HSUS calls for ban on reptiles as pets


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

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

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

The report, Reptiles as Pets: An Examination of the Trade in LiveReptiles in the United States, documents the $2-billion-a-year industryand cites health threats to humans, wildlife and agricultural animals, aswell 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 contaminatethe animal's skin, enclosure and virtually any surface with which it comesinto contact. The National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issueda 1999 report stating that reptile-related salmonellosis posed a significantthreat to human health. More than 93,000 cases of reptile-related salmonellosisoccur each year and the number has risen as reptiles have gained in popularity.Particularly at risk are young children, people with weakened immune systemsand pregnant women.

Health Hazard to Domestic Livestock, Wildlife-In March 2000, theUnited States Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued an emergency ban onthe importation of three species of African Tortoise known to carry speciesof ticks that harbor bacteria that cause heartwater disease. If the degenerativewasting 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 between40 and 100 percent. There is currently no quarantine period for importedreptiles.

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

Humane Concerns-the report states reptiles are among the mostinhumanely treated animals in the pet trade. Because they are cheap andeasily replaceable, dealers, particularly those trading in wild-caught reptiles,factor huge mortality into their operating costs. An estimated 90 percentof 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 containedone 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 increasesince 1998.

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

Adding to the problem are the misleading claims by the pet industry tothe public about the appropriateness of reptiles as pets; reptiles are marketedas 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. "Theyare hard to care for and often require specialized diets and environments."

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

"We have issued this report as a means of alerting the Americanpublic to the dangers of owning live reptiles as pets and we have urgedthe Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Health and HumanServices to end reptile sales for the sake of public health," saysTelecky.

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

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