Reptiles in Captivity

Introduction

The keeping of reptiles in captivity is not encouraged by the Department. All reptiles have evolved as part of an ecosystem and are vital to the overall health of the ecosystem. They are best left alone or observed in their natural habitat. Besides, reptiles do not make particularly good pets. They are not affectionate animals, neither are they warm or furry.

Collecting reptiles from the wild can lead to habitat destruction, stress to the animal, the mixing of otherwise genetically isolated populations and the spread of diseases. Larger individuals of some species are often extremely important in the local ecology and their removal can throw ecosystems out of balance.

There are, however, opportunities for amateur herpetologists to make important contributions to our knowledge of Tasmanian reptiles and amphibians. Observations made on captive animals may be applied to assist in the conservation of these species in the wild. If the code of practice is adhered to and reptile keepers accept their responsibilities toward their charges, there is no reason that herpetologists should not be able to pursue their interests toward the benefit of herpetology in Tasmania.

Recently laws have been introduced to protect all species of reptile in Tasmania, bringing the island state in line with mainland Australian states. Tasmania recognises the important contributions that amateur hepetologists can make (and have made) to our knowledge of reptiles.

It is a fairly straightforward process for anybody to obtain a herptology permit to keep a number of Tasmanian reptiles and frogs in captivity, provided they do this within the terms of the permit. One of the conditions of the permit is compliance with the code of practice, which has been drawn up in consultation with amateur herpetological groups in Tasmania to encourage responsible keeping practices.

For further information about the laws in place regarding keeping reptiles in Tasmania and your responsibilities see Herpetology in Tasmania.

Notes on captive husbandry of Tasmanian reptiles are also available from the Wildlife Management Branch. A copy of these notes are sent out with every Herpetology Permit.

Tasmania has a long standing policy not to allow the import or export of reptiles to and from the State except under permit for scientific research or for zoological display. The exporting of any Australian species of reptile is illegal under federal law.

The movement of wildlife outside of their natural habitat endangers vulnerable populations, spreads diseases, and can have catastrophic environmental consequences. For example, a fungal disease which is killing Tasmanian platypus has recently been linked to the importation of Green Tree Frogs to Tasmania. Some diseases have long incubation periods and an animal that appears healthy can be a potential time bomb amongst a collection or population of reptiles.

The illegal export or import of wildlife (smuggling) is a serious threat to many vulnerable or localised animal populations. Many animals die en route and the market is usually for collectors who have more concern for their own prestige than for the welfare of the animal. If you know of any organisations or individuals involved in such activities in Australia, call Customs Watch on 1800 06 1800.

While not as demanding as mammals, reptiles do have particular requirements in captivity.

Housing

Housing requirements for reptiles vary between species, but all reptiles share some basic requirements. Reptile enclosures need to be kept clean and dry, so it is important to have a design that can be easily maintained. It is important that enclosures are secure not only to prevent the escape of the captive animals but to prevent pets and children from getting in. Security is obviously extremely important with snakes. An escaped snake turning up in your neighbour's house is unlikely to endear them to you or make them feel sympathetic towards your unusual hobby. A secure, well ventilated, easily maintained enclosure is best.

It is important that reptiles have access to a warm area and a cool area that they can move between to be able to maintain their preferred body temperature. Be aware that a glass enclosure left in the sun will very rapidly heat up above the temperature of the rest of the room. Be careful when considering where to put such an enclosure. In the wild many species of Tasmanian reptile enter a torpor during the colder months, during which time any prolonged disturbance such as unnecessary handling can lead to sickness as the reptile burns up energy reserves. If reptiles get too cold, they are unable to digest food. It is best to keep Tasmanian species in conditions that allow them to shut down over winter. This may make them rather boring "pets" but reptiles are not generally affectionate anyhow. If you tend to have a roaring fire at night in the same room that you keep your reptiles, their metabolism will speed up and they will require food.

Many reptile species are naturally timid and need to have access to hiding places as otherwise they become stressed. Some reptiles never adapt to captivity and will always shy away at the approach of a person. Shelter can be provided in the form of a hollow log or a small box with an narrow entrance (a hinged lid will allow access for cleaning etc). Some species, like White's skinks, are strongly territorial and may injure or even kill "strangers" introduced to their territory.

Feeding

Many species of reptile are fussy eaters, requiring live food such as insects or a varied diet. All captive reptiles should have access to clean water. Some reptiles will feed on smaller reptiles, and it is important to avoid putting very differently sized animals in the same enclosure. While most skinks can be trained to feed on fruit, baby food or dogfood, some individuals will only ever accept insects. It is important to vary the type of insect food presented. Ask yourself whether you have the commitment to care for these animals before you decide to keep any.

Health Issues

Many reptiles harbour parasites such as worms, nematodes, ticks and mites. Some diseases, such as salmonella can be passed on to people by handling reptiles and it is strongly recommended that anybody who handles reptiles washes and dries their hands thoroughly before eating. It is important to quarantine any new reptiles before introducing them to a collection.

Keeping Notes

There is a tremendous amount that we don't know about the behaviour and ecology of Australia's fauna. Anybody with good observation skills can make contributions to the body of knowledge on reptiles. Information on captive animals can sometimes be applied to the management of wild populations. It is a good idea to keep records of the following. Size of animal when it entered your care. Where the animal was acquired from. If the animal has been captive bred, where the parents came from. The sex of the animal (if known). Temperature gradients within the enclosure (a maximum/minimum thermometer can be used). Any unusual behaviour.

Contact

Wildlife Management Branch
134 Macquarie Street
GPO Box 44
HOBART TAS 7001
Phone: 03 6165 4305
Fax: 03 6173 0253
Email: wildlife.reception@dpipwe.tas.gov.au

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