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February 1, 2015

As a boy, I remember my terrible frustration with trying to keep various reptiles alive because almost all of them were collected in the wild back then. Even if you were successful in keeping your reptiles healthy, it was hard to get them to breed in captivity. Since then, there have been leaps and bounds in the manufacture of equipment and enclosures designed to keep animals in optimum condition and thriving.

A huge increase has also been seen in the number of reptiles and amphibians currently being bred in captivity. This is mostly due to a large movement among reptile hobbyists toward captive propagation, which initially evolved into the recent ball python craze. Because that craze seems to be on a decline, collectors and keepers are starting to branch out to other species, freshly bitten with the breeder’s bug.

A look at reptile product manufacturer lists will show you the vast number of incubators and breeding tools being made and purchased all the time now. Hobbyists are looking at more obscure and challenging-to-breed species, which in turn means a greater number of captive-born specimens of those animals will be available with more regularity.

Scientists warn that the current rate of extinction on our planet is estimated to be around 1,000 to 10,000 times that of the natural rate, with dozens of species disappearing every day (this data comes from a 2004 paper called “Nature” by E. Chivian, et al.). Yet we’ve seen some endangered animals brought back from the edge of extinction by captive breeding programs and many of the breeders were hobbyists who started their love affair with animals in a pet shop.

Putting the importance of helping the planet aside, another clear benefit of captive-bred animals is their overall good health. Generally speaking, captive-born and even most captive-raised animals lack the parasites and illnesses that claim the lives of many imports. They also do not have to deal with the stress of being removed from nature and shipped around the world. Numerous species exhibit better color and patterning when born in captivity—especially after a generation or two—making them more attractive to the consumer. Establishing your store as a great source for clean, captive-born animals is somewhat of a draw in itself. In fact many of our country’s biggest breeders have opened retail locations to advertise just that.

I have seen several reptile shops create end caps and power panels that make breeding materials available to their customers. And why not? It can create a great opportunity to purchase beautiful, well-cared-for baby animals from your own customers. The following scenario happens all the time: A family buys a pair of bearded dragons as pets, but then they start laying eggs. So they decide to purchase an incubator and laying box with incubation material. After following directions and waiting 50 to 80 days, they return to the store with a dozen or two fresh, beautiful baby bearded dragons to donate, sell, or trade back to the store. The kids love it, and now the store has a great supply of captive-born animals that are healthy as can be and without the need to spend on shipping and other associated fees.

Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that there are plenty of great importers in the U.S. that carefully select and care for the wild animals they bring in. I also should note that it is essential to add new blood from imports to captive breeding programs occasionally as well. My point is to open your eyes to the many benefits of animals in love: Well-handled captive breeding programs lead to healthy, attractive herps and that benefits the animal, the hobbyist and the store owner.

-Robert Stephenson

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