Should Exotic Reptiles Be Sold as Pets?


A boy holds a pet bearded dragon, which is native to Australia.

Not everyone has to take a trip to the zoo to see unusual lizards, snakes, and frogs. Millions of people in the United States keep exotic reptiles and amphibians as pets. The term “exotic pets” describes animals, usually from other countries, that haven’t been domesticated.

Cities and states make their own laws about which animals people can keep as pets. In New York City, for example, residents aren’t allowed to own many types of exotic lizards or big snakes like pythons and anacondas.

Many people argue that owners often don’t know how to properly care for exotic pets. Most reptiles and amphibians from warmer climates need heat lamps that have to be closely monitored. Others, especially big snakes, require expensive large tanks or cages. Many of these animals suffer in their new homes. A study released in October by researchers at the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics in England found that 75 percent of pet reptiles and amphibians die in their first year. 

However, other people say there are many positives to keeping exotic reptiles and amphibians as pets. For one thing, most of them make less of a mess and need less space than dogs and cats do. Frank Pasmans is a veterinarian and professor at Ghent University in Belgium. He says responsible people who understand what they’re getting into should be allowed to own reptiles and amphibians. 

“If you allow people to keep dogs or cats, you can also allow people to keep reptiles and amphibians,” he says.

Here’s what two of our readers think.

Many amphibians and reptiles make great pets.

An exotic amphibian or reptile can be a good pet choice for families who can’t have dogs or cats. My mom is allergic to fur, but our family really wanted a pet, so we got a type of snake called a ball python. Owning my python is easier than having a pet cat or dog. For example, it needs to be fed only once every three to four weeks.

My ball python has taught me responsibility, because I must control the temperature in its cage. I’m also responsible for feeding it. People can learn a lot about reptiles and amphibians by keeping them as pets. Owners might even get inspired to help these animals in the wild.

Reptiles and amphibians should stay in the wild.

Many people buy amphibians and reptiles without first researching how to take care of them. Pet owners might get frustrated because they don’t know what their pets need. As a result, some people have released their pets into the wild. That can cause problems with local food chains, spread harmful diseases, and damage ecosystems. 

Also, wildlife experts point out that some reptiles and amphibians that are sold online have been illegally captured  from the wild in other countries. Many conservationists fear that selling these animals as pets could cause them to become endangered in the wild.

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