February 27, 2015

Humans have long expressed a yearning to bring a bit of nature into the home by keeping pets. The aquatic and herp sections of the pet industry rely heavily on this fact. The animals we choose to keep almost always do better in naturalistic setups. I have been known to preach that we should seek to create the most authentic reproduction of our charges’ natural habitats because of the benefiicial impact that habitat has on them. The added bonus is that, when done correctly, these setups can be very aesthetically pleasing to humans as well.

We are beginning to see a new movement toward this style of keeping. New Facebook groups like the Herpetoculture Revival Project and others are drawing attention to both the benefits and beauty of creating stunning realistic enclosures using many of the simulated products available. There is also a movement toward keeping more obscure animals with very specific needs. More options make this possible.

Along with these trends, there are changes in the types of products manufacturers are producing. More emphasis is being placed on detailed and life-like ornaments. Innovative companies are turning out extremely realistic rock backgrounds and cage furniture. More thought is being given to the design of items such as hide boxes, bowls, drippers and mist machines. I have noticed that the stores that stock these newer state-of-the-art products seem to be doing better than other retailers who stick to the old-fashioned familiar ones.

These attractive accessories, along with the “bringing nature indoors” trend, can be an advantageous selling point for independent retailers. Big box stores do not have the space or knowledge base to set up and display naturalistic environments and so are therefore unlikely to carry those types of items. Yet, nothing makes people want to purchase an aquarium or terrarium more than seeing a beautiful, well-maintained setup on display. The inevitable comment will be something like “I love that; it’s so beautiful. I want that in my home.” Their awe and appreciation of these habitats opens the door for discussion about how you, the retailer, can make that happen for them.

Another recent trend has been that some retailers are keeping live plants on hand for purchase. Why send customers to the local garden center when they can get their greenery right there in your store when buying a tank and other supplies? This is genius. The key to being successful at this is to set up an enticing display and have proper lighting for it. I’ve seen everything from stores with simple rack setups for plants to stores that sell them right out of their terrariums. Some retailers are quite successful selling completed planted terrariums right off the shelf, with lights and inhabitants included. That makes shopping simple and satisfying for the customer.

Of course, when we bring nature into the household, we also bring with it lots of questions and answers that lead to learning. There is, in my opinion, no better way to reconnect humans with nature than keeping pets in their own little slice of the wild. Children raised around animals will learn about the differing necessities of various creatures and how they live. They’ll also witness the miracle of birth and the natural process of dying. To me, there isn’t a greater sight than that of a little reptile poking his nose out of an egg; and I have been lucky enough to share experiences like that with my own children. I’ve also seen many adults take up diving after keeping amazing fish tanks or photography after being inspired by creating and keeping realistic enclosures. All these added benefits of the hobby lead to a greater understanding of our world and, in turn, a worldlier look at life.

-Robert Stephenson

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