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Keeping Reptiles Newsletter
 Issue 22   
November, 2005
Should Reptile Keeping be Restricted to Native Animals?
In this Issue

by Mark Chapple

A recent email from a colleague in South Africa prompted me to consider this issue in a little more depth. I live in Australia, a country with quite stringent restrictions and regulations on the keeping of reptiles in many states. You must be licensed to keep reptiles in my state, although the licensing is not tracked excessively and is readily available to anyone over the age of 10. And you can only keep native reptiles.

In many ways the licensing has benefits for the keepers. Reptiles can only purchased from other licensed breeders or keepers. In theory the illegal trade, both endangered and common, is reduced, although I would not be naïve enough to suggest it is eliminated. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that it is thriving, at least at the international level.

These regulations have come about through a variety of reasons but I believe primarily for two reasons:
- the environmental and economic damage caused by the introduction of invasive and alien species and the resulting high rate of extinction of endemic animals. These introduced animals include cane toads, foxes, cats, rabbits, dogs, pigs, goats, water buffalo, horses, Indian mynas, starlings, sparrows, pacific sea star and crown of thorns star. All have had significant impacts on native fauna and flora – 19 species of small mammals have become extinct from cats, foxes and dogs in the last 100 years;
- the high level of endemism among Australian animals due to their isolation, together with threats from settlement and land practices has endangered the survival of a large number of them. This has resulted in Australia passing wide-ranging federal and state legislation protecting both endangered and secure species (although there is still is much more to be done) in an effort to reduce the alarming extinction or endangerment rate.

All of the introduced animals were released in significant numbers (only 24 in the case of rabbits but that is still significant – they breed like rabbits), either to eliminate pests, for hunting, as pets or accidentally. As a result, most have been able to breed extensively and compete with the local fauna for food and habitat (Australia has the only known population of feral wild camels in the world). In many cases they destroy the local animals by preying on them, eg foxes, dogs and cats, some kill through ingestion, such as cane toads and others just compete to the point where there is no available food, such as rabbits in the early part of last century and crown of thorns stars more recently.

So what are the advantages and disadvantages of restricting ownership of reptiles to only native species?

Allowing only the keeping of native reptiles has allowed some degree of management of the trade and reduces significantly the number of wild caught animals. There is reduced demand for them and keepers can generally only get access through other licensed keepers or breeders. This should allow native populations to stabilise and grow. The extensive ball python trade had an impact on the ball python population in Africa, although this has been reduced in some parts such as Ghana with the creation of an export trade based on farm raised animals and regulated trading and capture and the increasing number available through breeders. Some parts of Africa are still not regulated and will probably see population crashes unless the trade is managed.

It also reduces the possibility of diseases being imported and spreading from wild caught animals from other countries. Many of the animals that are wild caught have parasites or diseases that can have a potentially devastating impact on native reptiles. The importation and sale of reptiles not properly quarantined, licensed or bred aggravates these risks. Likewise, illegal imports threaten local populations.

Another advantage is educating and enabling people to better appreciate their country’s native reptiles. Creating interest in reptiles unique to their country and their habitats should benefit the animals. Land clearance practices have led to the destruction or modification of large areas of native habitats in Australia. Australians also have a habit of killing snakes as there are, uniquely, more venomous than non-venomous snakes in Australia. Educating people about these animals, their role in the environment and the need to preserve them is vital to their long term viability in the wild.

Not allowing the keeping of alien or exotic reptiles reduces the possibility of these species escaping into the wild and causing damage to an already fragile eco-system. It is sound argument on the surface but any escapes would need to be in significant numbers to have any impact and would in fact have to be almost deliberate or from a large collection. For example a red-tailed boa escaping in Melbourne would not survive long in winter. Similarly, one escaping in Sydney would be hardly likely to meet another that perhaps escaped in Brisbane. Releasing several breeding pairs into the tropical rainforests of northern Queensland, however, would have vastly different effects. That would be a deliberate act of environmental vandalism. These acts do not need to be deliberate. The Red-eared Slider Turtle is cause for concern in parts of the world such as Malaysia where it is beginning to push native turtles from their habitat.

On the other hand, not having access to alien or exotic reptiles has its own implications.

Australia has not allowed native animals to be sold overseas for many years. This has led to issues of genetic diversity in some of the less available reptiles kept by overseas owners in the US, UK, Asia, South Africa and Europe. Some of these animals do not live as long and do not develop as well as they should. Allowing the sale of some animals, even in reduced numbers, would improve the genetic diversity and perhaps even improve the chances of the survival of some species through breeding efforts, such as has occurred already in Australia. It would, I believe, produce benefits for the animals and reptile owners around the world if it was managed in a sustainable and controlled way. It may even reduce the price of animals and relieve some of the illegal trade pressure.

It has created quite a flourishing illegal trade due to the scarcity and consequent high price that these animals command. The animals in turn suffer dreadfully. They are drugged and placed in suitcases, strapped to bodies and stuffed in all manner of containers with little or no ventilation in many cases. The death rate is often very high, but the price realised at the end justifies the high mortality. (there are many cases of people caught smuggling out of the country).

Allowing the keeping of alien or exotic reptiles also has some other advantages.

Our appreciation of exotic animals benefits by having access to them. Of course it should be managed so that wild caught animals are not traded excessively or to the point of being endangered and the available animals are free from disease and healthy. While international agreements are already in existence, these need to be adequately policed and monitored.

I personally don’t have an issue with people requiring a license to keep reptiles. The licensing should not be onerous, should be inexpensive, open to everyone and easy to get. It is really about making a statement. When you choose to keep certain types of reptiles it comes with a responsibility to both you and the animal. Having the licence means you understand that responsibility. As an example the license I have tells me what sort of animals I need a license for and what I don’t (not all require one). I also have to keep records of the animals I purchase, sell or those that die. It’s not a big deal and easy to do.

While this may be contentious I think it reinforces the idea that these animals do need special care and should be looked after in a responsible manner. There is a thriving trade in iguanas in the US but the numbers that die within a very short time of purchase is significant to the point of being unacceptable. Owners need to understand that an animal like that comes with a significant responsibility and has specific dietary and habitat requirements.

As one person wrote to me, expressing it better than I ever could:

“the S. Africa legislation taking place about "invasive" species …. puts a real damper on everyone's fun and hands-on education activities. I love the freedoms we experience here in the U.S. I can have virtually anything that I find of interest and can therefore learn about them and educate others about them. Without the ability to have first hand experience with these animals I doubt I would pursue these interests to the extent that I currently do and that would make for a very boring life - not to mention what a disservice it would be to the understanding and conservation of these animals with fewer people getting to experience how amazing the animals are.”

Overly strict regimes and regulations make it difficult for keen herpetologists and herp owners to legally keep and manage their collections, or in fact own any exotic reptile. While there is a need to manage our reptilian resources and provide the best outcomes for the animals concerned, both locally and internationally, this is not always achieved by draconian measures that take no account of responsible and experienced herp owners. Working cooperatively with the herp community to ensure realistic and enforceable laws and frameworks will produce a much more practical and achievable outcome that provides benefits and solutions for all stake holders.

Fee free to add your views, dissagree with mine or just throw down some thoughts on my blog at


Genetics of Reptiles - Simple Genetics Part 2

by Arno Naude


Double recessive genes are what you need to produce snow corns or albino motley corns or albino labyrinth Burmese pythons, as well as numerous other combinations which are expressed visually. The babies can be normal looking but produce offspring which can give you 3 different visually expressed mutations.

If you know of someone who accidentally bred these double hets then grab them because usually they will go for about the same price as normals but can be put with each other or with other specimens which already express one of the colour or pattern mutations you are looking for.

These animals are often called Smartie box babies because of the potential for strange colours and patterns when "opened".

When species are cross bred such as Carpet pythons with Water pythons and one or both of these have colour mutations then almost anything can happen. There are usually pattern variations within the clutch and some specimens will look better than others. Intergrading sub species such as the Carpet python and the Diamond python can also create unusual mutations which can be made more confusing when a mutation such as an albino gene is introduced.

Co-dominant genes work the same way as the simple recessive genes except that in the first generation you can see which carry these genes. Thus "hetero" babies can be visually identified and when put together it can produce "Supers" of that trait. In reticulated pythons a Tiger retic will have some striping in its pattern and when put with another Tiger this can produce a Super Tiger.

If you put a Tiger retic with a normal retic you will have 50 % tiger and 50 % normal babies. It is thus impossible to get hetero for Tiger.

Super Tigers are considered a dominant gene. If aSuper Tiger is bred with a normal retic all the babies will be Tigers which are thus the "heteros" for Super tiger.

So if you put two Tigers together you will get 25% normal babies 50 % Tigers and 25% Super Tigers.

If you put two Super Tigers together they will produce 100% Super Tiger babies.

These co-dominant or dominant genes are found mainly in the pythons and boas. This includes Salmon, Jungle and Motley in Boa Constrictors and with Ball pythons you find the most types including Pastel, Mojave, Pinstripe, Platinum, Spider and a few others which you need to really stare at to see. The Hypo and Jaguar phases of Carpet pythons seem to fall into this category although this is still a new mutation and needs a bit more work done.

If you cross a Co-dominant or dominant gene with a recessive gene then things become a bit complicated. Crossing a Tiger retic with an albino retic will give you 50 % tigers and 50 % normals but they will all be hetero for albino. Crossing a Super Tiger with an albino will give you the percentages listed above as well as them all being hetero for albino as well.

There are other variations to colours and patterns called morphs. These are not predictable as with simple genetics but are also genetic. Many of the Californian king snake patterns and Chondropython colours are classified as morphs.

This means that a high yellow Green Tree python could produce normal babies who produce normal babies who in turn could produce stunning yellow babies. The genes are in there somewhere but will not necessarily be expressed in either the first or second generation. The problem with Green Tree pythons the babies change colour as they grow older so this throws you out a bit more. The blue colouration in Green tree pythons has more than one theory about the origin. Some believe it is just a simple recessive gene, others believe it is as a result of old age or gravidity whilst others believe it is locality specific. Technically if a green tree python was axanthic i.e. with no yellow pigment then it should be blue. The jury is still out on the Green Tree python colour morphs.

Petition for Rattle Snake Roundup

PLEASE, take a moment to sign onto this page to save the rattlesnakes from some grisly, savage and cruel deaths. They need 10,000 signatures and you don't have to be a resident of New Mexico to be counted.

This is a fairly inhumane and archaic practice that has been going on for many years and is impacting on wild rattelsnake populations not only where it takes place but also in nearby counties as they rbing rattlesnakes in for the 'festivities'

Feedback and Updating

A minor review of the "How to build reptile enclosures" book was completed recently and the new book is uploaded.

Those of you who have purchased the book can download this newer version and any further updates as they occur free of charge and they will open automatically. If you have lost the download details, just email me and I will send them out to you.

I have added:
- How to make sliding doors
- Better waterproofing your cage
- Making artificial trees (also added to the site at

A number of minor amendments and additions

I would appreciate any feedback, good and bad about making your own reptile cages. I am looking for information, constructive criticism and ideas. These could include things like:

- What sort of additions would you like to see made eg making vivariums, wooden cages for Iguanas, making a cage stand etc ?
- How could the reptile cages be improved further?
- What are you particularly proud of?
- What worked well for you?
- What did not work well?
- What was difficult and how you got around it
- Requests and ideas for future reptile cage plans eg "How to make a reptile cage stand"

In particular I will soon be documenting the arboreal cage building process but I do intend to review as much as possible, hopefully based on user feedback as much as anything else.

I would also appreciate any pictures you have of your cages - using my plans or otherwise (we're all in this for fun and enjoyment so share away), so we can start to build a gallery of snake, iguana and other reptile cages of different varieties. This would be particularly useful as while many people like to show their pets in photos, not many pictures show the enclosures and I know that many people are interested in seeing how others have set up their reptile cages in order to get ideas.

I believe the collective pool of knowledge and skills we have can allow these plans to improve on a continuous basis.

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IGUANA CAGE PLANS has launched

The feedback on these plans has been very positive. Made by a recognized iguana cage maker with many years experience and a wealth of knowledge about keeping Iguanas. These cages are fabulous and could be easily adapted to large snakes and large lizards or arboreal species.

When you purchase reptile cage plans you also get access to a copy of these plans as part of your purchase. They can be used for large lizards and large snakes quite easily, but you do need some room to put them in as they are quite large

They are easy to make and it does take a little time. But you get a great cage in return. You can alter the cage to suit your own personal style and there are hints and tips throughout the book.

If you have already purchased reptile cage plans you can collect you copy of this eBook for free. Simply email me and let me know you would like a copy and I will send you a username and password so you can download your own copy.

Otherwise, go and make a purchase now and get a copy of this fantastic resource as well as the original plans plus all of the great bonuses. You will not find a better deal anywhere.

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Tell Us What You Think!!

We would love to hear what you think of this (or any other) issue of Keeping Reptiles.

And of course, if you have any suggestions for upcoming issues that you'd like to share with us, please send those, too!

These could include:

  • Great herp web-sites
  • Why you pet reptile is fantastic
  • Funny things that happened
  • Dumb**s things that happened
  • Images you'd like to share.

Remember - there are lots of people who would love to hear your stories. Just e-mail me at: Reptile-Cage-Plans

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