Today Im going to answer a loaded question from a viewer. The question is: “TC do you support people keeping wild caught blue tongue skinks as pets?”
How about we dig even deeper...Is buying wild caught animals for pets good or bad? What is a conservationist’s perspective about our practices as a community? Do you and I, individual keepers, have power to affect the changes? Let’s answer these questions today.
Welcome to ReptileMountain.TV a channel dedicated to evidence based reptile keeping where opinion is not fact. I’m TC Houston a former professional AZA zookeeper and current small batch reptile breeder dedicated to providing quality information to the global reptile community. If you are new be sure to hit, smash, or click depending our your style that subscribe button and bell so you don’t miss an upload. And if you’re not new and still haven’t subscribed...well ahem…(Smile big) Before we start please check out my newest sponsor Healthy Herp Instant Meals. Seriously guys...this stuff is aaaamazing! I use it as part of my berber skink, gidgee skink, blue tongue, and tortoise diets now. This company is a commercial AZA member and this is a fantastic option for natural nutritional food for your reptile. Check out their link in the description.
This subject is controversial. Even though many animal lovers may think otherwise. Taking a position for or against wild collection of animals can very seriously alienate one’s self and or alienate colleagues, friends, fans, and even potential customers.
You know guys many folks online are for whatever reason too shy, timid, or not confident enough to actually take a stance on anything. They just want to please everyone. That is not me, I am keenly aware that pleasing everyone is impossible. Many of you who’ve been watching from the beginning know that I am not a windsock who blows whichever way the wind blows. I am a professional and I believe wholeheartedly that self awareness and conviction are virtues of honor and respect. Therefore, I acknowledge that what I may say today might offend and might be disagreeable to some. I won’t apologize for that. Instead, I will say that I honor anyone and everyone’s right to respectfully agree or disagree and I refuse to hate anyone for their honestly held convictions. And at the same time I’m not obligated to condone behaviors I don’t agree with and neither is anyone else.
I am also very aware that many of my viewers, that's you all...own wild caught skinks. Im not here to condemn anyone who owns a wild caught skink. I even have six wild caught animals in my collection. 3 are in a breeding program to create a cbb population, 2 are rehabilitations/surrenders and one has been my pet for 29 years and I got it before I knew better. So It would be pretty hypocritical of me to condemn someone for keeping wild caught animals meanwhile keeping wild caught animals myself.
Thus this video is about future choices not past choices. What’s done is done. Today we’re talking about what is to be...
In full disclosure, I am a conservationist not a preservationist nor a consumerist . So you will hear my biases come through today. What is the difference? Preservation means leave it alone and don’t touch, manipulate, or use it...period. Preservationists say no more wild collecting of anything...ever...no more catching them for photos in the wild...ever...just don’t touch…. Many academic and professional zoologists and herpetologists start out or think they are conservationists but really they are or may become more bent toward preservationists over time because they really just want nature to stay as is. Which is totally understandable but considerably unrealistic which is why I don’t fully agree with the preservationist ideals. You will almost never see a true preservationist keeping reptiles as pets. Ever.
On the opposite end. A consumerist says as long as it exists, whatever “it” is, it then take it, kill it, or exploit it... there’s plenty more where that came from (they will say this even if there ins’t plenty more). The dodo, the tasmanian tiger, the northern white rhino (which just went extinct in the wild last year). Are all the result of the consumerist mindset. A consumerist reptile keeper is going to be the person who buys or catches an animal for a pet only to keep it until it dies and then goes and gets another, and another and another never trying to make any effort to improve captive care or sustainability. There are also consumerist links in the chain such as reptile shops and importer/vendors who knowingly sell wild collected animals to inexperienced keepers fully aware the animals will not be contributing to a captive bred situation.
Now a Conservationist, like myself, will say something like this, “use it, whatever natural resource ‘it’ might be, use it wisely with the ultimate goal of sustainability.” For the conservationist the idea is to enjoy the resource but always always always with the mindset that sustainability must take precedence over usage.
In super simple terms... the preservationist says, don’t touch ever. The conservationist says, use sustainably. The consumerist says, take it all.
To answer the big question. Do I support wild collected reptiles for pet only purposes? No. I do not. Do I believe then that all keeprs must be breeders. Umm no. Heck no. I do believe that our goal should be to make all pet only animals captive bred. I’m a conservationist. I do not see the wild as a source of pets. I see that if possible we can use the wild as a source of breeding stock that will in turn be a source of pets. That is a more sustainable ideal. Just because we want it because its, pretty, sparkly, shiny, pokey, funky, unique, or fun doesn’t mean we should just take it for ourselves.
Today I stand in the position that a true conservationist does not and will not support the commercial collection of wild animals for pets that are not going to be used with the intent to establish captive bred populations (this is of course excluding rehabilitations and rescues used in educational programs). That means if the animal was commercially collected and sold for the sole purpose to be little Suzie’s or little johnny’s pet that goes against legitimate conservation and is actually the equivalent or even worse than simply killing it for sport in the wild. If it were killed and left for dead in the wild it’s body could still contribute to the ecology of that environment as maybe food for another animal or decompose and nourish the soil but robbing it fully from the wild just for our pleasure with no sustainability plan is not conservation that is pure consumption.
As for skinks that means most (not all but most) of those Indonesian, Halmahera, Merauke, Tanimbar, Kei Island, and Irian Jaya blue tongues that pop up at most expos, you know the ones incorrectly labeled as captive bred Northerns by joe schmo who Imported them 5 minutes prior to the show opening. He’s that guy who doesn’t even know what species is what and sells them nice and cheap to unsuspecting buyers. Those skinks are mostly going to end up in single skink homes to either die after a few months to years, be passed around craigslist and then die, or dumped on a knowledgeable keeper as a rescue. Again not always but most of the time.
Again, I’m not here to bash anyone and I know that the vast majority of my amazing viewers have wild collected Halaheras, Meraukes, Tanimbars, Kei Islands, or Irian Jayas. I’m not saying anyone who has one is bad in any way shape or form. Being a single skink home isn’t a bad thing at all. But taking an animal from the wild to do so...what's done is done...I will not condem...however going forward we should stop doing that immediately.
I’m saying we, we ALL together have a systemic problem. A cultural problem. We as a whole are getting better yes. But it's not enough. We have a consumerist culture excused by false conservationists delusions. This drives a wedge between herpers and many professional conservationists and ecologists. It’s our failure to address these consumerist tendencies that perpetuates the divide. Here are two excuses that consumerists use to justify the exploitation of the wild.
Number One! They say All Captive Bred animals are originally from wild collected animals. Therefore, speaking against wild collected animals is hypocritical. Okay I fully acknowledge that all animals in captivity are either from the wild or descendants of animals taken from the wild. Duh. But here is the problem. Advocates for wild collection sometimes use this argument as a means to disallow for change. I will say that just because it WAS done doesn’t mean is SHOULD or NEEDS to continue.
Yes all captive species have origins from the wild but that shouldn’t remain the goal. Mother Nature should not be our inventory supplier!
Number Two, another misused excuse for wildlife exploitation is…. “But the captive population needs fresh genetics to prevent inbreeding.”
Yes, people have said that buying a pet that they don’t intend to breed somehow is okay because of “fresh genetics.” Heck even having loose intent to breed maybe someday isn’t good enough. That’s no better than planning to maybe win the lottery because you bought a ticket. Usually, though the folks who use this misguided excuse the most are the reptile shop owners or importer/venders who will say something like this, “hey I’m adding fresh genetics. What folks do with it is up to them.” To some extent I agree. However, we know that the vast majority of wild caught skinks do not end up in the hands of potential breeders but rather single skink pet owners. We know this. In fact it is reasonable to derive such a conclusion. Therefore, I would say to the shop owners and importers, why don’t you breed them yourself and ensure certainty comes into the equation. Sending them down the line is a passive form of wildlife exploitation. We all know it. Why do you do it?
Still, I support adding fresh blood to breeding programs when required. Heck I’ve contributed to that very concept with many different species over the years. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m not against wild collected animals (that aren’t endangered of course) being taken to be used for BREEDING PROGRAMS. Its for pet only purposes that it becomes a different scenario.
Anyway as I said earlier, the problem is that somehow along the way, people legitimize taking them for pet only purposes by stating “fresh blood.” News flash...it's not fresh blood if you don’t actually breed it.
So I acknowledge that wild collected animals are usually cheaper and many times cheap animals are the gateway for new keepers to learn and develop their skills in this hobby. And the back when I first started nearly everything was wild caught and we have to start somewhere. Yet, this is 2019 not 1989 or 79 or even 1949. We are not starting anymore.
I acknowledge that sometimes the impact on the ecology seem minute...That very same thought was thought about most of the extinct species we’ve watched disappear in the last few years. I acknowledge that as a whole humanity takes the path of least resistance aka the easy button and taking from the wild is the easy way and if we can take them then why not? Well, as Ian Malcum in Jurassic Park said, ……….didn’t stop to think if they should.
Reptile Mountain is evidence-based, CAPTIVE BRED, and animal focused for a reason. I do not and will not support or contribute to the wild collection of animals for pet only purposes. Its been a tenant on my guidelines of operation on my website since day one.
In the end, my recommendation to anyone who wishes to be a responsible conservationist, who truly loves nature and wildlife would be to either buy captive bred animals only or use wild caught animals to produce captive bred offspring. The goal is sustainability.
So you and I as individual keepers do have the ability to begin enforcing change. We can choose to abstain from buying wild caught animals and wait until captive bred ones are available. We can also choose to attempt to breed and produce captive bred animals and thus combat the wild collected market with captive bred options. And of course we can keep this conversation going within our own circles of influence so that more people can see the difference.
Any how guys, if you made it this far give yourself a high five! You did it. Thanks for putting up with this difficult video and this difficult topic. I felt it needed to be said for so many reasons. I appreciate you and I hope you have a wonderful day.
Thank you all for watching. And thank you patrons for being such amazing supporters. Go check out this video right now there and as always remember opinion is not fact.