There are a variety of exotic animal shows around the country where many different species are traded or sold. Some of the individuals that purchase these animals have the knowledge, money, experience and time to keep these animals healthy and happy, but unfortunately many others do not. Chris Evers, Founder & Director of Animal Embassy traveled to an east coast reptile show in December 2010. He found what he so often witnesses at reptile shows - incredibly beautiful creatures, but also potentially alarming situations.
About five times a year, fifty or so captive breeders and hundreds of potential buyers descend upon the little town where the exotic animal show took place this December. Animals ranged tremendously in size, cost, and care requirements. Thousands of animals were available for sale.
They have become common exotic pets for children. Unfortunately geckos are not very interactive captives and children often tire of the care. At Animal Embassy, we have five of these lizards from families that became bored of them and no longer wanted the responsibility.
Bearded dragons are also common in the exotic pet trade and are also frequently purchased for children. Providing the proper space, lighting and dietary requirements can be very expensive. We currently have two of this species at Animal Embassy, and we have also placed and cared for numerous others over the years. They often come to us with vitamin or bone marrow deficiencies resulting from improper care.
Although much less popular than in the past, green iguanas are still sold in pet shops and at reptile expos. These are beautiful lizards but they get very large, and can be very aggressive, without proper socialization. We have rescued, adopted or placed many of these animals over the years and we receive many calls from people unable or uninterested in the long term commitment. In captivity these lizards can live over 20 years and males can exceed five feet. We currently have two of them, Rain (a large female), and Forest (a young male). With proper care they could be with us for the next 16 years. We can not take on any more but receive calls about further adoptions on a regular basis. We do our best to find homes for these animals but find it increasingly difficult as most facilities willing and prepared to maintain such a large animal have already done so.
For under $100.00 an individual, without needing a permit, can walk out the door of a reptile show such as this east cost show, with two hatchling alligators. In certain states, this is perfectly legal, yet highly impractical. These animals are possibly transported to states where they are not permitted. Unfortunately many of these animals are then released to the wild and perish in environments unsuitable to their survival. This gator was likely purchased at this show a year or two ago, and reached a size that the owners could not handle or properly house. It is now again up for sale. Large males can reach a length of 15 feet and a weight of 1,000 pounds.
Chris and Animal Embassy have housed or placed five alligators and one caiman over the last 15 years. Our current gator was dropped off at Chris' in-home office, unannounced. Our office address is now a Post Office Box.
Through selective breeding in captivity many of these beautiful animals have been bred to express patterns and colors that would not last in the wild. These corn snakes are dramatically different than their wild counterparts. These babies would be picked off quickly by predators and would not survive to breed.
There are many boa constrictors sold at these events, and in pet shops throughout the country. They are beautiful creatures but can get very large and are extremely strong. People contact us regularly with hopes that we can take their unwanted boas. We have accepted three and are unable to take any more at this time. Because of their potential size and care requirements, boas, that manage to survive, rarely stay with their original owners. Facilities that are willing to take one of these unwanted animals have usually already done so. They are long lived, so vacancies, at such facilities, are few and far between.
Surprisingly there is also a trade in venomous snakes. There was a table was full of venomous snakes for sale.
One species available was the Mexican West coast rattlesnake (Crotalus basiliscus), is one of the larger species of rattlesnake. Rattlesnakes use their rattle as a warning to would be predators. If left alone they are not aggressive creatures but should be admired in the wild from a safe distance. Other beautiful but deadly large rattlesnakes were also for sale and did not necessarily go home with someone equipped to properly and safely maintain it.
Hard to believe that this and many other venomous snakes are offered for sale through the pet trade. Only the most experienced keepers should even consider maintaining a creature like this. Typically this would mean the keeper is a professional working with a zoo or other proper facility.
Gila monster, Heloderma suspectum, is a beautiful but venomous species of lizard, native to the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexican state of Sonora. These were also available for purchase.
These baby red eared sliders are common, inexpensive turtles that are often purchased as babies but when the novelty of ownership wears off, they are nearly impossible to place. They are offered to us on a regular basis as "donations." Any animal we accept at Animal Embassy is an economic commitment that we take very seriously. Unfortunately we are not able to accept any more of the species. We are at capacity.
At $85.00 per turtle, these adorable babies are frequently purchased as pets. The third largest species in the world, these African tortoises require very large enclosures and a basking temperature of over 100 degrees.
Sulcata tortoises grow rapidly. Chris' first Sulcata adoption came to him at age seven and was already 25 pounds. He is now approximately 60 pounds and eleven years old. For sale was an African Spurred Tortoise (Geochelone sulcata), the third largest species of tortoise in the world, which inhabits the southern edge of the Sahara desert, in Africa. These animals can live to be 100-150 lbs. At Animal Embassy we now have two of them. Our second Sulcata, Niala, was found wandering around the property of the Greenwich Audubon. It is the third tortoise that we have adopted that was found loose in Greenwich, Connecticut. Ruby, a Red Foot Tortoise from South America, and Harare, an African Leopard tortoise, both at Animal Embassy, were also found loose in the town. It is safe to say they did not swim from their native lands.
Dendrobates azureus is a type of poison dart frog found in the forests of southern Suriname and northern to central Brazil. Azul, a blue poison dart frog, is one of the newest additions to the Animal Embassy crew. We adopted her from a family who purchased her from a reptile show for their child but could no longer care for her. Since she is on a diet of fruit flies and baby crickets she is not poisonous. This is not a beginner animal.
These iguanas could very well have been purchased from this or another similar "pet expo." They are now up for adoption, just three of the many unwanted and often neglected iguanas, refugees of the pet trade.
Although a "reptile show," there were many different creatures for sale. The purchase of any animal should be treated with care, and the responsibility taken seriously. Rabbits too were available for sale, and the children at the show were falling "in love" with the baby rabbits. As with all animals these bunnies will grow up and represent a life, requiring a long term commitment.
So many creatures are purchased as pets for children, and as they grow the reality of the commitment becomes more than the owner is willing to handle. Any pet needs specialized care and depends on their owners to do the necessary research to ensure their health and well being. Some even pose a threat to their owners, the community or the local environment. Captive bred pets should never be released and wild animals should certainly not be taken from their natural habitats. Over the years Chris has rescued, adopted or re-homed hundreds of exotic and local animals. Animal Embassy has become the permanent home to over 100 such creatures including: birds, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, arachnids, insects and other arthropods. We love all of our animals and have found ways to house them properly and utilize them in a way that respectfully incorporates them in educational programs and exhibits.
Each animal we take on requires us to do research to ensure their proper care. Our true passion is to see animals in the wild where they truly belong. Unfortunately most of them can never be released. When presented with a local species we will, when appropriate, get the animal back to its natural habitat.