How much is that alligator in the window? By: Chris M. Law

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How much is that alligator in the window? By: Chris M. Law

Post  The Herp Father on Mon May 21, 2012 5:34 pm

The title of this article might seem a bit silly, however, this question is asked in pet stores across the nation much more often than one might think.
There are many people throughout the world who question the sanity of any individual who has any admiration for these prehistoric reptiles, much less an individual who wants to keep one as a “companion animal” in their dwelling. The biggest problem today, is that pet alligators and other crocodilians such as caimans and crocodiles are becoming increasingly popular. The popularity boom in pet crocodilians is a direct result of cheap prices, easy access and smooth sales pitches from pet store owners/employees which is often-times misinformation on care and proper accommodation. At this point, you are probably curious about the inaccuracies in these statements and what makes them false. It is only natural that potential owners be curious and skeptical of new information, beyond what they were told by, whom they felt, were experts on the topic.

Some of these commonly used sales pitches are:

Crocodilians only grow to the size of their enclosure
Limiting the animals feeding will limit the animals growth
Regular handling will tame the animal and make them more suitable pets
Goldfish make for good crocodilian food
Crocodilians don’t require veterinary care


These kinds of sales hype are used by a large number of pet stores, because this approach is often known to end with a sale. This article will attempt to cover each statement as thoroughly as it can to help provide you a better understanding as to why these statements are used and why they are false.
Crocodilians only grow to the size of their environment. - Pet stores use this statement because this gives the potential purchaser a false sense that they will always be able to manage this animal. Presumably, first time potential purchasers consider housing accommodations first before bringing the prospective pet home. By a believed “expert” on these animals informing them that these animals’ size can be controlled, it relieves this concern of the purchaser. However, a potential purchaser should not assume that the seller is an “expert” on these animals.
Truth- Crocodilians, along with other reptiles, grow according to Caloric intake and temperature. Reptiles, after capturing their prey and ingesting it, utilize their environmental temperature, along with their strong stomach acids to aid in the digestion of the food item. If appropriately warm temperatures and a constant food supply are provided (as it should be) these animals will continue to outgrow enclosure upgrades, until they reach adulthood.
If you reduce food intake, it will limit the animal’s growth- Once again, this is used to give a purchaser a false sense of control over this animal’s size and over-all growth. This statement is actually true, but not quite in the manner you might think.

Truth- While this statement is actually true; its practice is unethical as well as unhealthy for the animal in question. All crocodilians grow and develop for their entire lifespan. As with all other animals in the Wild Kingdom, crocodilians and other reptiles require specialized diets in appropriate quantities in order to support its development. Lack of appropriate diet in sufficient quantities can lead to poor muscle tone and bone deformities (among other ailments) due to a severe calcium deficiency. It is imperative that you thoroughly research the correct nutritional requirements for crocodilians (or any animal for that matter) before bringing it into your dwelling. Beyond the health factors associated with this practice, it is ethically questionable. Just as a parent would want to ensure proper nutrition for their child, a pet owner owes it to the animal to have the same.

Regular handling will tame your Alligator and make it a more suitable pet in your home. – Obviously, another concern among most purchasers of these animals is the risk of injury due to the animal’s powerful jaws and lacerating teeth. Many buyers purchase a crocodilian thinking they can condition the animal to behave like a dog. Presuming that frequent handling will tame the animal gives the impression that the animal will be fully controllable and easy to manage.
Truth- It is no surprise that some handling is unavoidable. There is routine maintenance to keep in mind as well as veterinary procedures that might at some point require the handling and restraint of your crocodilian. However, these handling sessions should be only on an “as needed” basis and only long enough to perform these functions and then the animal should remain undisturbed for the remainder of the time. During handling sessions, proper physical support should be provided to the animal to prevent injury to the animal or keeper, even if this requires an additional person to get the job done correctly. Routine handling will only help the animal to build some “tolerance” for it. However, it is important to note that “tolerance” does not equate to “enjoyment”. Crocodilians, in general do not enjoy being handled, as it is unnatural and can be a rather stressful experience for it. Most animals upon being grasped will proceed to thrash and struggle. This struggle causes a build-up of lactic acid in the bloodstream which in most cases causes the animal to become tired; however, too great an increase of this build-up can be fatal. A result of the general newness and uniqueness of such animals as pets, is that they are frequently handled upon purchase. However, the comfort and security of the animal must be taken into consideration and thus generally means frequent handling should be avoided for the well being of the specimen in question.
In the hands of professionals with proper care, limited handling and a rotation of animals to be used, stress on individual specimens is minimized. There are cases where sometimes crocodilians are used for entertainment or educational purposes where they are being physically restrained or handled in a manner that causes the animal to become stressed. In general, when this is the case, it is best to have 2-3 additional animals to use so that that they may all be cycled in/out of the show or program to prevent too much stress on one animal. Limited handling is always the best policy. This reduces stress to the animal and reduces chances of physical injury to the animal or keeper. Flavio Morrissiey of reptilebehavior.com, a specialist in reptile behavior, states, “Health issues are typically anorexia and infections from stress. Each animal responds differently to handling. Handling is defined in my terms as touching, using foreign objects to move the animal (stick, rope, hook etc.).”
Chris Dieter, director of Crocodile Encounters in Angleton, Texas says, “Up to about 2 years of age limited handling doesn't adversely affect them at all. However excessive handling appears to increase the animal’s stress, slows growth and diminishes overall health. After 2 years virtually all handling is stressful”.

Goldfish (Carassius auratus) are a good staple diet for hatchling crocodilians.- Pet owners want simplicity, not complexity. Throwing common goldfish to the animals seems to be an easy way to feed it.
Truth- There is little nutritional value in goldfish. Raising a crocodilian on goldfish would be about the equivalent of a parent raising their child on junk food. Goldfish simply do not provide adequate nutrition that would help your young animal to develop into a strong, healthy adulthood.
As a hatchling, Rosy red feeder fish, crickets, fuzzy mice, chicken and beef among other food items make a good staple diet for a young crocodilian. When it comes to captive crocodilian diet- variety is the key. If you are not feeding whole prey items (as in whole rodents, chickens, etc) then likely the animal is not satisfying its nutritional needs. Hence, vitamin and mineral supplementation is very necessary. In addition to this, goldfish are known to carry a harmful enzyme known as ‘Thiaminase’. To make a long story short, Thiaminase destroys Thiamine which is Vitamin B1. A staple diet of goldfish will lead to the malnourishment and death of your animal. Simply put, your animal should never see a goldfish.
Crocodilians never have to be taken to a vet because they are a reptile. – What else could make a pet alligator or other crocodilian seem even more ‘low maintenance’ than never having to receive veterinary attention? No wonder pet sales agents may say this. If a potential crocodilian purchaser feels that they can spend less money, but can still have a pet to brag about to their friends, this animal will sell. Many pet stores will use this as an additional ‘perk’ to owning one of these animals. No trips to the vet office, means less money spent. This makes these animals seem even more attractive to own.

Truth- While crocodilians seldom require veterinary care if kept in proper conditions and provided an excellent diet, this alone doesn’t mean that a trip to the vet’s office will never be needed. Improper temperature and humidity levels will lead to a serious respiratory infection. Unsanitary conditions could result in a bacterial infection.

There are other issues to keep in mind as well for the health of these animals, but the two listed are most common. Crocodilians are far more complex, biologically and physiologically, than what meets the eye. It is automatically assumed that they are reptiles and carry all the same basic needs and requirements of other reptiles. However, it’s not as simple as that. Crocodilians, being evolved on this planet for approximately 200 million years, have a variety of biological and physiological adaptations that are not anything reptilian-like. In all rights, these animals are a mixture of many of our world’s animal inhabitants, and are more closely related to birds than reptiles.
Still interested in keeping a pet crocodilian? Please, read further…
Let’s get down to brass tacks. The housing of a hatchling seems pretty inexpensive, right? Have you thought about what it would cost to house this animal properly 3-4 years from now? How about as an adult? What do the experts say about the economics of keeping a crocodilian in a private capacity?

“The keeping of a large crocodilian is not an inexpensive endeavor”, says Judith Bryja, Supervisor of Herpetology for the Houston Zoo. “Presuming one has the space and no restrictions disallowing the keeping of the animal, it is a big project to provide an environment with clean water and a secure containment system,” said Bryja. Most would also require some type of heating. I won’t guess on the cost of initial setup but it would not be cheap. Food would probably run about $100.00 per month. Veterinary care would be a challenge and quite expensive.”

Things to consider when deciding upon keeping a pet crocodilian:
Currently, I have a 12 inch American Alligator, but what do I plan to do when this animal is 8,9,10 feet or larger?- Keeping possession of these animals when they are young animals 1-2ft seems easy enough. You might even be successful housing and keeping it at 3-4ft. However, you can’t ignore the fact that the animal WILL get larger if it is properly cared for. What do you plan to do then? Let it free-roam around the home, only to cause you or one of your family members a severe injury because of a simple accident? You must keep ALL life-stages of these animals in mind before deciding whether you want to take upon the responsibility of keeping one in your home.
Is the animal legal where I reside?- Some states have legal restrictions on possession of such animals. Even if the state doesn’t, your local laws pertaining to your city, county, or township will most likely have some sort of laws restricting the ownership of certain animals. In most cases, these are due to houses being too close together and high population of children in the area, etc. What if the animal were to escape its enclosure somehow and get loose into the neighborhood? This most certainly is not unheard of.
Will I have the financial stability to care for this animal when it is an adult?- You may have the space to house this animal as an adult and be completely willing to do so, but there might be ONE thing getting in your way…your wallet. If you are barely able to pay your current bills now and you are living off of the basics with no luxury items to get rid of, then most likely you are going to have a terrible time providing for your animal. Think of the frequent water changes, electric for heating, and food bills. A large enclosure requires a lot more heat, which costs a lot more to provide. A larger animal eats considerably more than that 20” animal you have now. If you can’t afford to provide everything that the animal needs, the animal only suffers.
How do those living with and/or around me feel about this? – It’s simple enough to say, “The heck with what my neighbors think, this is a free country”! The problem with this is that your neighbors are concerned about their own safety. Again, what if your animal escapes and meets them on their doorstep one morning? You don’t really think you’re going to keep a 10’ Alligator inside the house do you? Usually, nobody frets about the hatchling you just brought home, but as this animal grows, it will create a greater concern. What about your family living with you? Could this possibly cause a strain on a marriage? If so, you’re only going to have to find another home for this animal anyhow (unless of course you don’t mind forfeiting your marriage for this animal) so why bother to get one if you can’t provide for it for the rest of its life?
Am I willing to risk serious injury or even death for the sake of having an interesting or cool pet?- People are often under the assumption that they will tame this animal down so that it is basically a scaly puppy dog. The fact of the matter is that no matter how “tame” this animal seems, it is still a wild animal with wild instincts that you could unintentionally trigger. This could easily result in the loss of a limb or extremity. 

Are you currently living in the north or south?- If you are living in the northern U.S. housing this animal is going to be much more difficult. The winters are MUCH harsher and housing outdoors is rather difficult unless you happen to build a barn or something similar that is heated and insulated. The construction of such a building will run thousands of dollars and the maintaining of that building will be expensive as well. Again, remember heating, water filtration, water changes, basking bulbs or other forms of lighting. Some of these aren’t necessarily expensive standing alone, but all together it certainly adds up.
Are you living in a house or apartment?- If you’re living in an apartment, why are you even considering this? Do you know for 150% certain that you are moving out of that apartment within the next couple of months and into a house that you own? This goes the same for renting a house. Renting isn’t going to do you any good as you can’t build anything permanent for the animal. You should only be considering this IF, you are stable in your living environment.
Do you have a veterinarian that can treat your crocodilian if the need arises?- If not, you better find one. You never know when your animal might need some medical treatment. What if the power in your house goes out for a few days and the temperature drops to a dangerous level and the animal develops a respiratory infection? In many cases, this can be corrected simply by correcting the environmental conditions. However, sometimes, the infection is developed enough that it requires medical treatment to resolve via the use of antibiotics. Who is willing to do this in your area? You just can’t waltz into any veterinary clinic and check your Nile Crocodile in for a checkup! If you are curious about where you can find a crocodilian vet, please see: [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]
What about transportation of a large adult animal?- If you think you’re going to load your 10’ Nile crocodile into your 2-door Chevy Cavalier, think again! A large truck, even an F-150 would do the trick, but what about during the winter time? This might seem easy enough to resolve, but it still requires consideration as if you’re not already driving such a vehicle, you would be required to buy one just because of your “pet”.
Do you have a backup handler for safety?- Do you honestly think that you’re going to be able to handle this animal all on your own? It’s easy enough to do up to around 4-5’. After that, it gets a little tougher. It’s more difficult to physically restrain the animal and when carrying the animal, you run the risk of not properly supporting the animals’ weight and causing injury to the specimen in question.

“If I’ve decided that crocodilian ownership is not for me, however, I do want to have opportunities to work with them…what can I do”?

That is certainly a good question. After all, animals across the globe need all of the help they can get. Someone such as you would be an excellent asset. Perhaps the first thing that must be considered is exactly how far do you want to take your interaction opportunities? Are you interested in just a part time interaction, a few times per week or are you considering a zoological career related initiative? Zoos at times are looking for keepers if you’re willing to put in the volunteer time or get a degree. For many zoos, both would be a requirement.
Rescues and rehabilitation centers many times need volunteers to help with cleaning, feeding, and sometimes educational outreach programs. Does any of this sound like something you would be interested in? If so, please check out: [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.] for a list of web sources that can help you figure out how to get started in a career with crocodilians and other exotic wildlife. It is understandable why some feel the desire to keep certain animals within their possession, but it is without a doubt that in many regards it is not to the animals’ benefit. Please educate yourself well before undertaking the challenge of keeping a dangerous predator.
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Re: How much is that alligator in the window? By: Chris M. Law

Post  Admin on Thu Jun 07, 2012 5:02 am

Great article Chris and thank you for posting John x
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