Reptiles, Wildlife and Other Exotics in Animal Shelters
Photo: Gilbert, an adult male Green Iguana (Iguana iguana) that shared our home for more than 10 years.
When it comes to animals in animal shelters, few have it tougher than the reptiles, wildlife or other exotics, because the fact of the matter is that none of these animals are domesticated. All of them are wild animals. And, all of them will behave as wild animals during their lives. Expecting differently of them would be absurd. And, when I say that, I should emphasize the fact that "tame" and "domesticated" are not the same thing. Taming is a process you can do with a specific animal. Domestication is something that happens to a species over many thousands of years. A tame but non-domesticated animal is almost certain to express its innate wild nature at some point. Expecting otherwise would be ridiculous, which is why selling baby reptiles at commercial pet stores, as pets for children, is also ridiculous and a set up for pain and suffering for the buyers of these animals, and for the animals being sold. Therefore, when reptiles, wildlife or exotics come into animal shelters, the shelters are dealing with something entirely different than the normal dog or cat. These animals have to be thought about differently as a result.
Case in point: Green Iguanas (Iguana iguana), also known as one of the largest lizards in the Americas, with large males achieving total lengths of between six and seven feet. In spite of the fact that they are herbivorous (generally), they also have very powerful jaws and razor-sharp teeth. The most severe bite I got from an Iguana shattered multiple bones and sliced a lot of flesh and resulted in permanent dis-figuration of my right hand, as well as a trip to the nearest hospital emergency room. And, it was not as though I could blame the iguana who did that. In the not-so-"Disney" reality that is the world of reptiles and exotics, that iguana's behavior was perfectly understandable and within normal bounds for his species. I understood that at the time and still chose to keep "Gilbert" the large, powerful iguana that mauled my hand (and that periodically attacked me and others) in my life, while doing what I could to manage all of that.
But, the fact of the matter is that few people who buy iguanas understand the full scope of their normal behavior. Most of them are not informed and stumble into a local Petco store and see a cute, little hatching iguana for sale. These, and other baby exotic reptiles and wildlife, are generally marketed as pets for young kids, because, you know, selling a baby lizard that will quickly grow (if cared for properly) into a six to seven-foot long animal with an attitude, razor-sharp teeth and powerful jaws is somehow a good idea?
Why, exactly, are major pet stores, like Petco and PetSmart suddenly selling these animals, after nearly 20 years of not doing so? I'll get into that in another post. But, note that the Petco iguana care sheet (which includes only a photo of a small hatchling iguana) does say ""Males may become territorial." Unfortunately, they do not describe what it means when a 7-foot-long male iguana "becomes territorial."
They do not bother to ponder whether an animal like that is an appropriate pet for a 12-year-old. Nor, do they bother to talk about the many documented problems associated with the "iguana farms" from which they purchase their "stock," and the habitat destruction and animal cruelty results from that (more on that in another post).
Suffice it to say in this post that the problem of reptiles, wildlife and exotics in animal shelters is 100% a function of the for-profit pet industry; and, I believe, therefore, that the responsibility and cost of dealing with it should be put back on that industry. As a result, No Kill Learning's official policy relating to reptiles, wildlife or exotics should be this: Instruct the buyers of those animals to return them to the commercial entities from which they were purchased.
We are pretty sure that if people begin returning their adult male iguanas to Petco during breeding season, Petco will once again stop selling them.