What would the world be like without pets? A new bill proposed in House could make this a reality. All pet owners should be aware of a pending federal government resolution. HR669 stands for House Resolution 669 which is designed to change the way the government classifies non-native species. If passed into law it will have a tremendous impact on keeping pets in America. It will make it illegal to sell and breed many animals common in the pet trade including most species of tropical fish, ferrets, most reptile and amphibian species, corals, and many others. Though That Fish Place/That Pet Place is in favor of an effective invasive species law, we are convinced this is absolutely not the legislation to accomplish that. Please read Frank Indiviglio’s blog below to find out more and learn what you can do to help prevent this from even being introduced as a proposed law.
Frank Indiviglio here. By now many readers are no doubt aware of the bill known as House Resolution 669, which is currently before Congress. If passed, HR 669 will dramatically impact, if not eliminate, pet keeping as we now know it.Check out the proposal as written here to educate yourself and form your own opinion. For more information and some simple (i.e. “click of your mouse”) steps that you can take to register your opinions, please check out: NoHR669.com
A variety of well-informed arguments against the passage of HR 669 have been raised, many of which are summarized at the aforementioned web site. I would like to present here a slightly different take on the issue, one drawn from a lifetime of work in the pet trade and as a professional zoologist and conservationist.
Pet keeping has inspired generations of zoo, aquarium and conservation professionals – the very people upon whom the future of wildlife and wild places depends. Virtually all zookeepers, zoologists, conservationists, zoo curators, and aquarists – from Raymond Ditmars, first Curator of Reptiles at the Bronx Zoo, to today’s leaders – started out as children with pets, and from this fascination with animals sprouted a career. This hold true for those with roots in city and countryside, poverty and wealth alike.
The Influence of Nonnative Species
In many cases, the pets that gave rise to and encouraged these people arrived here from afar. In fact, all of our most commonly kept pet species – guppies, goldfishes, parakeets, canaries, dogs, cats and others, not to mention our domesticated “food animals” save the turkey – are nonnative. The same holds true for invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians.
The reasons are often not apparent – for example, birds, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates and fishes from tropical regions are often far simpler to breed in captivity than are temperate species, which usually require a period of reduced temperature and day length if they are to reproduce. The ability to breed so many exotic creatures encouraged many people to delve deeper, and to apply what they learned to the breeding of endangered species. Of course, keeping such animals first hand has also long served to inspire a sense of wonder in us, and to urge many to go out into the world and discover just what animals live there, and what can be done to help them.
It must be remembered also that many native animals are legally protected and cannot be kept as pets, and that the ready availability of captive bred foreign species is an important deterrent to the illegal collecting of native wildlife.
The husbandry expertise and respect for animals garnered in the process of caring for them cannot but help find its way into the zoo and conservation realms. Here in the USA, well-known conservation success stories, including the rescue of the American alligator and black-footed ferret from sure extinction, relied on captive breeding techniques that had long been utilized by serious pet owners working with similar species. Similar scenarios, both here and abroad, are legion.
Problems Facing Zoo Breeding Programs
Zoos today are unable to meet the challenges posed by an unprecedented number of critically endangered species…all of the world’s zoos could fit comfortably into less than one half the area occupied by New York City. It has recently been postulated that, even with international cooperation, the world’s zoos could sustain (as opposed to merely “exhibit”) perhaps 500 animal species…a mere fraction of the number faced with imminent extinction.
Pet Keepers Respond to the Turtle Crisis
It is just such a situation which led to the formation, in 2001, of the Turtle Survival Alliance. This venture draws together zoo herpetologists and private turtle hobbyists in an effort to take concrete conservation action on behalf of the world’s turtle populations, the majority of which are in severe decline. In one TSA effort, numerous private turtle keepers helped rehabilitate and house the survivors of a group of 10,000 illegally collected turtles that were seized in China and transported to Florida. Today these animals, many in private hands, form the breeding nucleus for a number of species which seem destined for extinction in the wild in the very near future.
Pet Keepers Conserving Amphibians
The Disappearing Amphibian Crisis is much in the news today, and with good reason. The situation for many of the world’s frogs and salamanders is so dire that zoos are collecting all the amphibians that can be located in certain habitats. The hope is that these animals can be kept and bred for possible reintroduction once the threats posed by a rapidly spreading, deadly fungus can be addressed.
Once again, the expertise developed in part by pet keepers has played a major role in the rescue effort. As concerns frog breeding, hobbyists have kept pace with zoo efforts. For example, the blue poison frog, restricted in nature to a single mountainside in Surinam, is now a pet trade staple. Similar stories abound, and the knowledge brought to the zoo field by pet keepers turned zookeepers is helping to assure that frog songs will continue to enliven spring evenings in the future.
The outlook for amphibians, however, is stark, and zoos do not have the facilities or finances to cope. As with turtles, pet keepers with space and breeding expertise are being called into service as “foster parents”. The most recent IUCN Red Data Book provides the grim news that one third of all amphibians are either threatened or already extinct. Of these, 159 species are or may already be gone – 38 are known to be extinct and 121 species have not been seen in recent years and are likely no longer with us. Those remaining are faring little better – 42% of the known species are declining in numbers, many dramatically, while less than 1% are increasing.
Pet Care Expertise and other Animals
The situation is likely just as critical for other groups that pet keepers have had great success in breeding, including parrots, tortoises and corals. Where invertebrates are concerned, we do not as yet even have a handle on the magnitude of the problem. We have closely studied a mere 0.2% of the estimated 30 million insect species, and a far smaller percentage of arachnids and other groups.
However, over 300 species of insects, spiders, scorpions and other terrestrial invertebrates, and a far greater number of aquatic species, are established in breeding populations by pet keepers worldwide. The lessons learned in the process have been applied to captive breeding and reintroduction programs for a number of North American species, including Karner blue butterflies, burying beetles and red-kneed tarantulas.
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