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HSUS calls for ban on reptiles as pets

Nov 01, 2001
By dvm360.com staff

Washington-The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has released a report that advises against keeping reptiles as pets.

The organization has also called on the Food and Drug Administration to ban the sale of live reptiles as pets in the United States.

The report, Reptiles as Pets: An Examination of the Trade in Live Reptiles in the United States, documents the $2-billion-a-year industry and cites health threats to humans, wildlife and agricultural animals, as well as conservation and humane concerns, as reasons for opposing the trade.

Among the reports findings:

Human Health Hazards: All reptiles carry salmonella bacteria. The bacteria, according to the report, shed in the feces, can contaminate the animal's skin, enclosure and virtually any surface with which it comes into contact. The National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a 1999 report stating that reptile-related salmonellosis posed a significant threat to human health. More than 93,000 cases of reptile-related salmonellosis occur each year and the number has risen as reptiles have gained in popularity. Particularly at risk are young children, people with weakened immune systems and pregnant women.

Health Hazard to Domestic Livestock, Wildlife-In March 2000, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued an emergency ban on the importation of three species of African Tortoise known to carry species of ticks that harbor bacteria that cause heartwater disease. If the degenerative wasting disease of ruminants was to become established in the United States, the USDA estimates that mortality rates of livestock (cattle, sheep, goats) and wildlife (deer, bison, antelope) could be expected to reach between 40 and 100 percent. There is currently no quarantine period for imported reptiles.

Conservation Concerns-the wild-caught reptile trade and the trade in ranched or farmed reptiles, pose threats to wild populations. Among these are over collection, habitat destruction, exotic species introduced into the wild to compete for food, smuggling of rare reptiles.

Humane Concerns-the report states reptiles are among the most inhumanely treated animals in the pet trade. Because they are cheap and easily replaceable, dealers, particularly those trading in wild-caught reptiles, factor huge mortality into their operating costs. An estimated 90 percent of all wild-caught reptiles are dead within the first year of captivity.

Domestically, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturing Association (APPMA), almost four million households in the United States in 2000 contained one or more pet reptiles or amphibians, a 44 percent increase since 1998. About nine million reptiles and amphibians (collectively known as "herps") were kept as pets in the United States in 2000, a more than 10 percent increase since 1998.

According to the APPMA, the most popular pets are turtles, Forty six percent of herp-owning household in the U.S. have one or more turtles followed by snakes (22 percent), iguanas (18 percent) and lizards (17 percent)

Adding to the problem are the misleading claims by the pet industry to the public about the appropriateness of reptiles as pets; reptiles are marketed as easier to care for than dogs and cats, according to Dr. Teresa Telecky, co-author of the report.

"The reality is that reptiles do not make good pets, she says. "They are hard to care for and often require specialized diets and environments."

She says 90 percent first-year mortality figures are proof that the general public often has little concept of just how difficult it is to raise and care for reptiles.

"We have issued this report as a means of alerting the American public to the dangers of owning live reptiles as pets and we have urged the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to end reptile sales for the sake of public health," says Telecky.

For more information on the reptile trade, contact the HSUS on the Web at www.hsus.org and www.animalchannel.net.