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Elitism in the Reptile Hobby Needs to Stop NOW

With sneks in hats and seductive leopard geckos proliferating on the Internet, we are seeing a shift in public perception of reptiles from creepy to – dare I say – cute?

elitism in the reptile hobby - ridiculously photogenic gecko

See the Photoshop battle here

This is GREAT!

Positive press → more interest → more demand → more research and captive breeding efforts → expansion of herpetoculture.

Of course, with every popular pet comes pet owners who are in over their heads. We see this with cats and dogs all the time — impulse buying, animal hoarding, abandonment, neglect — and we’re seeing the same trends in reptile keeping. These are people with good intentions, for the most part, but these are exotic pets, with far more complex needs than a dog or cat. These new keepers need support from those already experienced in the hobby.

We must set aside our egos and act in the best interest of reptiles and the future of the hobby. Believe it or not, those noobs ARE the future: Geneticists who will eliminate genetic neurological disorders. Breeders who will crack the code of breeding rare species in captivity. Field researchers. Educators. Politicians, even. So when they come to us in forums, Facebook groups, YouTube comments, etc, we have a choice: spurn them, or teach them.

This community has lots of great people, but even the best of us are of guilty of elitism from time to time. So this is your friendly reminder to just CHILL OUT.

Bigotry, really?

Newbies. This is one of my favorite ironies. People complain that reptiles aren’t a more mainstream pet, and then turn around and criticize anyone who tries. There are already so few people out there willing to learn — we should welcome them with open arms and friendly advice, not gaping jaws and spitting venom. We have all been that clueless noob who housed their leopard gecko on sand or kept a red eared slider in a 10-gallon tank. The difference is that someone helped us.

Women. Sexism is a problem everywhere, and the reptile hobby is no different. Thanks to the perception that reptiles are a “boy’s” pet, girls who show interest in reptiles are treated as though they are too stupid to be genuinely interested in them past taking selfies — and maybe the occasional risqué photo in lingerie with a large python wrapped around her body.

Fun fact: Many of the best reptile people I know are women. My reptiles’ veterinarian is a WOMAN. This attitude is at best outdated and at worst outright sexist.

“Normal” People. Reptiles have been a counterculture pet for a long time, but this is changing. You don’t have to have rainbow-colored hair, a ton of tattoos/piercings, or listen to death metal to like reptiles. There is no problem with liking these things. But I also love to see bearded dragons and boa constrictors treated as beloved family pets, with the best food, veterinary care, and husbandry that comes with just having one animal in the house.

elitism in the reptile hobby - snakey the ball python

Why can’t we all just get along? (Credit: Snakey the Ball Python)

“I’m an expert, so don’t question me.”

How many times have you seen/heard this phrase in one form or another?

I’ve seen this behavior from otherwise extremely knowledgeable people; arguing like children because “their way is best” and anyone who dares to think differently is an idiot. Or even sillier: turning up their noses to “fake” reptile people who call their snakes “snek” and “noodle”.

Insulting and condescending is not the way. Telling people with questions to do their own research and quit bothering you with “stupid” questions is not the way.  Insulting valid approaches to husbandry that do not match your own is not the way. As long as the animal is healthy, this is all that matters.

The other day, I got a little heated with someone on a forum who was aggressively promoting a product I personally do not believe is the best choice in that category. Both of us were trying to help a person with a related question, but our back and forth ended up confusing the very person we were trying to help and shutting them out.

On another occasion, I found myself in conversation with an unnamed Facebook reptile page admin. This admin is known for a tyrannical and extraordinarily condescending method of “educating” others via putting them down. When questioned about this approach, they claimed not to care about people’s reactions or opinions — just as long as it’s clear they’re right.

I get it, everyone wants to leave a legacy. Heck, I would love it if ReptiFiles became a household name across the reptile world. But we need to be students as well as mentors. As Reptile Apartment puts it, “There is always room for growth, to learn and improve!! I don’t give a damn who you are.”

Glorious.

It’s Time to Squash the Ego

Your ego should not be the focal point of your husbandry. People creating Facebook groups to boost their own egos rather than to help other keepers drive me crazy.

Everyone — everyone — has these animals because of the dedication and time put in by people who’ve kept them from the beginning and did the legwork. And we are all, whether we like to admit it or not, learning by trial and error.

Don’t criticize people who have only a basic knowledge (or wrong knowledge) about their animal. If you’re new to the hobby, you’re virtually blind in a roomful of voices screaming that they have a truth. It’s easy to get bad information if you don’t know what to look for.

Rules for Being a Good Reptile Person

We need to relearn how to politely disagree rather than insulting each other and name calling. We need to collaborate, not peck each other to death. We’re all working toward the SAME GOAL, for crying out loud — furthering herpetoculture for future generations.

How do we accomplish this goal? Allow me to propose a new code of conduct for modern reptile keepers:

  • Accept that we all have a lot to learn, which means being open to new ideas.
  • Don’t ridicule noob questions. You were new once, too.
  • Respect other reptile keepers’ lifestyles, even if you don’t quite agree with their choices. As long as the animal is healthy and not stressed, the end justifies the means.
  • Respect non-reptile people. If they’re afraid of snakes, don’t shove a snake in their face. If scales creep them out, don’t force them to pet your tortoise. If they love furry creatures, don’t show them a video of your lizard eating a mouse.
  • If you breed: know your genetics, take care of your animals, and be honest with customers.
  • Don’t be sexist, racist, homophobic, or otherwise bigoted. Treat everyone as if they were Melissa Kaplan in disguise.
  • Overall, BE NICE.

This being said — we shouldn’t be afraid to call out misinformation or dangerous practices when we see them. The trick is learning to be polite, yet persistent about it.

Keep calm and carry on, friends! If you’ve read all the way to the bottom of this post, you rock. Keep educating. Keep making memes, posting cute pics, running Tumblrs, Instagrams, and other social media accounts. The more positivity we spread about reptiles, the better the future will be.

elitism in the reptile hobby - seductive crested gecko

Original photo by Littlefoot Geckos


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2 Comments

  1. Fantastic article Mariah! It is so true that people are different and approach the hobby in very different ways which is a good thing. Diversity is good! I personally don’t prefer terms such as “snek” “boop the snoot” and “noodle” but that doesn’t mean others can’t and still maintain good husbandry. “Herp snobs” are as much as a problem in this hobby as “swindlers” “scammers” and “the misinformed.”

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