Tortoises in captivity - The whole 9 yards

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StudentoftheReptile

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Well, I was very ready to kiss this forum good-bye (and in many ways, still am). A few folks have offered some words of encouragement and reminded me that I do this for the animals, and by “giving up” and walking away, I am doing the animals a disservice. This is certainly not what I want, no matter how frustrated I get at humanity and how often I feel like I am wasting my time. A large part of my goal as a reptile hobbyist is the dissemination of accurate information, and education. This goes from helping a beginner set-up a habitat for their first reptile to discussing advanced topics such as breeding or the ethics of hybridization or whatever. Additionally, as my username implies, I am always learning, and I certainly do not consider myself to be an “advanced” expert tortoise keeper by any means. There’s a handful of individuals I often glean very useful information from, and I lurk in more threads than one may think.

Apparently, there are some people (a discouraging number, actually) around these parts who have trouble understanding the differences between animal welfare and animal rights, being an animal “hobbyist” versus merely a “pet owner, some issues with conservation and what these matters mean to you, Joe Tortoise Nut. I intend to cover all these topics in some degree because they really do all relate to each other in some way.

Instead of simply making a single gigantic post, I will start out by making a handful of separate posts covering each individual topic. When I am through, I will clearly state as such. I would like to ask everyone to refrain from responding until I get to that point. Thank you for understanding.

First of all, before I get into the rest of it, let me point out something that I think a lot us forget. If you are reading this, you are human. You are of the species, Homo sapiens, the dominant sentient life form on the planet. We run the place; we’re not doing the greatest job of it, but that’s a different topic altogether. Until they start passing laws restricting procreation, we will continue to expand. This means we will continue to bulldoze and pave over natural habitats and ecosystems to make room for our subdivisions, skyscrapers, shopping malls, etc. This will never stop, and as a human, you are part of the merry-go-around. You get off when you take the final dirt nap. Until they find a way to live on other planets, this is the only one we got.

I say all that to say this: whether you choose to own animals of any kind for any reason, or not, it does not matter much regarding conservation. Since this is a tortoise forum, I’ll try to keep examples to turtles and tortoises. So if you decide never to own turtles or tortoises of a certain species, you’re not making a big contribution to the conservation of that species. Habitat will still be destroyed sooner or later, the pet trade will still prevail, etc…these are all humongous machines that will never be defeated. True, you could donate money or time to a particular cause or organization that does help (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but if you investigate closely enough, most such organizations do involve some level of keeping that species in captivity, whether it is rehabilitation, rescues, ambassador animals used for educating the public, breeding programs, or any combination of the above. You’re not going to get away from “keeping animals in captivity” any way you slice it. Some may think this is a pessimistic view; I prefer realistic.

Now let’s talk more about conservation (next post).


Conservation

I already touched on some points, but let’s recap a little bit. Mankind is decimating natural ecosystems all over the globe at an alarming rate. In the grand scheme of things, there’s not a lot that can be done about this. Sooner or later, if there is enough pressure for X to be built, enough money will exchange hands and get the project completed. Here’s an example:

Not 2 miles from my home, there is plans to build a raceway, all in the name of bringing a little more economy to our area, I’m sure. Well, the location is in prime gopher tortoise habitat (I’ve personally been out there a few times and seen several burrows). The project has been tied up for a couple years for that very reason, but eventually they will hire a “wildlife removal expert” approved by the local USFWS office (likely under pressure from local govt officials), to come remove and relocate the tortoises so they can start breaking ground. I have spoken with local fish and wildlife officials in my area, and other experienced herp folks and they all have confirmed this takes place all the time, in all states in the gopher tortoise’ range. Ecology looks good on paper, but boosting local economy looks even better. This is a very sad reality, in case anyone was not aware of it.

So with habitat loss all but inevitable, what is there to do? Simply preserving some existing habitat in state parks isn’t enough. Captive –breeding is paramount to restoring some of these endangered species.

Another example: the spotted turtle, a small species already virtually extinct within most of its natural range. Why? They have very specialized habitat needs: small bogs with slow-moving water. They can’t just live anywhere with freshwater like a red-eared slider can. Right now, the only way the average person can expect to see one is in captivity, most likely at a nature center. Ownership requires permits. Some may disagree that the life these turtles have in captivity pails to the life they would have in the wild, but how is providing all of their needs and help them continue the species that horrible? Some say for nature to just take its course, and if they go extinct, so be it….but how natural is it when we’re the ones destroying their habitats and polluting their waterways?

Yet another example is our state reptile, the Alabama red-bellied turtle. This turtle is all but endemic to right here in my figurative backyard in Mobile & Baldwin Counties. Get that? The only place in the WORLD you can find these turtles in the wild is right here in the crotch of Alabama in the Tensaw River Delta, not even just in any ole creek or stream. They are a very beautiful and unique turtle, and several programs are in existence that raise hatchlings at least for the first 1-2 yrs of their life to give them a good head start before releasing them back into the wild. (a lot of hobbyists do this with baby snakes & turtles all over the country, and I think it’s a great idea). I personally would like to get more involved in starting a breeding program. Am I selfish? Not really, because I know how much trouble and effort keeping aquatic turtles can be, let alone attempting to breed them. I just want to help maintain and preserve one of the native herp species here in my state.

I also hope that they eventually implement some form of permit system that would allow people to keep and breed gopher tortoises, similar to CDTs out in California. There is no way gopher tortoises are going to continue to thrive without the aid of captive breeding programs.

I could list other examples, but hopefully, my point is getting across.

Another use in captive keeping for use in conservation is ambassador specimens for education. Some might see this as frivolous and unnecessary, but I disagree. When I am speaking to any audience, regardless of age level, and I am talking about a particular species and its ecological role, why it is important to promote conservation, etc…I cannot sway the audience with a mere pamphlet, or a cool photo of that animal. Unless they can actually see that animal in the flesh, and touch it, that connection is not made. It is a very effective tool for raising awareness for conservation.

Of course, there are those who do rescue work and rehabilitation for native species. Some disagree with this practice and say again, that nature should just take its course. To some level, I can agree, but it depends on the injury. If the turtle was hit by a car or a boat, I don’t feel that qualifies as “nature’s fault” and see no harm in intervening to offer medical treatment. It would be different if the turtle was naturally removed from the wild gene pool by means of predation or disease.

Bottom line: When it comes to conservation, you can only go so far using videos, posters and brochures to promote your message. Having a live representation of the species (or genera) you are striving to preserve has many advantages for the cause.


Animal Rights versus Animal Welfare

I’ll cover welfare first…

Animal Welfare – This is essentially regarding the well-being of the animal; i.e. good health, proper care & husbandry, etc. I am pretty certain everyone on this forum is an advocate for animal welfare. This has little to do with the purpose of why the animal is in captivity (service animal, beast of burden, lab animals used for experimentation, pet, food, skin trade, etc.). As long as the animal is cared for properly, and all its needs are met, that’s all that is really important. If the animal is destined to be killed for food, skin, etc., then likewise, it should be euthanized in a humane fashion.

Animal Rights – This is a little more of a gray area to truly define. To some degree, any animal does have some “rights” in order for welfare laws to apply. In other words, as a living being, it obviously should have a “right” to proper diet, fresh water, shelter and a reasonably clean living environment. Of course, some animals have additional specific needs to keep them alive (reptiles & amphibians require heat & full spectrum lighting, certain fish require different water chemistry, etc.). However, since cold-blooded animals (reptiles, amphibians, fish, invertebrates) are not technically considered animals under the Animal Welfare Act, it can be somewhat subjective to define rights for those types of animals in a legal sense.
But in reality, when the term “animal rights” is used, it is most often referring to a notion that animals have equal (if not greater) rights than human beings. Many people believe that keeping an animal in captivity for any reason is equal to holding a human prison; that the slaughtering of food animals such as cattle and poultry is the same as what Jews suffered through during the Holocaust…and so on.
Now, people have the “right” (pun intended) to believe whatever they want, but if one has even an intermediate understanding of the mental capacity of most animal species compared to that of humans, they will know that comparing the two is comparing apples to oranges. I’m not going to dive into a long discussion regarding intelligence or emotional capacity, because I will concur there are some exceptional examples in the animal kingdom, both on the species and on the individual level.
Again, this is a somewhat subjective topic, but I believe what truly separates mankind from the beasts is that from an early age, man is acutely aware of his own mortality. No matter how smart we are, or how emotional we are, we know that one day we will die. No animal has exhibited this awareness. Yes, it may be true that some animals, when terminally ill or very old, have some sense that their time has come mere moments, or even hours before death comes. But mankind is so focused on the idea of his inevitable demise that we as a species record our history for others to look to. We have religion. We have stories & legends. The mere fact that we have the ability and comprehension to even discuss the topic is a clear enough indicator that we’re a distinct level separate (if not above) animals, at least I think so anyway.

The Animal Rights Movement

Some organizations have taken this notion of animal rights to the extreme. There are a handful of them, but the two most noteworthy ones are the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Both organizations have done some good work for advocating animal welfare, but their agenda for promoting animal rights (among other things) remains dominant. I will briefly describe their faults below:

PETA – PETA is infamous for their outlandish campaigns against the meat industry, the skin & fur trade, the entertainment industry, and of course, the pet industry. I have often cited their faults and can elaborate later if people really want to know more. Their main opposition to the pet industry (as tortoise keepers, most on this forum qualify) is their stance that animals shouldn’t be held “captive” for any reason. This includes service animals such as seeing-eye dogs, tropical fish, domesticated livestock, etc. All animals should be free. For non-domesticated species, their view is debatable and somewhat noble, but in real world application, they will never overturn the pet industry. People will always have pets. Period. In short, they should focus their efforts more on cases of animal abuse & neglect than throwing red paint at people wearing fur or trying to make the whole world re-label fish as “sea kittens.”

HSUS – HSUS is PETA in a suit. Now, when I say that, I’m not trying to say the two organizations are actually tied to each other in any way (they may be, I don’t know, I have evidence of it). My point is that their objectives are very similar, but their tactics are different. PETA is the passionate protester with a picket sign. HSUS is the pseudo-journalist/lawyer who will manipulate the facts to meet their agenda.

Bottom line: neither organization is really a friend to pet owners.
 

EKLC

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Most people overestimate what wild is left in the world. Rural areas look wild, but farmland and pasture are not habitats. Take a look on google maps and you will see how fragmented real wild spaces are amongst urban sprawl and farmland, which look light colored on the map. Even Africa, which we think of as wild, is barely a shadow of what it used to be. When nature documentaries are filmed, they don't just pick a place on the map, they're going to some of the few places left where that wildlife actually exists. Look at this map of the hippo's range

Hippo_distribution.gif


red is the "historic" range, and green is the current. So we can't talk about what's natural anymore, because it doesn't exist. If we want these animals to be alive in two decades, we need whatever help we can give them.
 

StudentoftheReptile

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[looks like someone didn't read the directions!...oh well, no harm no foul!]

Pet Owners versus Hobbyists

So what does all of this mean to you? Well, first of all, you may want to determine which you are: a casual pet owner with an affinity for tortoises, or a true tortoise hobbyist/enthusiast?

Pet Owner – this is merely someone who keeps one or a small number of tortoises as “pets.” I usually do not like using the term “pet’ when it comes to reptiles, but more on that later. The pet owner is more apt to anthropomorphizing, attributing human characteristics to their animals that likely do not exist. They may even put costumes on it during the holiday season. They probably could care less about the taxonomy or the natural history of the animal; they are mostly focused on proper care and husbandry. Now, mind you, I am not judging; just stating an opinion based on observation over the past several years. I know many people who keep reptiles that I do not consider “true” herpers.

Hobbyist – This is someone who not only keeps tortoises (or maybe not?), but wants to know everything about them: taxonomy, natural history, etc. They do not find long, extensive scientific journals boring in the least. They are probably not as likely to “name” their animals. They typically do not consider their animals “pets,” but rather specimens in their collection.

There are both pet owners and hobbyists on this forum and that’s fine. And you know what? Either way...you are a TORTOISE KEEPER. Now let me explain why that is significant.

--------------------

Whether for conservation, rescues, fostering, pets, hobby, or breeding project, you are keeping tortoises in captivity. Depending on where you are in the U.S., you may require some permit or license to do so, but nevertheless, you have that privilege. A lot of people mistakenly believe they have a right to keep pets, but I believe this is incorrect. Here’s why (LOL, now we’re talking human rights!):

I have used the analogy before and I know it’s not completely perfect (what analogy is?), but here it is anyway: I know what the 2nd Amendment of the Bill of Rights says, but in reality, gun ownership is a privilege as well. You can do it within certain parameters of the law. If you abuse this privilege, and go outside those parameters, you will have that privilege revoked. Same goes for your driver’s license. Anyone can drive once they reach a certain age. But they screw it up; license gets taken away.

Let’s look it another way. Say you are in prison. Even in a U.S. prison, as a human being, you do have certain rights: food, water, latrine, a right to be represented in a court of law, etc. You do NOT have a right to bear arms in prison, am I correct? Right to watch TV? Play sports?

You’re probably thinking, “Well, we’re not in prison,” and yeah, you’re right, but here’s the main point: pets are a luxury. They are not necessary to sustain life. There is no God-ordained law or right that dictates you can own whatever you want wherever you want, so what I’m trying to drive home here is that your ability to keep tortoises (or snakes, or fish, or parakeets, sugar gliders, etc.) can be taken away. And in some places, it already has.
People can continue to stick their heads in the sand all they want, but the writing is on the wall. The hammer is coming down on exotic pet ownership in the United States. Reptiles are in that boat along with big cats, primates, llamas, birds, fish, etc. I’ve watched the trend since 2008. It’s coming. I know snakes have the biggest targets on them, but if you think you are safe because you own tortoises, you are wrong. I’ve said it countless times before, but it is true.

So when people make statements like “Oh, if they banned the ownership of reptiles, I wouldn’t mind at all, as long as I got to keep mine,” it shows a blatant ignorance (and a little haughtiness, I might add) of exactly what they are suggesting.

If you keep tortoises, and enjoy keeping them, and want to continue keeping them, be very mindful of all of these issues and remember that we all are in the same boat. Making statements like some of the ones I’ve seen recently is akin to shooting not only yourself but everyone else around you in the foot.


Okay...I'm finished with the initial "essay." Post away.
 

bigred

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You got my attention when you started talking about prison and shooting people in the foot. A good shot to the head would be more appropriate. So what do you suggest ALL the reptile keepers do about the reptile ban that may be coming in the future
 

StudentoftheReptile

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The short answer: support the United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK) and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC). Not one or the other. Support BOTH. When I say support, I do not mean, share their pics and messages on Facebook; I mean, donate money. In reality, these are the only two organizations that actively lobby in favor of reptile keepers. There are times when their agendas don't always see eye-to-eye, but between the two, they got our back. But they also need our support.

USARK is more exclusively for reptile hobbyists and the herp industry. PIJAC is for all pets, but mostly for the retail pet industry. I know a lot of us have mixed feelings on pet shops, but on this level, they are on our side. Because it's not just Petsmart, Petco, its' LLLReptile, BeanFarm, Dr. Foster & Smith, any venue you buy pet products for reptiles, PIJAC is for. Zoomed, Exo Terra, Zilla, etc...all those brands (some of which make those nice Mercury Vapor Bulbs and Ceramic Heat Emitters we all like to use for our torts!), they depend on PIJAC.


The long answer...

BE ACTIVE. Join your local herp society. Promote responsible care and husbandry. Advocate conservation. Educate anyone you can. I'm not saying stand on a street corner with your sulcata next to you and yell at everyone saying how awesome reptiles are. Set up presentations at schools and colleges. Set up booths at various events.

Its easy to do it on a forum, but don't be afraid to take a stance against something that opposes our hobby. When I hear someone talk about sleeping with their pet python in the bed with them, I always make it a point to tell them how irresponsible it is and why it is a threat to everyone else who keeps them. Just like dog fighters are the bane of those who responsibly keep Staffordshire terriers (pitbulls, to those playing the home game).

And I know there's folks here that do this kind of stuff already, and that's great. The reptile community as a whole has been very disorganized and with little unity. This needs to change. Another organization, the National Herpetological Congress, is devoted specifically to the facilitation of herp societies: how to find one near you, how to start one of your own, etc, etc. We need to be unified, so when something does come our way, whether on the city, state, or federal level, we will be ready to knock it back. That's why I get so discouraged when I see posts from some reptile keepers throwing others under the bus. We're certainly not doing ourselves, or the animals any favors. Just making it easier for the opposition to meet their objectives.
 

Kathy Coles

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Thank you. I never knew of those lobbies. I can suggest the current political climate will be one of "Government knows best" and their actions will not be in our favor. If you could post their web addresses that would be great.
 

Tom

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Great info man. Well said. Welcome back! :)

I've got nothing to add, you elaborated very well.
 

StudentoftheReptile

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www.usark.org

www.pijac.org

I have cited them several times before, but there they are again.

The National Herp Congress is still in in its infant stages. I'm on their board. They can be found on Facebook right now: http://www.facebook.com/NationalHerpCongress?fref=ts

When the actual website is up, I'll be sure to share that as well.


My main goal here is that a lot of pet owners & hobbyists alike are going about their lives, walking into pet shops, buying replacement bulbs, feeder insects, mice, commercial diet, etc., and have absolutely NO CLUE this kind of stuff is happening. A lot of Burmese python owners I know are still completely unaware of the federal rule change that was enacted this past March.
 

Tiger Cowboy

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EKLC said:
Most people overestimate what wild is left in the world. Rural areas look wild, but farmland and pasture are not habitats. Take a look on google maps and you will see how fragmented real wild spaces are amongst urban sprawl and farmland, which look light colored on the map. Even Africa, which we think of as wild, is barely a shadow of what it used to be. When nature documentaries are filmed, they don't just pick a place on the map, they're going to some of the few places left where that wildlife actually exists. Look at this map of the hippo's range

Hippo_distribution.gif


red is the "historic" range, and green is the current. So we can't talk about what's natural anymore, because it doesn't exist. If we want these animals to be alive in two decades, we need whatever help we can give them.
Good post. However, I do have a few nitpicks with this particular part.

People do overestimate what is truly "wild" in some cases. This is because essentially all habitats have been changed to some degree in every part of the world. Some are very obvious, but sometimes the less obvious ones are the more insidious. In North America for examples there are a number of species, plant and animal, that had enormous influences on their environments that no longer exist (American Chestnuts are a prime example). Also the disruption of fire cycles on a global scale are a problem we are just now understanding. An appropriate fire cycle is one of the most important factors for the gopher tortoise you mentioned.

On the other hand, just because something has been changed does not mean it is unusable. Some species have done extremely well on farmland or pasture. These are issues that do not do well with blanket statements or short answers. These are issues that have had lifetimes of research and effort devoted to them and we are still figuring very basic things out.

My last quibble is the range map. These things drive me nuts. A range map is well and good, except they are NEVER accurate. The historic range for a hippo (your example) was undoubtedly much more than it is today. However, they never would have occupied all that red area. It would not all have have been suitable habitat. The green areas, while much smaller, I would believe reflect a much more accurate reflection of where the hippos actually are. If a similar approach was taken with the red areas I think we would see a much more fragmented map more closely resembling the green.

Just a few things to keep in mind for those reading the postings.
 

CourtneyAndCarl

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I would have to agree with you on this. But it isn't just reptile ownership that is being targeted. Hunting/fishing, agriculture, even animal RESCUES are being targeted by HSUS who always shows up in new places and look great at first. They start out by lobbying small, seemingly "good" laws to gain support then tightening the noose over time.

I don't think it's particularly fair to pluck tortoises out of the wild, unless they are critically endangered and you plan to start a breeding program. Especially with animals like Russian tortoises that are now commonly bred in captivity but still even more commonly taken from the wild. However, I would never support just downright banning the ownership of tortoises.

In my opinion, the only thing there should be a downright ban on is owning dangerous animals in pet-type situations.
 

Kapidolo Farms

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Range maps are not keys to which rock the animal hides under, those maps are indeed accurate for what they portray, the 'ecosystem' which provides the 'ecological niche' over time, based on localized available space and physical resources. An ecosystem is an area where, if nothing else is using the space, and resources are present during the time you want to live there, then you can live there, as that place during that time supplies all your needs. But if something else is already there, then you have to share or compete, so often the default is to find those places where sharing and competition is less (on a scale) and this is the ecological niche.

The hippos as the example in the map no doubt have been able to use that vast area over several generations, not the whole area all at once. As the hippos grow, reproduce, and die the exact part of that vast area they actually occupy may shift and change, due to other animals presence, and localized resource availability.

Why that map is relevant to the topic of range for any species is brought out in the text that came with that map. We (people) do not shift so much, we take more, so when for whatever other non-human localized event may have previously pushed or nudged a change for the hippos, they now have fewer options, less actual ecosystem to move around in.

"In classical niche studies characterizing the specific space, time and resources that individuals, populations, or species complexes may use has been termed an ecological niche, within the larger frame of spatial reference, the habitat or ecosystem. Without interspecific competition, organisms are able to exploit all the resources, space, and time in their preferred ecological niche which represents that organisms’ fundamental niche."

This in quotes from my own published writing brings to light that what each individual and then group and larger scale population needs is based on three elements, time, space and physical resources. Over several generations without human disturbance, hippos no doubt used all that space, over time, based on localized resources. The deal is, we do not shift so much, and ever take more.

Will
 

EKLC

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Tiger Cowboy said:
EKLC said:
Most people overestimate what wild is left in the world. Rural areas look wild, but farmland and pasture are not habitats. Take a look on google maps and you will see how fragmented real wild spaces are amongst urban sprawl and farmland, which look light colored on the map. Even Africa, which we think of as wild, is barely a shadow of what it used to be. When nature documentaries are filmed, they don't just pick a place on the map, they're going to some of the few places left where that wildlife actually exists. Look at this map of the hippo's range

Hippo_distribution.gif


red is the "historic" range, and green is the current. So we can't talk about what's natural anymore, because it doesn't exist. If we want these animals to be alive in two decades, we need whatever help we can give them.
Good post. However, I do have a few nitpicks with this particular part.

People do overestimate what is truly "wild" in some cases. This is because essentially all habitats have been changed to some degree in every part of the world. Some are very obvious, but sometimes the less obvious ones are the more insidious. In North America for examples there are a number of species, plant and animal, that had enormous influences on their environments that no longer exist (American Chestnuts are a prime example). Also the disruption of fire cycles on a global scale are a problem we are just now understanding. An appropriate fire cycle is one of the most important factors for the gopher tortoise you mentioned.

On the other hand, just because something has been changed does not mean it is unusable. Some species have done extremely well on farmland or pasture. These are issues that do not do well with blanket statements or short answers. These are issues that have had lifetimes of research and effort devoted to them and we are still figuring very basic things out.

My last quibble is the range map. These things drive me nuts. A range map is well and good, except they are NEVER accurate. The historic range for a hippo (your example) was undoubtedly much more than it is today. However, they never would have occupied all that red area. It would not all have have been suitable habitat. The green areas, while much smaller, I would believe reflect a much more accurate reflection of where the hippos actually are. If a similar approach was taken with the red areas I think we would see a much more fragmented map more closely resembling the green.

Just a few things to keep in mind for those reading the postings.

I took a few shortcuts here.

By "not habitat", I meant for the animals that we have to worry about. Some of course do fine in places impacted by humans. But for many of them, pure wilderness is the only thing that will work for them long term. There are still people who eat gopher tortoises or try to hit them in their cars. They need spots away from the interest of any human

Also, about the map, I'm sure there are plenty of places in red that lack a water source year round, and wouldn't be of interest to hippos at any time. I just used that picture to get the point across that africa/southeast asia/south america are not the unbreakable sources of wilderness that I'm sure a lot of people imagine them to be. Whenever I hear people argue against zoos, they seem to think that there exists a cozy, human-free life back in their natural range. But in reality, the number of places in which they are not being caught in nets, hit by cars, or rounded up in droves and sold on the black market, is probably a lot sparser than even the green area suggests
 

DesertGrandma

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Thank you for posting. A very educational and informative thread which is very clearly written and expressed. What is your take on federal and state agencies and conservation of animals/reptiles?
 

EricIvins

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kathycoles said:
Thank you. I never knew of those lobbies. I can suggest the current political climate will be one of "Government knows best" and their actions will not be in our favor. If you could post their web addresses that would be great.

The legislation being put on the books has nothing to do with the "current" politcal climate. It has everything to do with agendas, lobbiest groups, and the power they hold with individuals in Government.......There isn't one administration that is better than the other.......It is a group if individuals on both sides of political affiliation, with money being shoved in their back pockets to push certain agendas.......

Look up Bill Nelson if you want an example.......




I'm also right there with you on whether I want to continue posting on a few forums.........These forums promote too much Kumbayas and sheltering, instead of facts. I've even been called a "Third rate rescue" by a prominate member on this forum. I could care less about criticism. I get it every day. I welcome it. However, there is too much newbie opinions being thrown around on this very forum. If you have experienced and know a situation as hard facts, post away..........However, the continual regurgitation of useless or outdated information gets old very quick. Then when you try and correct this, you get smothered by the people who think your just being rude or obnoxious. This only further serves to stifle the flow of new, correct information. Too much of the buddy system going on. Too much of that groupie mentality........ Look at the identification threads on this Forum. Both Turtles and Tortoises. The majority of the posts are WRONG. If you don't know what you're looking at, don't post! There are a few members on this forum that have the experience to either know what they are looking at, or come very close. Close enough for the original poster to atleast start doing research. This peeves me more than anything. Seriously, is there any forum culpability here?

This is unfortunately what this forum lacks. Culpability.......It's like the wild wild west on some topics, and I know for sure some newbies are walking away with not neccessarily the wrong information, but a skewed or confused idea of how to apply that information to a situation.......
 

StudentoftheReptile

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DesertGrandma said:
Thank you for posting. A very educational and informative thread which is very clearly written and expressed. What is your take on federal and state agencies and conservation of animals/reptiles?

Well, first of all, I want to emphasize that your state level Fish & Game or DCNR or whatever (the exact title varies from state to state) is not the same as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. One would think that is a no-brainer, but many do often refer to their own state-level agencies and USFWS synonymously. They are different agencies.

To answer your question simply, my take is this:

The exact situation can vary from state to state, obviously, and even on the city-level. A lot depends on the relationship different agencies have with each other. At their core, whether they are state or federal, fish/wildlife agencies are chiefly conservation-oriented, and not very focused on the pet industry or private ownership. However, in some cases, the objectives are not entirely exclusive or completely anti-pets or anything either. In some states, the state fish & game have good working relationships between local herp societies, nature centers, and with their local U.S FWS offices as well. Regrettably, some do not, and there is a very wide disconnect between wildlife authorities and private keepers.

Take the situation in CA with the desert tortoise. I don't know the exact details (perhaps someone from CA can expound for me), but obviously, at some point, the state wildlife agencies recognized the situation of desert tortoises ending up in captivity, whether due to rescues, or ignorant removal from a specific area. The regulations prohibit (I assume) releasing the tortoise back into the wild, so what to do? People are going to keep tortoises anyway, so they designed a license system to allow qualified individuals to possess and care for them. If I understand correctly, you can't breed them (or at least deliberately) or trade/sell/buy them, but with the permit, you can own them in California.

I mentioned it earlier with the gopher tortoises here in the southeast. There is no such system in place for them, but the same issue occurs all the time. Yet ironically, you can possess 1 box turtle. I've been told by several people that our state Dept of Conservation & Natural Resources here in Alabama are very lazy, and actually care little about genuine conservation. Most of the staff are there for the state-level benefits, and their stance is: if it goes extinct, that's just the way it was meant to be. No real efforts have been made to preserve anything in the past couple decades.

So to back to your question...I think some states do a great job with conservation, and for the most part, leave private keepers alone. Some states (like my own) need to straighten up and get with the program.
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Now about the U.S. Fish & Wildlife...

Again, their focus is conservation, but on a more national level. They help determine whether a species warrants being added to the Endangered Species Act (ESA), among other things. They also are responsible for evaluating whether species qualify to be added to the Injurious Wildlife list of the Lacey Act (more on that in a minute).

My take on USFWS is that they are easily influenced by NGOs (non-govt organizations). This can be good and bad. Good because genuine conservation groups can push for deserving species to be added to the ESA. Bad, because many animal rights groups push to get species added to the Lacey Act. The latter has been more successful, regrettably.

Due to the pressure of Florida politicians (Eric cited one Bill Nelson in his last post) and animal rights groups, USFWS started a 4-yr process in 2008 to evaluate whether Burmese pythons and other large constrictors seriously posed a threat to the nation's ecosystems. A few studies were done by the U.S. Geological Survey, all of which were founded on inaccurate data. The original proposition was to add 9 species of snake to the Lacey Act. This would have had a huge negative economic impact and not wanting to be held accountable for the "pseudo"science/quality of information, USFWS was about to dismiss the whole thing in 2011. But HSUS, Defenders of Wildlife and the Nature's Conservancy pleaded with the Obama administration at the 11th hour, urging them to reconsider. USFWS re-evaluated and added only 4 snakes to the list. This kept them under a specific economic threshold so they wouldn't be held accountable for quality of information.

I say all of that to point out that USFWS is fallible and easily influenced. As a result of this federal rule change, one can no longer transport a Burmese python across state lines legally, all under the silly notion that this tropical snake species will migrate out of south Florida into the rest of the U.S. and gobble up every poodle and toddler in sight. They tacked a nation-wide solution to a very isolated state-level problem.
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But this is all about snakes right? I just keep turtles & tortoises; why do I care?

Here's why: since the rule change was announced in Jan of this year, there has been a domino effect of similar legislation that popped up in various states: some were more restrictions, others were outright bans. Some were just certain reptiles, others included a wide variety of exotic animals. Not many were successful, but it did show that state agencies are apt to follow suit with USFWS does.

Those more experienced and observant know that our chelonian pals are not immune to negative publicity. Every few months, there's an article that goes viral talking about the dangers of Salmonella and baby turtles. Then there's always the environmental angle: it is already a sad reality that red-eared sliders are an invasive species nearly world-wide in their own right. There are some laws regarding the interstate travel of African tortoise species. While some legislation may not target tortoises specifically, many of the types we keep fall under the label "non-native."

Some state laws are kinda backwards, too. In GA, its illegal to keep native species: so for example, you cannot keep corn snakes there. In other states, they may prohibit non-native reptile species, in efforts to prevent the spread of invasive species. Just playing devil's advocate here.


So yeah...I'm all for conservation. But it doesn't mean I support every organization or agency out there that does.
 

terryo

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Thank you. Very informative post, and lots of things that I didn't know. Although some of it ......just your HO....not fact.




"Animal Rights – This is a little more of a gray area to truly define. To some degree, any animal does have some “rights” in order for welfare laws to apply. In other words, as a living being, it obviously should have a “right” to proper diet, fresh water, shelter and a reasonably clean living environment. Of course, some animals have additional specific needs to keep them alive (reptiles & amphibians require heat & full spectrum lighting, certain fish require different water chemistry, etc.). However, since cold-blooded animals (reptiles, amphibians, fish, invertebrates) are not technically considered animals under the Animal Welfare Act, it can be somewhat subjective to define rights for those types of animals in a legal sense.
But in reality, when the term “animal rights” is used, it is most often referring to a notion that animals have equal (if not greater) rights than human beings. Many people believe that keeping an animal in captivity for any reason is equal to holding a human prison; that the slaughtering of food animals such as cattle and poultry is the same as what Jews suffered through during the Holocaust…and so on.
Now, people have the “right” (pun intended) to believe whatever they want, but if one has even an intermediate understanding of the mental capacity of most animal species compared to that of humans, they will know that comparing the two is comparing apples to oranges. I’m not going to dive into a long discussion regarding intelligence or emotional capacity, because I will concur there are some exceptional examples in the animal kingdom, both on the species and on the individual level.
Again, this is a somewhat subjective topic, but I believe what truly separates mankind from the beasts is that from an early age, man is acutely aware of his own mortality. No matter how smart we are, or how emotional we are, we know that one day we will die. No animal has exhibited this awareness. Yes, it may be true that some animals, when terminally ill or very old, have some sense that their time has come mere moments, or even hours before death comes. But mankind is so focused on the idea of his inevitable demise that we as a species record our history for others to look to. We have religion. We have stories & legends. The mere fact that we have the ability and comprehension to even discuss the topic is a clear enough indicator that we’re a distinct level separate (if not above) animals, at least I think so anyway.

The Animal Rights Movement

Some organizations have taken this notion of animal rights to the extreme. There are a handful of them, but the two most noteworthy ones are the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Both organizations have done some good work for advocating animal welfare, but their agenda for promoting animal rights (among other things) remains dominant. I will briefly describe their faults below:

PETA – PETA is infamous for their outlandish campaigns against the meat industry, the skin & fur trade, the entertainment industry, and of course, the pet industry. I have often cited their faults and can elaborate later if people really want to know more. Their main opposition to the pet industry (as tortoise keepers, most on this forum qualify) is their stance that animals shouldn’t be held “captive” for any reason. This includes service animals such as seeing-eye dogs, tropical fish, domesticated livestock, etc. All animals should be free. For non-domesticated species, their view is debatable and somewhat noble, but in real world application, they will never overturn the pet industry. People will always have pets. Period. In short, they should focus their efforts more on cases of animal abuse & neglect than throwing red paint at people wearing fur or trying to make the whole world re-label fish as “sea kittens.”

HSUS – HSUS is PETA in a suit. Now, when I say that, I’m not trying to say the two organizations are actually tied to each other in any way (they may be, I don’t know, I have evidence of it). My point is that their objectives are very similar, but their tactics are different. PETA is the passionate protester with a picket sign. HSUS is the pseudo-journalist/lawyer who will manipulate the facts to meet their agenda.

Bottom line: neither organization is really a friend to pet owners. "
 

StudentoftheReptile

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Honest opinion based on factual observation over the past several years.
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We can argue semantics all day long. Main point is that if you keep these animals for any reason (as long as you do so properly), it is in your best interests to seek whatever means to preserve your ability to continue doing so. Knowing where some of these agencies and organizations stand on the issue of keeping exotic animals in the private sector falls within that undertaking.

A lot of people on this forum take the privilege (or "right" or whatever term you feel is appropriate) to keep these wonderful creatures in their homes and yards for granted.
 

terryo

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You can't generalize the term "exotic animal". I would think that keeping a lion, for instance, in your home is much different than keeping a tortoise. As far as the law is concerned, most of the laws are ridiculous anyway. No one here is allowed to keep box turtles or Iguana's, without a permit, but I know lots of people who do. A primate is illegal to own here too, but I know many people who had one, myself included. As long as you have the money to pay for something, there is a way to get it.
As for PETA. You either love them or you hate them. They have many branches and each one is run differently. The one I belonged to for many years have never, to my knowledge, wanted dog or cat ownership banned. You may not agree with their methods, and there isn't enough room on this post for me to mention the many accomplishments they have achieved for "animal rights"

"Honest opinion based on factual observation over the past several years."

I was never an observer. I was very involved.

"Their main opposition to the pet industry (as tortoise keepers, most on this forum qualify) is their stance that animals shouldn’t be held “captive” for any reason. This includes service animals such as seeing-eye dogs, tropical fish, domesticated livestock, etc. All animals should be free."

An absolute falsehood. Almost laughable. I have a friend who was very involved with PETA and she would not agree with you as her son has a seeing eye dog since he was 10. As I said before there are many branches, and each one is run by someone different.


"that the slaughtering of food animals such as cattle and poultry is the same as what Jews suffered through during the Holocaust…and so on."


I would never compare the two. But....
Have you ever been to a slaughter house? I have. There is no justification to the pain and suffering...the screams of pain were deafening.

I'm not disputing any of your post, or argument for the ban, but I don't understand why you are throwing all this into this post. I'm sure I missed some thread, as I never get to read all of them, but I just can't agree with you on some of your "facts" learned from your observation.
 

StudentoftheReptile

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terryo said:
You can't generalize the term "exotic animal". I would think that keeping a lion, for instance, in your home is much different than keeping a tortoise. As far as the law is concerned, most of the laws are ridiculous anyway.

I heartily agree. I'm only pointing out that others do lump them altogether, including HSUS. Wayne Pacelle himself has practically said so in more than one interview.

"Their main opposition to the pet industry (as tortoise keepers, most on this forum qualify) is their stance that animals shouldn’t be held “captive” for any reason. This includes service animals such as seeing-eye dogs, tropical fish, domesticated livestock, etc. All animals should be free."

An absolute falsehood. Almost laughable. I have a friend who was very involved with PETA and she would not agree with you as her son has a seeing eye dog since he was 10. As I said before there are many branches, and each one is run by someone different.

I have went to the main website (www.peta.org) and emailed them directly, asking them their stance on private ownership of exotic animals, specifically reptiles. Their response was that they feel it is "unfair to keep any animal in captivity." I know people who emailed them asking them the same thing and got the same response.

Explain to me how that is not simply "an opinion." A PETA representative told me straight up that they are against animals in captivity.

As a non-profit org, PETA is not going to turn down free help. I don't know what how exactly your friend was involved, but many people donate and/or volunteer and PETA makes no effort to clarify their true mission statement to them. Maybe your "friend' should ask more questions to her superiors.


"that the slaughtering of food animals such as cattle and poultry is the same as what Jews suffered through during the Holocaust…and so on."

I would never compare the two. But....Have you ever been to a slaughter house? I have. There is no justification to the pain and suffering...the screams of pain were deafening.

I have not been to one, but I'm going to rephrase the question and toss it back to you: have you been to EVERY slaughter house in America? Some are more humane than others. As with everything, the bad ones are more publicized. Bad news sells right?

As for the "justification," I can easily argue that it is easier to eat a dead cow than a live one, but that could very well lead to another discussion altogether. I am convinced that even if we had a way to lull all cattle to death by music, it still wouldn't satisfy some people.

I'm not disputing any of your post, or argument for the ban, but I don't understand why you are throwing all this into this post. I'm sure I missed some thread, as I never get to read all of them, but I just can't agree with you on some of your "facts" learned from your observation.

I can back up nearly everything I have posted about. The real fact is that this situation is an "out of sight, out of mind" mentality for some folks. Many choose not to look in the right places, and only rely on popular media for their information. Some accuse me of the same, which is laughable because I do not have television, or receive a newspaper.
 
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