Everyone in herpetoculture thinks about it but no one will ever say it. So here it is in black & white for everyone to take a real hard look at. Who is actually responsible when an individual is injured by a reptile? Before you freak out and begin running up the storm flag, really ask yourself who is responsible and where are the borders in a customer relationship?
Let’s just say you sell someone a reptile that injures someone. Who does the responsibility fall on? Is it the keeper/owner or should it be the seller? I know most of you will say that it’s the owner. Now then I ask you, was that person educated to the best of your ability? Was that individual experienced with that particular reptile or something similar? I can tell you from personal experience that over 50% of retailers whether at shows or local shops cannot answer those questions. How about you?
I once had a person come to a reptile shop I was working at who wanted to buy a Green Anaconda Eunectes murinus. No problem with that right? Now then, he had two little girls with him. I began the conversation thusly.
“Great so what types of reptiles do own now?”
“This will be my second snake but I have owned several Bearded Dragons.”
“OK, what kind of snake do you have?”
“I see, so do you have an enclosure to house this particular snake, because they get pretty large and housing can become an issue.”
“Oh, well I am going to put a fence around my outside pond and keep it in there.”
This is the juncture where I immediately understood that this individual had no idea what they were getting into. After a few more minutes of conversation I resolved to explain that this probably was not a good idea for this person to purchase such a potentially large snake without some further experience in keeping reptiles. I refused to sell him the snake based on my personal judgment that he was not responsible enough to keep such a large reptile. Obviously I lost a potential customer. But at the same time I didn’t potentially risk someone being injured by a dangerous situation. Granted this is an extreme and is not common but the fact of the matter is this I took responsibility to ask.
Are you responsible?
I go to a lot of shows and shops every year. Rarely do I hear the seller ask about the customers experience in the particular species they are purchasing. The onus is presumed by the buyer I agree. But shouldn’t we do our part as a seller of reptiles to make sure that the purchaser of our reptiles knows what they are getting in to when purchasing a reptile? Do we worship the all mighty dollar of the sale too much?
With all the litigation being proposed I think it’s high time we start taking responsibility for our own actions. I am not suggesting that we give a potential customer an application to fill out prior to the purchase of a reptile species that we have produced. Nor am I suggesting that reptile breeders and buyers go through a 15 day waiting period so a background check can be done on the potential buyer.
Is it really us against them?
All I am asking you to do is be responsible enough to ask a few questions in the course of conversation during the potential sale of a species. Look at the amount of abandoned reptiles every year. I’m sure you’d agree, it’s not hard to see what I am proposing here would be a benefit to the reptile community as a whole. As breeders and sellers of reptiles you must be the ones to regulate yourselves. If we don’t the government will. No one wants that. The government would have to spend tax payer dollars for yet another regulatory committee in order to enforce the new legislation which is already shown to be lacking in both funds and knowledge anyway.
I am not saying that we should lie down and let the government run our industry while we stand idly by either. I know there is a common ground that can be reached if we would take the time to converse with our customers. We will never get the actual truth of the incidents that occur where a reptile injures a human without being directly involved in the incident. We can all agree the mass media has to deliver a product that sells. Unfortunately, for the human populous what sells is misery. Given that edict the mass media will spin a simple accident into something much greater. We’ve seen it happen already.
Promote responsible reptile keeping
How many times have you read or heard about an incident that could have easily been prevented. As reptile owners we need to think long and hard before taking the actions that we do. We as owners should promote responsible reptile keeping. We ourselves are responsible for promoting reptiles in a positive light where the public understands that reptiles are no more dangerous than any other pet. We have a growing industry but it’s nowhere near the numbers of dogs, cats, and other mammal’s people keep. We need to show some responsibility in our actions and our words. So what are you doing that reflects in a positive light?