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Open AccessArticle

Dropping the Ball? The Welfare of Ball Pythons Traded in the EU and North America

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World Animal Protection, 222 Gray’s Inn Road, London WC1X 8HB, UK
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Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, Recanati-Kaplan Centre, Tubney House, Abingdon Road, Tubney, Abingdon OX13 5QL, UK
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Department of Natural Sciences, Manchester Metropolitan University, All Saints Building, All Saints, Manchester M15 6BH, UK
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Emergent Disease Foundation, Suite 114 80 Churchill Square Business Centre, Kings Hill, Kent ME19 4YU, UK
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Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig, Department Herpetology, Adenauerallee 160, 53113 Bonn, Germany
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Department of Conservation Biology, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research GmbH—UFZ, 04318 Leipzig, Germany
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Brooke, 2nd Floor, The Hallmark Building, 52–56 Leadenhall Street, London EC3M 5JE, UK
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Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2020, 10(3), 413; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10030413
Received: 4 November 2019 / Revised: 13 February 2020 / Accepted: 13 February 2020 / Published: 2 March 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Welfare of Wild Vertebrates)
Ball pythons (family Pythonidae) are a relatively small species of snake found in west and central Africa. They are popular across the world as exotic pets, particularly in Europe and North America. Snakes are wild animals (i.e., non-domesticated) and have specific requirements for captive living. If they are housed in unsuitable conditions, it could negatively affect their health and wellbeing. Our study aimed to review the housing provided for this species by breeders and sellers advertising their snakes at exotic pet expositions and on YouTube. We assessed how much water, shelter and floor material were provided, as well as hygiene levels, and how much room the snakes had to move. We based our assessment on guidelines provided by the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA), the world’s first Animal Welfare charity). We found that most of the housing conditions we observed did not meet minimum recommendations. We also found that breeders and sellers did not provide adequate information for new pet owners detailing how to look after their snakes appropriately. We recommend that more research is required to help inform and improve guidelines for keeping snakes in better captive conditions, and that breeders and sellers should provide more guidance for pet owners, to stop Ball pythons kept as exotic pets from suffering.
Ball pythons (family Pythonidae) remain a commonly exploited species, readily available for purchase in North America and Europe. We assessed the housing conditions of more than 5000 Ball pythons across six exotic pet expositions and 113 YouTube videos. We scored provisions for hygiene, mobility, shelter, substrate and water provision, based on the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA) minimum guidelines. We found most entities involved in this commercial enterprise are not providing housing conditions that meet the minimum welfare recommendations for Ball pythons, either publicly or privately. We found that breeders and vendors typically utilised small and highly restrictive enclosures, with dimensions that prevented occupants from extending their bodies to full and unrestricted natural length. Our study also highlights that most vendors are not providing adequate written husbandry guidance to potential consumers, either at exotic pet expositions, on their commercial website, or on associated social media pages. Furthermore, our study also indicates that most potential consumers may themselves be unable to recognise unsuitable housing conditions that do not meet minimum animal welfare standards for Ball pythons. We suggest that more consistent guidance, adherence to agree principles and more potent operating models that are formally incorporated into relevant legislation would greatly aid existing and future efforts to safeguard animal welfare in this regard. View Full-Text
Keywords: exotic pet; python regius; reptile; social media; wildlife trade exotic pet; python regius; reptile; social media; wildlife trade
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D’Cruze, N.; Paterson, S.; Green, J.; Megson, D.; Warwick, C.; Coulthard, E.; Norrey, J.; Auliya, M.; Carder, G. Dropping the Ball? The Welfare of Ball Pythons Traded in the EU and North America. Animals 2020, 10, 413.

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