Added 17 November 2004.


or, what to do when things go wrong


Few people in life are immune to change, and that includes herpetologists, both amateur and professional. It is however the amateurs I am addressing in this section.

Life's circumstances change. We leave home and go to university, college or the armed forces, or we get married. Sometimes our job takes us a long way from one location to another, even abroad in some cases (not unusual in these days of globalisation). All of these scenarios can affect the hobby of keeping reptiles and amphibians. The most common, and often annoying if not distressing, is however a sudden reduction in economic status - to put it bluntly, the loss of earning power, usually through loss of one's job. This short page attempts to address these problems.


"An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure", so the saying goes. One cannot prevent life changes, and it would be foolish in many cases to attempt to do so: an 18-year old should not resolve to live at home with their parents for the rest of their natural lives, for example, unless there is really a compelling reason to do so (an only child with two severely disabled parents, perhaps). You can however make it easier for yourself to cope with life changes by taking certain steps to ensure that you, and your herps, can meet them.

Emergency measures

Let's now assume that the worst has happened: you've lost your job and the prospects of immediate paid employment are not good. A less draconian but more long-term case might be the sudden arrival of twins, necessitating converting a room from a herp room into a children's bedroom and the spending of once disposable income on the next generation. What should you do?

The first part is to assess how much you need a week, on average, to feed and maintain your herps. If it is obviously a figure you are not going to be able to meet, work out how many of them could be maintained on an affordable amount.

It is the second part that is tricky, not to say sometimes tough or even heartbreaking. That is to work out what to do with the ones you cannot keep. Right away let me say that I know how this feels, and to be pained by the prospect of this is not sentimentality. What is foolish or sentimental, however, is to try and hang on to animals that you know you cannot afford to keep properly. Although reptiles and amphibians have a much lower food intake than mammals, they do still need feeding and other necessities, and to watch them gradually decline over a period of time will only cause further distress to any decent keeper. To love someone (or something, however you view your animals) is to want the best for them, and in this case this may mean finding them another home where they can be looked after well.

What you must emphatically NOT do is to release any herps you cannot keep into the wild. There are three very compelling reasons for this. Firstly, for many reptiles, release into a cooler environment than they originate from will usually mean a slow and lingering decline and death. This has happened with some tropical species that were shamefully discarded by owners, and such people should not count on other members of the public finding them in time to save them. Any herp released into a non-native environment in this way, particularly in the West, is also at risk from cats, dogs and foxes (in the UK) or other native predators (elsewhere). Secondly, those released non-native herps that do survive can become a serious pest themselves. The green iguanas that have formed feral colonies in Florida may not have done much damage, but red-eared sliders (terrapins) that have been dumped in ponds around the world, from Europe to South Africa to Japan, are considered a menace to local wildlife even if they do not breed. Thirdly, for both the previous reasons cited, such action is considered unlawful (not to mention unethical) and if traced back to you will be punished with a heavy fine, possible imprisonment and maybe a criminal record - not to mention having society's opprobrium dumped on your head.

Okay, so what CAN you do?

There are in fact several options for finding new homes for animals you can no longer keep.

In the case of a large collection of animals a combination of the above avenues may be necessary.

There is obviously an emotional cost to the keeper of parting with an animal or animals, but what about the animals themselves? DeVosjoli relates the tale of a green iguana who died a week after being rehomed in a pet shop, with apparently no signs of external illness. It is hard to make any definite rules in this area, but igs are certainly intelligent compared with other reptiles and may therefore suffer more from being relocated in this manner. I would suspect that overall, chelonians and lizards are the most sensitive in this area, followed by snakes. Most amphibians probably do not care as long as their environment is correct, although the more intelligent such as Tiger- or Fire Salamanders may notice if they have been used to interaction with their owners. Another possible rule is that small herps which do not allow hands-on interaction are less phased by rehoming than large herps which do. Obviously if you suspect there will be a certain amount of negative psychological impact on an animal, then finding a friendly keeper immediately will be better for it than being placed in a pet shop.

"Do unto others..."

Finally, circumstances do change, as mentioned at the beginning of this article. It may be that in ten years time you are in a position to help others. If you are, consider adopting a sanctuary animal, offering it a home or else taking on an animal from someone else who can through no fault of their own no longer keep it.

It may not be the most sought-after species, nor the most attractive, nor the "sexiest", but if you can do this without overburdening yourself, then you will have done a good deed indeed.


DeVosjoli, The Lizard Keeper's Handbook, has a page on this subject to which I owe a debt.

The article in Reptile Hobbyist 3:8, "A cage in every corner - and a herp in every cage" addresses the dangers of overexpansion in a herp collection.

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