Chewonki has over 30 years of experience taking in non-releasable wild animals. Instructors travel the state of Maine with these animals educating the public through one-hour natural history lessons. With the proper state and federal permits, Chewonki is home to over 20 animals, including 8 reptiles. Audiences get so excited to meet these animals, often times they want one of their own. It is really important to have all the information you need before bringing home any animal. Here are ten things to know when considering a reptile as a pet:
- Regulations States, cities, and counties have strict regulations on having certain types of reptiles (and other animals). Before bringing home a reptile, you should check with your local Fish and Wildlife Department so you are up to date on all regulations and protocols. For Maine regulations see https://www.maine.gov/ifw/
- Acquisition Knowing if the reptile you are interested in was captive breed or taken from the wild will provide you with a lot of information about that animal, including whether or not this animal is used to being around people, and if it can be handled well. This could also alert you to the practices of that organization you are considering purchasing from how they acquire their animals.
- Needs of the Animal Prior to bringing home a reptile, it is important to know all of the needs of that animal so you can provide proper care — space to move, escape-proof enclosure, similar habitat to what they would have in the wild, and regular cleaning and sanitizing of that enclosure to prevent health issues.
- Lifespan For some types of reptiles, it is a big commitment to bring one home due to how long they can live. Certain lizards and snakes have been known to live up to 15-20 years, and even longer for turtles. Being a pet means they are dependent on you for their care throughout their entire lives. Deciding a pet is no longer wanted and releasing it into the wild is a danger to that animal as well as the local environment.
- Adult Size As cute as some small reptiles are, they do not always stay that size. Being aware that the 20-inch snake you brought home may double in size in the next several months, will help to prepare you for the care and enclosure needs of the snake beforehand.
- Feeding and Nutrition Having an understanding of what the nutritional needs are of the animal is key. Being familiar with what they would eat in the wild is helpful to know if it needs fruits and vegetables, and what kind of protein options it needs. Some will be happy to have crickets and mealworms, while others (such as snakes) may prefer to eat live food.
- Feeding techniques For reptiles such as snakes, feeding doesn’t have to happen as often as other reptiles, but providing them with live food can be a challenge. If the snake is being fed in its home, it could associate your hand coming in as feeding time. Having a separate enclosure for feeding will help reduce that risk. Also if providing the snake with live mice, it should be closely monitored so the mouse cannot hurt the snake. Reptiles require a lot of time and attention.
- Temperature/Lighting/Humidity Reptiles are cold blooded, the environment around them is how they warm their bodies (which is important for regular bodily functions). They will need special lighting to provide them with heat and UV rays since being inside they may not be exposed to the sun very much. Having the enclosure set up and to the proper temperature before bringing the animal home is safest for that animal. Different reptiles require different temperatures and humidity, so do your homework.
- Amount of care Reptiles require a big time commitment, similar to other pets. Time for feeding, monitoring, handling, proper care, etc. Also, things come up that require immediate attention such as: broken equipment, injury or sickness in the animal, stress to the animal, assessing issues with the animal or equipment. Also, making sure you have someone that has a good understanding of the animal to care for it if you are away.
- Risks There are a lot of risks that go along with having reptiles in your home. Some reptiles like to be handled, and some are not used to being handled (or they just don’t like to be handled) and may react negatively to a lot of human interaction. Reptiles can also carry Salmonella, a bacteria that can be transmitted to humans through direct contact with feces, so hand washing regularly is important.
Chewonki is a school and camp based in Wiscasset, Maine, that inspires transformative growth, teaches appreciation and stewardship of the natural world, and challenges people to build thriving, sustainable communities throughout their lives. Chewonki serves children ages 5-18 in summer, semester, and school-year programs and provides training opportunities for educators and other outdoor professionals.
Each year Chewonki touches the lives of nearly 20,000 young people in programs that range from one hour to one semester.