Do Snakes Make Good Pets?
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 the grasslands and savannas of East and West Africa, often hiding in burrows during the day and trees at night. These long animals need space to stretch out, bathe fully submerged, and roam in search of food.
This begs the question: should ball pythons ever be kept as companion animals? 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, all snakes, including 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 they’re domesticated, cats and dogs thrive in loving human homes while wild animals cannot.
Some of the snakes sold into the wildlife trade come directly from the wild, while others are bred in captivity in cruel large-scale breeding operations, also known as mills. But even mills must continually incorporate snakes caught in the wild into their populations in order to maintain genetic diversity.
In a human home, there is no way to replicate the space and freedom ball pythons have in their natural environment. As a result, snakes suffer. Often kept in small tanks, snakes cannot regulate their own body temperature, eat a rich and varied diet that they choose, explore, or sometimes even fully stretch their own bodies 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 thousands or tens of thousands of years. This process involves selectively breeding the animals for certain genes. The breeding of snakes is already dangerous because breeders have a financial incentive to engage in inbreeding in order to increase their “stock.” Breeders also selectively breed to produce certain physical attributes, such as scale patterns or colors. Selective breeding can change the natural size of an animal, which can have multiple negative impacts on the animal’s physical and mental health. Buyers increasingly want genetically-altered versions or designer “morphs” that bear little resemblance to their relatives who live in the wild.
Q: But my snake was bred in captivity. Doesn’t that make them a domesticated animal?
A: No, a wild animal who is bred in captivity does not stop being a wild animal. A wild animal’s needs do not change simply because they were born outside of their natural, wild environment. These instincts do not disappear when wild animals are kept in a house or apartment or any type of enclosure. Again, not only is domestication a process that takes thousands or tens of thousands of years, for many species, domestication is simply not possible, such as with elephants.
Q: My snake seems really happy when I talk to them, and I love them. Why do you think my snake is suffering?
A: Wild animals kept in captivity all experience some degree of suffering because they don’t experience the freedom they would in the wild. However, accredited sanctuaries and rescue groups work hard to ensure captive wild animals in their care—animals who cannot be returned to the wild—live meaningful, fulfilling lives. Wild animals in captivity experience a range of care, and if you already possess a snake (or are interested in adopting one from a shelter or rescue), then you can educate yourself about their needs to provide the best life possible in captivity while also working to create a future where no wild animals are kept as pets. For example, it is difficult to recognize the signs of illness in snakes. Finding a veterinarian with experience and training in snake care is an important step.
As a result of the stress of captivity, some scientists estimate that 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! Snakes, like all animals, are not products and should never be purchased. When wild-caught, snakes usually experience stressful physical handling and injuries during capture. During transportation, snakes experience further stress and high mortality rates. In mills, snakes are kept in small, dirty containers packed with dozens of other animals. They are rarely provided veterinary care and often don’t receive nutritious food or clean water. Mortality is usually very high because dead animals are just seen as the cost of doing business.
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 to never purchase a wild animal. If you’re passionate about caring for wild animals, consider working with an accredited sanctuary or shelter to adopt. Many shelters struggle to find appropriate homes for relinquished wild animals who cannot be returned to the wild. You can also sign up to volunteer with us to make an even greater impact for these animals. After that, consider working with your local legislators to pass a law banning the retail sale of wild animals. We have a new toolkit that breaks down the steps.
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, et. al. Mortality of Invertebrates, Amphibians, Reptiles, and Mammals at a Major Exotic Companion Animal Wholesaler. J. Appl. Anim. Welf. Sci. 2014, 17, 308–321.