World Snake Day: Do snakes make good pets?

Posted on 16/07/2019 by Ethan Wolf

Happy World Snake Day! Did you know that snakes like ball pythons are wild animals? Test your snake knowledge with our Q&A

In the wild, ball python snakes live in a wide range of habitats, often hiding in burrows during the day and trees at night. These large (and long) animals need space to stretch out and roam in search of food.

This begs the question: should ball pythons ever be owned as pets? Read this Q&A before you answer...

Test your snake knowledge

Q: My friend has a snake in their house. Doesn’t that mean the snake is a domesticated animal like my cat and dog?

A: No, snakes such as ball pythons are wild animals and not domesticated. The process of domestication occurs over thousands of years. Animals like cats, dogs and horses have been selectively bred for specific traits that appear over many generations. It is believed that dogs may have been domesticated as long as 27,000 to 40,000 years ago and estimates of cat domestication are between 3,600 and 9,500 years ago. Because these animals are domesticated, with the right care and conditions, they are able to live with humans in captivity without suffering.

In Canada, many snakes sold into the so-called “exotic” pet trade come directly from the wild, mainly from West Africa. Even if they were bred in the United States, they are the offspring of animals who were born in the wild. In a home, there is no way to replicate the space and freedom ball pythons have in their natural environment. As a result, snakes suffer.  They are unable to naturally regulate their body temperature, their diet is poor as they are unable to seek their own food, and they are unable to explore and stretch out as  they would in the wild.

Q: What is wrong with trying to domesticate snakes?

A: The domestication of an animal is a process that takes many generations and occurs over many hundreds or thousands of years. This process involves selectively breeding the animals for certain genes. The breeding of snakes is already dangerous as it reduces the gene pool when breeders inbreed the animals to have more to sell. Breeders also selective breed to produce certain fur and skin colors, as well as scale patterns. Selective breeding can also changethe natural size of an animal, which can have multiple negative impacts on the animal’s physical and mental health. This is particularly common in snakes and other reptiles as buyers increasingly want genetically-altered versions or designer “morphs” that bear little resemblance to their wild relatives.

Q: But my snake was bred in captivity. Doesn’t that make it a domesticated animal?

A: No, a wild animal that is bred in captivity does not stop being a wild animal. A wild animal’s instincts do not disappear simply because they were born outside of their natural, wild environment. These instincts do not disappear when these wild animals live in a house or apartment or any type of enclosure. The natural instinct to move away from a heat source when too hot or move toward a heat source when cold still exists. The natural instincts to hunt and  hide still exist. A wild animal remains wild, even in captivity.

Q: My snake seems really happy when I talk to them and I love them.  Why do you think my snake is suffering? 

A: Regardless of whether a snake is captive-bred or comes from the wild, they suffer in captivity. For animals like snakes, it is difficult to recognize the signs of illness or suffering. Even if you can find a veterinarian with the experience and training to treat snakes, the veterinarian still may have difficulty diagnosing the snake’s ailments. and hard to find appropriate veterinary care.

As a result of the stress of captivity, an estimated 75 percent of captive snakes die within one year.*

Q: I am confused.  Is it better to buy a snake bred in captivity or a snake born in the wild?

A: Neither! Regardless of where the snake hatched, they will suffer greatly unless they are in the wild. When wild-caught, individuals may be exposed to stressful physical handling and injuries during capture, and then potential further stress and high mortality rates from the subsequent transportation, storage and processing. Estimated mortality rates for wild-caught reptiles range from five to 100 percent and between five to 25 percent for captive-bred species. The mortality rate at one reptile breeder was estimated to be 72 percent. 80 percent of the animals observed in the breeder’s facility were sick or dying. That accounted for more than 3,000 animals during a six-week time period.

Q: What is the best thing I can do to protect these animals?

A: The first thing you can do is sign our wildlife pledge. You can also sign up to volunteer with us to make an even greater impact for these animals. After that, please take some time to review our website for more information. We recently published detailed reports on African grey parrots and river otters in Asia. We also made a short documentary regarding our investigation into the trade in river otters. Make sure you stay in touch for more ways to help.

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And you can always be an advocate for wild animals by telling your family, friends, and coworkers that wild animals should stay in the wild.

*Warwick, C. The Morality of the Reptile “Pet” Trade. J. Anim. Ethics 2014, 4, 74–94; Ashley, S.; Brown, S.; Ledford, J.; Martin, J.; Nash, A. E.; Terry, A.; Tristan, T.; Warwick, C. Morbidity and

*Mortality of Invertebrates, Amphibians, Reptiles, and Mammals at a Major Exotic Companion Animal Wholesaler. J. Appl. Anim. Welf. Sci. 2014, 17, 308–321.