Why I won't buy a fancy-colored snake (and neither should you)

The reason why I won't buy a fancy-colored snake bred for a particular color mutation (morph) is the same why I won't buy any more snakes, period. The reason is, that there already are more captive snakes than we as a society have the ability (and/or desire) to care for, and I don't want to encourage breeding even more of them still.

To their chagrin and mine, snakes can have a wide variety of color mutations, which make them quite pretty to look at, and thus quite expensive. Some of the rarer Ball Pythons morphs can cost tens of thousands per animal. This makes breeding exotic snakes seem like a lucrative thing to do, and since it's relatively easy, many people do breed them.

Selective breeding for desirable patterns and color mutations results in inbreeding: snakes come out blind, deformed, or non-viable. But look at all the pretty colors!

To breed snakes on industrial scale, people set up racks where hundreds, and even thousands of animals live in small plastic tubs, in conditions that are just good enough for snakes to continue to eat and breed. I would not necessarily call this animal cruelty, but it certainly doesn't seem like the animals are afforded any kind of quality of life in these conditions. They are kept healthy, and that's about it.

From these snake factories, young snakes go to pet stores, or are sold directly on the internet. They get shipped in little deli cups, and not all of them make it to their destination alive. Sometimes their new owners realize that the snake they bought is going to be too much of a commitment: it is either growing too large (like a Reticulated Python or a Burmese Python), or they just live too long for some new snake owners who discover that a snake, unlike a gerbil, will live to age 30 or more. These snakes end up on Craigslist or at a local shelter if they are lucky, or in a nearby park or someone's back yard if they aren't.

The breeders of course are interested in selling the animals they produce, so there isn't any sort of education or checks going on prior to the purchase. To make matters worse, more exotic snakes are being caught in the wild every day, and brought in to satisfy the demand on the market, at the same time as already existing animals end up abandoned or mistreated. If you want your heart broken, have a look at how many snakes need new homes in SF Bay Area alone.

Since I got my three snakes, Lasso, Coil, and Makeba, I have done a lot of research and come to the conclusion that buying a snake from a pet store or a breeder would be unconscionable. I regret that I purchased Lasso from a store. Knowing what I know now, I wouldn't have done it, but rather adopted an abandoned pet. I'm stopping at three for now, but once I'm confident that I can provide good care for them, I think I may try my hand at fostering and rehoming of the existing snakes who need love and a new home.

UPDATE: After conversations with friends and more research into the topic, I have revised my opinion on breeders. TLDR is that not all breeders are evil, and more evil happens from importing and trading wild-caught animals, so ideally we should stop imports and let the existing breeders take care of the demand. Rising prices can only help weed out impulse buyers who would have dumped the animal anyway.


About Makeba

 This is Makeba.

Makeba is a juvenile ball python (python regius), who we adopted a week ago.

When he came to live with us, Makeba was severely underweight, dehydrated, and covered in burns from a heat lamp half the length of his back.

We first met him a week before that. He was at an animal rescue that wasn't specialized in reptiles, and his living conditions were dire. Despite seeping burn wounds on his back, he was kept in an enclosure bedded with wood shavings, in low humidity, and the only heat available was from overhead lamps that burned him to begin with.

He was lethargic, his skin loose, dull, and shedding in chunks. The spectacles on his eyes were so cracked and scratched up that he could no longer see through. He'd soak in his water dish to try and rehydrate, and drag the wood shavings and his own filth into it.

Later we learned that the whole time he lived at the shelter – 6 months! – he was receiving about 1/5th the amount of food that would be appropriate for his age and size.

I tried to take him home right away, but the folks at the rescue weren't going to let me. They said they wanted to keep him there until he fully healed in a month or two (which given his condition was questionable). If I wanted him sooner, they said, I should talk to their reptile specialist, who'd be back next week. But I should be prepared to wait some more, because they have application paperwork, and I would need to fill it out and prove that I will have appropriate living conditions for the snake.

My heart was breaking to leave him there for a whole extra week, but I was hoping that snakes' natural tendency to conserve energy will allow him to hang on.

Seven days later, I marched into the rescue shelter determined to walk out with the poor python, whatever it took. I had brought a plastic tub to transport him home in, and wore my "lucky snake jacket" which coincidentally I wore every single time I adopted a snake before.

Universe sided with me this time.

I was greeted by their reptile lady: "Hi, how can I help you."

"I'm here for the ball python that you have."

"Okay. Did you see him before? He's got burned a little while back."

"Yes, I was here last week, but your colleagues told me I should wait till you're back. I would really like to give him a good home."


And that was that. 

No waiting, no pleading, no discussion of the size of his new enclosure. No adoption form even.

As if I suddenly had Jedi powers and was able to exercise mind control, I walked out of the rescue shelter with the sick snake hanging on to me under my jacket.

I hope he will make it. I'm bathing him in Betadine solution to keep his wounds clean, and keeping his enclosure at elevated humidity while he heals his wounds. He ate on Monday and went into shed the next day. I hope he'll reemerge with clear eyes from this one.

Every single snake owner manual I read advised against adopting sick and mishandled snakes, but to hell with that advice. He needs a shot at getting better, and we're going to provide him with the best care we can so he has that shot.