The following, “Correcting the Record: New York Times Gets it Wrong on Reptiles in the U.S. Pet Trade,” originally appeared on The Reptile Report. It was written by John Mack—president and founder of Reptiles by Mack, a Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) board member, chair of PIJAC’s Herp Committee and a monthly columnist in Pet Age—and Joshua Jones, PIJAC’s Deputy Director of Government Affairs and PIJAC’s staff liaison to the Herp Committee:
On April 9, reptile enthusiasts, hobbyists and professionals read the New York Times article, “That Python in the Pet Store? It May Have Been Snatched From the Wild.” The Times piece demonstrates our need to better educate the public about reptiles as pets. Additionally, a follow-up set of “Teaching Activities” continued the original article’s falsehoods and linked to outdated misinformation promoted by a well-known animal rights organization, the Humane Society of the United States.
The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) responded recently to the Times article with a letter to the editor, which they have not published. We want to set the record straight on behalf of responsible keepers and law-abiding businesses in the U.S. reptile trade regarding some of the claims made in the article.
First and foremost, the article incorrectly implies that the U.S. pet trade is primarily driven by illegal imports. This falsehood is evidenced not only by the article’s title but also in the piece itself:
But popularity has spawned an enormous illegal trade, conservationists say. Many reptiles sold as pets are said to have been bred in captivity, and sales of those animals are legal. In fact, many—perhaps most, depending on the species—were illegally captured in the wild.
Misstatements such as the one referenced above only serve to confuse the public about the suitability of specific reptiles as pets and do not accurately represent the activities of our members or the responsible U.S. pet trade.
Second, we recognize the significant benefits of the human-animal bond in all its forms. Whether a person keeps reptiles, fish, birds, invertebrates, rabbits, dogs, or cats, we support their rights and freedoms to find the best companion animal for their family and lifestyle. Unfortunately, articles like this are also used to justify ordinances and legislation prohibiting ownership and sale of common pets and only serve to make it more difficult for Americans to choose the pet that meets their needs.
Thirdly, we were disappointed that not a single member of the domestic trade was quoted in the article. While PIJAC was contacted for data and comments, prominent organizations in the U.S. reptile industry were not. Neither the U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK), the leading advocacy group for reptile and amphibian keepers, nor anyone in the prominent reptile breeding and wholesale business, such as Reptiles by Mack, were contacted for comment or data.
As a result, readers were not made aware of the 2011 USARK study that showed exports of reptiles in the U.S. outnumber imports by a 10 to one margin. Further, readers were not privy to information from PIJAC’s 2017 white paper on aspects of reptiles as pets. The white paper states that the reptile sector’s growth “…has been fueled largely by captive bred animals and improved husbandry practices of pet reptiles.”
The article also conflated the non-U.S. international trade of many reptile species, such as Tokay geckos, with importations to the U.S. for the pet trade. The author rightly noted concerns with the international trade but did not differentiate between America and some Asian nations—the latter of which face issues with limitations on compliance with regulations and accountability. Additionally, the article seemed to confuse the importation and exportation of certain reptiles for the “skin trade”ith that of the pet trade. Finally, it included several paragraphs discussing the trade of mammalian echidnas, using this irrelevant importation information for against the reptile trade.
In closing, the article published by the Times consisted of inferences, unproven claims, and referenced an over 25-year-old illegal importation case in an attempt to give a black eye to the U.S. domestic reptile trade. It also asserted that pets in the U.S. reptile trade were “snatched from the wild.” This piece was less about investigative journalism and more about animal activism finding a platform to attack the many responsible small business owners and hobbyists who make up the ethical, law-abiding reptile trade.