There has been a lot of recent controversy in the reptile and amphibian pet trade of the U.S. with the recent ban on importing large pythons in Florida. The accidental establishment of burmese pythons in the Everglades calls the practice of keeping reptiles as pets into question. Hundreds of reptiles and amphibians are sold at reptile shows or in pet stores to irresponsible owners in whose hands they often either die or are released, spreading disease and competing with native species. In addition, the importation of rare reptiles and amphibians from other countries can severely deplete wild populations. This has led some scientists to hide the locations of newly discovered species in order to protect these animals from pet traders.
The worldwide pet trade is also believed to have played a significant role in spreading, and possibly creating, the virulent strain of amphibian chytrid fungus that is currently wreaking havoc across the world. Any time animals (or any other organic products) are shipped to another country, they bring with them foreign diseases, parasites and other hitchhikers that can spread throughout an area where there is no built up resistance.
Detrimental as the pet trade may seem to amphibians, there are some aspects that are beneficial. Captive breeding of amphibians helps to ensure a species survival in captivity at least, if not in the wild. Conservation biologists breed rare species with the aim of returning them to the wild, unlike herpetoculturists, but they still have the same initial result – lots more amphibians. Anyone interested in purchasing a salamander, frog, lizard snake or other herp as a pet should always try to make sure that their pet is CBB – captive born and bred. CBB means that the animal was captive bred, as opposed to CB (captive born), which can indicate that it was born into captivity from a wild caught individual. Sanitation measures are also important to prevent the spread of the disease into wild populations. Never release a sick or dying animal into the wild. You may think that you are doing it a favor by letting it return to nature, but you are more likely harming its wild brethren by introducing a diseased individual into the environment. Herps can make great pets if cared for properly, and I don’t plan to stop keeping them in the future. What I would like to see more of in herpetoculture, however, is the captive breeding of rare reptiles and amphibians so that we can have captive populations of these animals in case they become endangered or extinct in the wild. As time goes on, I believe that more and more rare and unique animals will disappear from the wild. If we don’t act now to preserve them, we may have nothing but fossils and preserved specimens to remember them by.