Reptiles as Pets
Owning a reptile is a fantastic pet option. Reptililian pets can be fun to have around – not to mention educational and awe inspiring.
We have a few reptile friends at the clinic like children’s pythons, tortoises, blue tongue lizards and geckos amongst others. We’ve noticed how they provide insight into mother-nature and make great friends – an attractive thing for lovers of these beauties.
There are a few necessary things to think about before owning a reptile. Having the necessary preparation is key to both finding and maintaining a great relationship with your new reptilian friend.
BEING A QUALIFIED, RESPONSIBLE REPTILE OWNER
In All States of Territories of Australia, it is THE LAW to obtain a permit to keep any species of native reptile. If you are found IN POSSESSION of such an animal without a permit you WILL ATTRACT SEVERE PENALTIES.
According to the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) all reptiles in NSW:
“... are protected under the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Act and it is against the law to take them from the wild or to have them in your possession without an appropriate licence from the DEC. Private people may keep native reptiles as pets under a licensing and record keeping system that allows the DEC to monitor what species are being kept, bred and traded amongst enthusiasts. A person who wishes to keep native reptiles may do so only if a Reptile Keepers Licence (RKL) is held by that person. It is against both State and Commonwealth law to keep species that are not native to Australia.”
Find out the NECESSARY UP TO DATE INFORMATION including specifics on RKL classifications (there are two major ones) and what those licences entitle you. It is also important to realise that owning a reptile is a considered purchase as they have specific needs. Being informed before purchasing is very important. Owning a reptile can be great - even better if you read up about it first.
GETTING A REPTILE
Commercial trade in reptiles is prohibited in NSW. Pet shops are not allowed to buy or sell reptiles or even to have them on their premises, but they can sell cages and other accessories such as "hot-rocks". Licenced keepers are allowed to dispose of their excess stock, such as the animals they breed, to other licence holders. However, they are not allowed to buy and sell animals as a commercial venture. They are also not allowed to advertise to buy or sell animals, except in the newsletters of the reptile keeper associations (called Herpetological associations) to which they personally belong.
There are commercial dealers in reptiles in Victoria, South Australia, the Northern Territory and ACT. If you purchase an animal from one of these dealers, or from anyone else in another state, you must already hold a NSW reptile keepers' licence and you must obtain an interstate import licence from the NPWS before you can legally bring it into NSW. Please be aware that unwell reptiles are difficult to spot due to their "preservation response" (further explained below) It is VITAL to know that a healthy reptile can only be obtained from an observant, caring and KNOWELEDGEABLE reptile keeper and not someone with a "She'll be right once you get 'em home" keeper who doesn't keep their stock in the appropriate manner.
HOUSING AND MAINTENANCE
Most reptiles require a small glass aquarium, 'cage furniture', such as branches from the natural habitat, a source of heat (like the hot rock mentioned above) and UV light amongst other things. We can fill you in on exactly what it is you’ll need to house a happy reptile. There are also groups and associations that you should join to keep up to date on day to day care, handling them and good reptile husbandry.
For example, an adequate environment key to a healthy reptile and there are some cost effective options out there. Inadequate housing is the second most common source of diseases and issues encountered by reptiles so read up on what your new pet will need as part of your research. It’s also important to keep tabs on humidity levels. Jungle dwellers need high humidity compared with dry climate species.
Also, like conventional pets, reptiles need regular attention to keep them content (i.e. food and water, good cage hygiene) but for reptiles it is especially necessary. It is very important to detect early signs of disease and injury and being a keen observer of your reptile (at least 15 minutes each day) will be helpful.
We can help out with the do’s and don’ts in terms of the all important diet too, but as mentioned, research in the beginning will get you in good step. Again, a sick reptile takes a an observant eye to spot so to remind you IT IS VITAL you keep your reptile in an appropriate environment and that you have a keen eye alongside us, your vets to give your new slithery, scaley one a great life.
CARING AT TIMES OF SICKNESS OR INJURY
Prospective owners need to know that reptiles are known to effectively hide signs of illness. This is called the "preservation response." If an animal in the wild showed signs of illness every time it felt bad, it could be attacked by predators or even members of its own group. That’s why they don't appear ill until the illness is actually quite advanced. Pet reptiles still retain this "wild" trait. It's very important to be up to date on diet and housing and to get in touch with us at the FIRST sign of illness. Delays in getting treatment could result in a deceased reptile before you knew anything is wrong. Early vet intervention is critical!
At some time while your reptile is well, a health examination is recommended. This gives us a chance to record normal body weight and scale health and other parameters. Later if health status changes, we can better recognise and measure these statistics.
N.B. Except in rare instances, reptillian pets usually don't act sick (or show any sign of it) until they are VERY ILL! The rule of thumb is, A Sick Reptile Is A Dying Reptile! Regular veterinary care and keeping informed and up to date will go a long way to reduce illness and death. There no substitute for hands on experience and an observant eye, so the more we keep up to date on reptile health and treatment, the healthier the relationship between reptile and owner.
Research, planning and preparation will get you ready for entry into to a fascinating and rewarding experience. It may seem a big undertaking at first glance however, keeping a reptile will provide a great return your investment many times over. Your decision to own an exotic beauty could contribute to the ever growing knowledge base we have of these special creatures.
Important links and Info sources for the all important research:
Wildlife Licensing and Management unit on (02) 9585 6406 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for enquiries