It is estimated that the UK reptile market has doubled in value since 2010, and is worth approximately £250 million. As a nation we seem to love having scaly companions as the number of us keeping leopard geckos, bearded dragons and corn snakes have shot up drastically in the past few years. REPTA (Reptile & Exotic Pet Trade Association) have even gone as far to say that the reptile and amphibian population now exceeds eight million in Britain.
Although many people find great enjoyment in owning a snake or a tortoise, some vegans do not agree with the principle of keeping a reptile as a pet because some species require a diet of specially bred mice and rats which are euthanised and frozen for consumption. Species that eat insects get through a staggering 25,000,000 crickets and 10,000,000 locusts a week, as well as two tonnes of mealworms.
“Keeping a reptile means that you’re contributing to the deaths of many other animals,” says Eadaoin Flynn, a vegan from Slovakia. She says that she has heard of people donating unwanted baby animals to feed a neighbour’s snake because it is easier for them to do that than rehome the animal in her country. Although she adds that she does feed her cat meat, “so maybe feeding reptiles is not so different.”
Many people are under the impression that reptiles are stolen from the wild, but in the UK 90% of reptiles sold are bred in captivity. Animals that do come from the wild are regulated by the European Union, which ensures that the reptiles are sourced and captured ethically and protects endangered species from over-exploitation. Traders in the industry chose certain types of reptile because they are known to be able to withstand the stress of capture and transit. It’s not to say that all animals will survive this process as the mortality on arrival rate is around 0.47%.
Jason Miller, manager of specialist pet shop Retiles Plus, has worked with reptiles for 17 years and says that there shouldn’t technically be much difference in the lives of reptiles which are kept as pets compared to those that live in the wild. With the help of technology it is very much possible to create an environment in captivity which replicates the wild, providing you have the correct lighting and heating.
But not all reptile owners get their animal directly from the trade, Jasmine Ivory, vegan student at Nottingham Trent found her corn snake, Nagini, advertised for free in a local shop. Although she does not agree with taking reptiles from the wild, she sees no problem in rehoming reptiles if they need a new home. Jasmine makes sure Nagini has a happy and interesting life. “Some people worry that their snakes won’t be happy in their vivarium but I always make sure I change Nagini’s around and get her some new logs and foliage,” she says. Jasmine also makes sure that she handles Nagini regularly. “She loves adventuring in the sleeves of my clothes, especially my dressing gown and sometimes even has a nap in there.”
However owning a reptile isn’t for everyone, RSPCA Reptile Rescue received 374 reptiles last year – that’s about one for every day of the year. Head of the Rescue Keith Simpson-Wells says that people often don’t realise how long reptiles live, so when children get a reptile as a pet when they are younger, by the time they have grown up and left home, it’s the parents who are left with the animal. If somebody doesn’t know what to do with an unwanted reptile they’ll call the Rescue who will take the animal in for any time up to a month and make sure they are healthy and up to a certain weight. To avoid having to be in this situation Keith suggests thoroughly researching reptiles before you buy them, look on the internet and speak to someone who has one so you can see if a reptile is for you.
One story that had a happy ending was when Melissa Bovett-Dorrington took on her horsefield tortoise Yoda because his owner did not know how to look after him properly. Now Yoda has a five star tortoise table and a whole spare room to play in. Melissa also makes sure he has health checks twice a year and he gets his own order of organic veggies from Abel and Cole once a week – only the best will do for a tortoise who is named after the most powerful Jedi Master in the Star Wars universe.
Vegans and non-vegans alike seem to be benefitting from the rising trend in reptiles, whereas some are making profit from the trade, others are doing the virtuous job of rehoming and caring for the scaly critters who get left behind. Whether you agree with the trade or not, it’s safe to say that there will always be loving homes for the animals that need them.
Featured image credit: Reptiles Plus