In January, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission busted eight wildlife traffickers after a years-long investigation, intercepting nearly 200 living, feeling snakes trafficked from seven different regions of the world. Many of these snakes posed an imminent threat to Florida’s ecology and human safety—but more importantly, they were the victims of a perilous, wretched smuggling process. Even if reptiles manage to survive such exploitation, they’re likely to be bought by inexperienced people and die from neglect.
Although these vulnerable reptiles were victimized by the black market, those sold legally at pet stores, at trade shows, and online endure similar abuse.
Reptile Mills Supply Major Pet Stores
PETA eyewitnesses spent a combined 15 weeks at Reptiles by Mack, a reptile mill in Xenia, Ohio, that breeds and sells frogs, lizards, turtles, and other animals to pet stores across the country, including PetSmart, where they documented the systemic abuse and deprivation inherent in the reptile trade.
For many of these animals, the stress and suffering started even before they arrived in Ohio. They were shipped from all over the world in horrific conditions: crammed into plastic 2-liter bottles, 1-gallon milk jugs, mesh bags, or wooden crates divided into tiny compartments like egg cartons. Many were dead on arrival—having surely suffered horrifically during capture and transport.
Wild-Caught Reptiles Suffer Just as Much
Reptiles are also often kidnapped from their homes in the U.S. or abroad and endure the same perilous journey as those shipped from reptile mills. This activity depletes ecosystems of key populations, and the victims usually die quickly in captivity. Wild-caught and captive-bred reptiles were found languishing in the same deplorable conditions at U.S. Global Exotics, where tens of thousands of animals suffered on any given day. Only a few staff members were employed to “care” for them, and PETA revealed that every day, many perished from untreated illnesses, infections, or injuries.
Small-Time Breeders Are No Better
Every day, breeders make a killing at traveling reptile trade shows—convention centers are packed with breeders who exhibit reptiles crammed into plastic containers and for sale to the general public. Customers only see the healthiest, most sellable animals and are often hyped into buying reptiles they are in no way prepared to care for, which is of little concern to many sellers. Often, reptiles sold by these breeders develop health problems and rapidly deteriorate.
Animals Are Individuals, Not Accessories
If you go to YouTube right now, you can find countless “unboxing” videos of live reptiles—but it’s not right to buy animals or treat them like toys or the latest piece of technology.
The consumer culture of keeping and selling reptiles runs deep, and there’s a heavy emphasis on buying and breeding “morphs,” who have genetic variations of animals’ physical traits not normally found in nature. This obsession with genetic expression perpetuates the view of animals as human accessories, only to be valued if they have certain characteristics. Meanwhile, “uninteresting” reptiles languish, warehoused in containers and passed over for others.
How You Can Help Reptiles
Never buy reptiles. No matter how much you know about their care, you would be supporting a heinous industry in which someone profits from exploiting animals. If you want to care for a reptile who needs you, adopt from an animal shelter or directly from someone else who is seeking a home for a reptile they can’t take care of.
Take action against pet stores that continue to sell live animals, and refuse to support businesses that sell live animals, such as Petco and PetSmart.