Position Statement on the Ownership of Amphibians and Reptiles as Pets
(Approved by the ARAV Exec. Committee – July 29, 2014)
Herpetology is a branch of biology concerned with the study of the Amphibia (approximately 6700 species: frogs, toads, salamanders, newts, and caecilians) and Reptilia (approximately 9000 species: turtles and tortoises, crocodilians, tuatara, lizards, and snakes). The vernacular term “herps” is commonly used when referring to these animals. Of the two groups, the earliest records of captive reptiles date back to approximately 25oo BC at the Saqqara cemetery near Memphis in Egypt which features pictographs and hieroglyphs of cobras and crocodiles.
In the United States amphibians and reptiles gained popularity as pets following World War II due to the growing economy and more leisure time. Since the late 1950s, the presence of herps in captivity has steadily increased along with a shift more recently from wild caught to captive bred animals, as husbandry and reproductive requirements were better understood. Captive bred animals fare much better and live far longer than their wild counterparts. Those that are captive bred will hopefully replace all wild caught animals in the pet trade.
The Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians (ARAV) is a professional organization promoting conservation and humane treatment of all reptilian and amphibian species through education, captive breeding, and habitat preservation. Members are dedicated to the advancement of veterinary medicine and surgery, preventative medicine, husbandry, and scientific research pertaining to the reproduction and the conservation of reptiles and amphibians, both in the wild and captivity. Scientific information is disseminated through annual meetings of the ARAV and through the Journal of Herpetological Medicine and Surgery, the official publication of the Association. Many members have been pet owners of herps since childhood and this hobby was a major factor that influenced their career paths.
Herps as Pets
Today, herps are kept in captivity as display animals in zoological institutions, for educational purposes, for conservation projects, by private owner, and by breeders who are producing animals for sale in the pet trade. Each practice has value which translates into the persistence of many species that otherwise would disappear. Given this value, it is the position of the ARAV that many reptiles and amphibians are suitable as pets and can be bred in captivity without causing harm, and in fact promoting their wellbeing and the well-being of their owners, the community, and conservation.
It is the position of ARAV that the hobbyist and pet owner should seek out and prefer captive bred herps so they eventually replace those wild caught animals that are still being sold in the pet trade. Like most pets including dogs and cats, herps can harbor zoonotic infections including salmonella, so we recommend good hygiene practices be utilized when handling herps. Many amphibians and reptiles are small and benign, and easily adapt to captive conditions. However, some species such as the largest snake species, venomous snakes and lizards, and crocodilians do present a moderate occupational risk and accordingly, most states either require special permitting or do not allow such animals to be kept by the private owner. State rules and regulations are constantly changing and it is the obligation of pet owners to follow local, state, and federal regulations affecting the ownership and sale of these animals.