With the nation’s diverse blend of unique fauna, it is only natural that Australians would develop a kinship with animals other than the traditional cat or dog. Increasingly, reptiles are growing in popularity as the new pet of choice for many Australians. But whilst keeping a carpet python or a bearded dragon as a household pet might sound like a great novelty, caring for the animal requires much more thought and preparation. To get you started on the path to responsible and enjoyable reptile ownership, Living Years has compiled some helpful tips as recommended by experts, as well as a list of popular publications on the subject.
Check your local laws:
Once you have made the decision that you are willing and able to care for reptiles, you must contact your state and local authorities to check the laws governing reptile ownership in your area. There are a range of laws in place to regulate the ownership of reptiles and heavy fines or possibly imprisonment apply if the rules are broken. Finding out first whether you are allowed to keep reptiles and what the responsibilities of ownership might be should be your first step.
Which reptile is right for me?
Reptiles kept as pets generally include snakes, lizards and turtles crossing a huge array of suitable and not-so-suitable potential pets.
There are some reptiles that only experts should attempt to keep domestically, and other still that should be avoided entirely. Reptiles can be very complex animals to care for depending on the species, and all animals have their own specific heating, lighting and dietary needs. Some lizard species can be quite small, and vulnerable to human contact, whereas others can grow large and may pose a threat to their owner if handled improperly. Venomous snakes and large constrictors present obvious dangers, and even non-venomous snakes may bite. Turtles too, present a range of issues to consider as they are long lived, grow large and have a reputation for being somewhat messy house guests.
On the plus side, there is a wide variety of reptiles that are far better suited for the domestic life, with more simple dietary, housing and handling needs. By far the most important step after checking the local reptile ownership laws is to ask yourself, which reptile is right for me?
Heating, lighting and dietary needs:
Important to keeping any reptile happy is the temperature of their enclosure. Reptiles are cold blooded, with their body temperature determined by their environment. You need to find out from an expert the specific requirements for your pet and ensure the adequate heating is installed in a way that will not pose a burn risk to the animal. This can get complicated with nocturnal animals or in changing seasons, so a constant awareness of the enclosure’s temperature must be maintained.
Another consideration is to know your reptile’s feeding habits. A reptile is not like a cat or dog; many will eat only once or twice a week and perhaps not at all during winter. Forcing your pet to eat could be very dangerous. Again, the best thing to do is seek expert advice.
Locating a reptile keeper
With your license in hand and a sound knowledge of what reptile ownership entails in mind, you can now set out in search of your new pet. Reptiles can only be purchased from a licensed dealer and must never be removed from the wild. Across Australia, there are a growing number of reptile enthusiasts forming groups to share knowledge and experience of life with a scaly sidekick and these can be ideal places for information and advice as you care for your pet over the years.
For further reading, please check these widely acclaimed books:
“Care of Australian Reptiles in Captivity”, by John Weigel.
“Keeping reptiles and amphibians as pets”, by Chris Banks.
“Keeping and Breeding Australian Lizards”, editor Mike Swan.
“Snakes as a new pet”, by Jake Oberon.