but I do personally believe that battery hen farming (and its counterpart in the often overcrowded pig farms in some parts of the West) is unnatural and could be considered cruel, and therefore I try to buy free-range eggs and chicken. However, there is no privilege without responsibility, and if people want free-range eggs and chicken, they should be prepared to pay the extra cost. Despite the glib assurances by one animal rights spokesman that animal rights does not mean infringing on human rights, it is clear that (as always in the real world) there is a price to be paid for everything. Often the acceptance of a measure depends on how much it is going to cost. The public may be indifferent to the livelihoods of battery hen farmers and their workers, but the true test is whether people are willing to pay for increased costs to put meat on their table.
Herp keepers of course have a similar choice. We say it is always better to buy captive-bred, but do we put our wallets where our mouths are? Are we willing to pay extra - sometimes considerably more - for an animal that is certifiably captive bred? Recently I happened to overhear a conversation in a pet shop between an employee and a couple who wanted to buy a tortoise. When they were told that the tortoise cost something in the region of over £200, they were astonished. "But we can get one in Italy for £20," the woman claimed. The employee patiently pointed out that the £200-plus covered the cost of rearing a captive-bred tortoise from birth for months if not years. When they had gone we discussed this and agreed that while you might be able to pick up a wild tortoise in Italy for £20, which was the better buy, both ethically and practically? Also, as somebody said, "That which we receive cheaply, we esteem lightly."
Since the last editorial we have been able to update our species accounts quite a bit. Work on the Lacertidae has been continuing apace, especially on those obscure African species, but our main achievement within the last month or so has been to add the promised section on boas and their relatives. While some details need to be added, we have got the bulk in place. At the same time we completed updated and revised the python pages, which are now broken down in the same way as our other reptile and amphibian species, ie by genera and species rather than common name. We also updated the Diplodactylus geckos (a large Australian genus) and added a couple of other genera. In the near future we are hoping to put up at least the bare details of some amphibian species, both tailed and non-tailed. Another project I hope to undertake in the near future is the updating of the Gerrhosaurus pages with some more species detail. These often underrated lizards make excellent pet reptiles and become quite tame and trusting.
Thanks again to everyone who has sent us E-mails recently. If for any reason I haven't replied to you, please let us know and I will try to do so again.
May 2000 (II)
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