A House Divided

For those of us who keep a certain category of herps — crocodilians, large constrictors or venomous animals — our lives are being made tougher and tougher every day by overbearing regulations. As I have posted previously, I do not object to reasonable laws, but some governmental folks are clearly clueless. And to make it worse, the leading organization in the war to keep common sense from becoming extinct has itself recently become endangered.

I received my State of Ohio Temporary Rules for housing my crocodilians in the mail last week.
901:1-2-08 Order – crocodilia; family – alligatoridae (excluding dwarf caiman); family – crocodylidae; family – gavialidae.
(A) Outdoor enclosures shall be constructed of at least nine gauge chain link or equivalent.
(B) Indoor enclosures shall be constructed of at least nine gauge chain link or equivalent. Sleeping perches shall be provided.
(C) The dry space in the primary enclosure must be two and half times the length and width as the largest animal in the enclosure. All animals must be able to stretch out without touching each other.
(D) The water space in the primary enclosure must be two times the length of the largest animal in the enclosure and the animal must be able to submerge at least six inches under water. All animals must be able to submerge at the same time without touching each other.

I thought I knew what I was doing. But I have to admit, I have no idea what a “sleeping perch” for a crocodilian is. Nor do I know anyone keeping their gators indoors in chain-link enclosures. The land and water requirements are far in excess of those of the Zoological Association of America and also exceed those of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association. In fact, if they were not specifically exempted, nearly every zoo in Ohio would be in violation of the state’s housing requirements!

Until recently, we could count on a gentleman named Andrew Wyatt to defend us against these ridiculous requirements. The founder and (until a few days ago) President of the United States Association of Reptile Keepers, Wyatt led the unsuccessful charge against the Ohio law and was absolutely brilliant in November testifying (alongside Shawn Heflick and Dr. Brady Barr) against Senate Bill 511, which would have added several additional species of boas and pythons to the Lacey Act. That bill has now died in committee. He continued to work alongside the Ohio Association of Animal Owners in their recent lawsuit to get parts of the Ohio law overturned.

But, apparently due to a “difference” in philosophy, Wyatt is out at USARK and has now formed the United States Herpetological Alliance (Herp Alliance) with attorney Erika Nicole Chen Walsh, who resigned from USARK several months ago, and others. Both organizations say they will continue to fight for the rights of animal keepers. But will they? And with the split, can there be sufficient funding for both to exist and be effective lobbying organizations?

The reconstituted USARK has affiliated itself with PIJAC, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, which, more and more, has been a supporter of the so-called “Big Box” pet stores- PetSmart, Petco, etc,- while ignoring the small independent shops who were the Council’s backbone in the late seventies and early eighties, when I was in the retail pet business. These chains have both recently adopted policies NOT to sell live feeder animals, despite selling pets that may require them. PIJAC even stood alongside the heinous Humane Society of the United States in support of Ohio’s Dangerous Wild Animal ban. How can a reptile breeder or keeper support an organization that is so affiliated? And yet some breeders are doing just that.

Meanwhile, Wyatt’s new Herp Alliance says it will reach out to breeders and keepers, but also to researchers and zoos for support. Zoos are also (generally) against allowing individuals to possess large constricting snakes, among other animals. The Cleveland, Columbus and Akron Zoos were in the forefront of getting Ohio’s law pushed through. How can a reptile breeder or keeper support an organization that is so affiliated? And yet some breeders are doing just that.

I have no idea what the “philosophical differences” that caused this breakup are. Hopefully we will hear facts some time soon. We have heard rumor and innuendo, and nobody will deny that Andrew Wyatt has a tendency to rub some people the wrong way at times. But right now, the two organizations are acting like eight-year-olds on the playground instead of like responsible lobbying organizations. Both groups need to grow up and think about their futures, which are bleak.

As Abraham Lincoln said, “A (reptile) house divided against itself cannot stand. It will become all one thing or all the other.’

Lincoln was smarter than I will ever be. He appears to be smarter than the parties involved in this dispute, as well. All I know, is that at this time it is impossible for me to support either organization, financially or with other resources. Before you send a check to either, I urge you to do the same.

Keith with an alligator

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are solely this author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wandering Herpetologist website.
Keith Gisser

Author: Keith Gisser

Keith runs the Ohio based, award-winning, nationally recognized interactive reptile and amphibian program Herps Alive! He has been a herpetology educator for over thirty years and currently maintains about 100 reptiles, amphibians and crocodilians, nearly all adoptions or rescues, about half of which are used in his programs. Gotta question or comment for Keith? Email him at keith[at]wanderingherpetologist.com

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