Herps as Pets
It wasn't until I owned my first Iguana (named Conan), that I realized I wanted to try and pursue a career in herpetology (or something related). Even though I haven't found that career yet, I still haven't given up hope. Therefore, I think keeping herps as pets can be very important in helping ones' interest blossom into something more serious. Herps make great pets, however, they are not exactly easy pets. Anyone who decides they want a cold-blooded pet needs to be aware of the dedication it takes. Iguanas, for example, are easily found at a cheap price in almost any pet store, but beware! If the new owner isn't ready and aware of an Iguanas' needs, they can be unpleasantly surprised when their pet becomes sick or unmanageable (a six foot bull Iguana that doesn't like people is a force to be reckoned with).
Don't be discouraged, however! There are several herps that make great first-time cold-blooded pets. For example, in my mind there is no better "starter herp" than the Corn Snake (Elaphe guttata). If acquired young, they can become very accustomed to human handling, they are beautiful snakes that grow to a fair size (four to five foot), and compared to other snakes they have simple husbandry requirements. There is a bad habit among people who are interested in getting into herpetoculture (the hobby of keeping herps as pets) of needing to start large and extravagant. All too often, this results in a discouraged owner with a large, unmanageable Nile Monitor Lizard or Red-tailed Boa Constrictor. Remember, having a cold-blooded pet is extravagant in-and-of-itself. No need to make it a bad experience by obtaining a species that should be left for herpetoculturists with a little more experience. Some day, that will be you!
Remember these rules of thumb for beginners:
1)Start small and manageable
2)Do extensive research of your desired pet (i.e., make sure you know it's adult size, what kind of habitat it likes in the wild etc.)
3)Make sure that the pet-shop employee you are talking to is knowledgeable about herp care. Many of them are great, however, some don't know a salamander from a lizard (let alone how they should be cared for in captivity). You will generally get much better information from employees in small (non-chain) pet stores that specialize in herps.
4)Avoid wild-caught herps!
Good starter herps:
Certain species of King Snakes
Not for the faint-of-heart:
Any large constrictor (boas, pythons, anacondas)
Any crocodilians (caimans, alligators)
Monitor Lizards (savannahs, niles, Dumerils, etc.)
True Chameleons (Jacksons', Parsons', etc.)
REMARKS ON THE ILLEGAL TRAFFICKING Of ANIMALS
Wild animals are "wild" for a reason. Although, I am a big proponent of keeping herps as pets, I'm an even bigger supporter of them surviving in the wild until, evolutionarily, their time is up. Unfortunately, many species will not exist long enough on this planet for their time of departure to be decided by nature. In other words, the actions of humans have sped up the processes that cause animals to go extinct. While habitat destruction is probably the largest reason for declines in animal populations world-wide, the illegal trafficking of exotic or endangered species contributes significantly to diminishing animal populations.
What can you do?
First of all, you can do everything in your power to determine if an animal that your interested in buying has been captive-bred or wild-caught. Ask your local pet store about an animal before you purchase it. If they don't know where it came from, chances are it's an animal that was removed from the wild. I know it's hard, but try to avoid these individuals as pets. Not only do they usually not fair well in captivity, it is one way in which their populations are being diminished in the wild. There are many captive-bred herps, which make good pets and you should try to focus on these.
Here's a list of herps that are likely to be captive-bred (this list is not all-inclusive):
Corn Snakes or King Snakes with exotic color morphs
In some instances, juvenile or hatchling individuals of a given species
Many snakes with color patterns that are exotic or abnormal for their species have been specifically bred to look that way. These snakes are likely captive-bred individuals.