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Before you buy that Wild Caught reptile, read this!




Some Answers to the Imported
Wild Caught/Captive Born Debate!!!!

Written by: John Cherry

Cherryville Farms

First let me qualify what I am about to say by telling a little bit about myself. But before I go into that let me emphatically state that in my opinion there is a place for imported animals in the Herp Hobby. In the past I have owned an Import Company, several pet shops, worked for a large-scale jobber and been a private keeper of herps for over 35 years. With all of that said let me explain the set up and logistics of the import business as it is with reptiles.

Normally the lowest rung of the chain is the "catcher", he or she is the person that actually goes out and captures the animals that are to be exported. He is paid very little for his/her efforts, but actually is the one to get the whole thing started. He then delivers the animals to an "exporter" in the local area that buys the animals from him and many others like him. Depending on the time of the year and how well collecting goes the animals are then stockpiled at the "exporters" till he has enough of the many types of animals a buyer may ask for before shipping. Usually a standard list of available animals is produced by the "exporter" and the "catcher" knows what to catch and what not to catch and the "buyer" knows what is available. The buyer who we know as an "importer" gets a large number of animals in usually thru one of the designated ports of entry for wildlife such as Miami, Los Angles or New York. This is why you see so many importers close to these cities. The animals are usually extremely stressed due to conditions surrounding the capture, holding and shipping of them. For those of you that do not know it stress is the # 1 cause of death in reptiles. Examples of those conditions are: holding them to get ready for shipment at the exporters compound, travel time from the exporters facility all without food in most cases and because of over crowded shipping conditions.

Now the "importer" has the animals in the country, normally the conditions they are kept under improve drastically as far as cleanliness etc. in my experience. They are still kept though in overcrowded cages unless they happen to be really rare specimens. Imagine if you can trying to house 10,000 iguanas, or 2500 ball pythons etc. As quickly as they can though the "importer" will split out the shipment into smaller quantities and those are sent on to local jobbers around the country. The local jobbers then send even smaller shipments to the pet shops etc. and some to retail customers. Somewhere in this line is where the folks that sell imports at the reptile expos that allow them fit in, usually they are on the jobber or local jobber basis. Die-off totals can run as high as 45 % during the transportation and delivery stages of the deal.

So now you have 55% of the original animals that have made it into the hands of customers or individuals, within the first 6 months another 40 % will have died. Most of these deaths could have been prevented if the individuals keeping them did a few things such as immediately taking them to an experienced keeper or a vet that was experienced in dealing with the problems inherent in imports. Things such as dehydration, external parasites such as mites and internal parasites such as nematodes, round and tape worms are very common. Additionally there are all kinds of problems that are far harder to deal with such as numerous bacterial and viral infections. Even with this type of intervention over 50% of the remaining animals will die with even the best of health care.

So now I have told you about the negative side. Why then do imports still have a market, you may ask? It is fairly simple really! Because they are cheaper at the time of purchase.

Let me give you an example:

    First Some Facts:

  1. Last year I produced 23 baby ball pythons from my 5 above average, but normal females and sold them for a total of 1248.00
  2. The cost of keeping the females and three males for the year was 1265.00 for feed and Aspen alone. Not charging for anything such as housing, electricity, labor etc.
  3. I could have bought the same 23 baby balls for 4.00-6.00 ea. plus shipping.

The obvious conclusion from a purely economic standpoint would be that I needed to stop breeding balls and start selling imported balls. The scenario above is not by any means indicative of all species, morphs etc but is a pretty dramatic example for this discussion.

While that may be the best business decision, I am fortunate enough to own a good company that will allow me to have a hobby such as herps. Additionally I am in this hobby because I enjoy the animals and would keep them even if they ended up costing me more than they do. But from an ethical standpoint I do not believe I have to make money off of reptiles, at the expense and waste of so many wild caught animals. Therefore I DO NOT sell imported wild caught animals to individuals.

One other thing everyone should realize is that there are very few people in this hobby that are making enough money off of the herps they keep and breed to make a good living. There are a few exceptions, but the number is much smaller than most want to admit.

You may say well haven't you bought and kept imported animals in the past? The answer is yes of course I have. And most breeders that strive to produce viable hatchlings at some time do also. Out-crossing to achieve gene pool diversity is a real need and sometimes when starting to work with a new variety that is all that is to be found.

Setting aside the time when I was in the import or retail business though, on numerous occasions I have worked with imported/wild caught animals of many types. Remember though I have over thirty five years of experience with herps. And even with that experience I end up losing a little over 50% of the wild caught/imports I buy, I insert myself somewhere in the chain at the jobber level and therefore get the animals fresher and usually in better condition then a retail buyer would, but I STILL LOSE over 50% of them. Usually they are so stressed that they never recover and over half die. A real shame in every sense of the word.

So what is the problem?

    I hope it is fairly easy for anyone to see.

  1. The animals are usually cheaper and folks start to regard them as disposable pets, I personally believe they deserve better than that?

  2. In the hands of a beginner the die off rate is going to be in the range of 95% within the first year of captivity.

  3. If a beginner loses his first snake, the hobby will most likely lose over 50% of those people. A real loss to all of us.

  4. And there are viable alternatives in most cases, by buying captive born and bred animals.

What makes the captive born and bred animal better?

    It really is quite simple, consider these points:

  1. Captive bred animals normally do not have the parasite load that imports do.
  2. In most species they feed very easily and are started in most cases.
  3. The beginner will normally go to a breeder with some level of experience and hopefully that relationship and/or exposure will result in a greater chance of success for the beginner. Thereby keeping them involved and interested.
  4. They are normally calmer than their wild caught counterparts and make better captives in most concerns. <,LI>

  5. The captive born animals in most cases have been bred for brighter colors, interesting patterns and a wider variety of distinctive desirable traits.
  6. The price of the animals may be a little higher as far as the purchase price, but when you add up vet bills, medicine and heart break the original purchase price pales in comparison.

In summation, I encourage all of you to actively seek captive born animals for your collections. Take a stand for the well being of yourself, your herps and the hobby in general. We should all want to be regarded as people that care deeply for our charges and the fragile ecosystems they come from. You will have much better luck working with captive born animals and the experience will be much more rewarding and beneficial for you and your pets.


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Last updated November 26, 2005

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