On genetic ambassadorship for wild types & conservation

Why in the world would any breeder even care about the mundane so-called normals? The sad reality is that biodiversity is declining at unprecedented rates, even in comparison the Great Dying, the major mass extinction event at the Permian-Triassic boundary. Perhaps in as little as a few decades, species, subspecies and locality morphs that are capable of thriving in captivity may no longer occur in natural populations or at levels necessary for sustainability, if they’ve not already met that threshold. Rewilding remains a distinct possibility from captive bred reservoirs, IF the critters retain traits critical for defense, feeding, innate vitality and coloring/patterns that natural selection has in effect, chosen.

Breeders are in a unique position to select for these traits and maintain a viable genetic pool for potential reintroduction, even if they keep those select beasties as a minor side project. As for potential customers for surplus, citizen scientists are growing rapidly by the day who may opt for stewardship care, say, if this kingsnake displays a good rattle response, etc.


I know there’s a few leopard gecko breeders who I sometimes see pop up with different wild type locales/subspecies that they’re been keeping pure. I am always pleased to see that.

For ball pythons, I don’t know if it will change in the next few years depending on the trade from Africa, but the population at the moment seems to be doing well. In the areas of the US that I’ve been, cheaper reptiles tend to suffer more from bad husbandry/abuse or may be harder to sell at a price point to avoid that. So in those cases I agree with avoiding normals in the hobby. I honestly wonder how many ‘normals’ being sold are wholesale possible or actual hets as well… This goes for normal leopard geckos as well.

Reintroduction is a touchy subject, but I think with reptiles it is more feasible than what people request of more social critters like dolphins, orcas and whatever other mammals they release. Reptiles are able to adapt when introduced properly and don’t tend to develop that attachment a mammal might. Though work would still need to be done to keep from desensitizing them to human presences.

I’ve actually considered a small project of cave geckos from Thailand or Japan. They’re beautiful, And uncommon outside the Chinese species in the trade. And they’re becoming more threatened in the wild. Sadly, it just isn’t feasible at this point in time and where I’m living currently.

It is a concept that we should start thinking about…But there’s also the current issues with the state of the hobby itself. Or at least in the US… IIRC a breeder had this exact idea about conserving a species and was it with a lot of fines and some jailtime for it.


It is forward-thinking and more applicable to some critters than others. There are some conservation biologists that are doing the nitty-gritty, slow and ponderous science, writ large, and it only takes one or two success stories to change minds and hearts for social consciousness and resulting pressure for policies to catch up. But I fear that we cannot afford to wait and there are relatively simple measures that can be pursued when the writing is already on the wall. Why not be proactive and make strides to help create the demand today while there’s still a fighting chance?


It’s a good thought, but overall it wouldn’t work. I highly doubt that governments would want to work with captive breeders unless they were associated with a zoo or research facility. Additionally, captive animals aren’t that genetically diverse (like eastern indigos, I’ll use that example later) and I’m sure many (if not most) captive animals have diseases that have a risk of wiping out entire ecosystems. Many zoos and organizations have been working on captive breeding projects to release into the wild.

The difference is that everything is meticulously recorded and planned. In the hobby, most species can only be traced back a few generations at the most, maybe up to 5-6 (like with crested geckos), but they are pretty much never traced back to the original animals captured from the wild (except with rare exceptions like when wild blood was added). With organizations, the animals’ lineage can often be traced back to when the animals were collected, and everything was recorded in great detail and pairings are made to reduce inbreeding.

For example, in the hobby, eastern indigos are likely the most inbred snake, there were extremely few individuals that started the hobby population and they show negative signs of inbreeding. Many zoos/organizations have been working with indigos to release them back to the wild (look up eastern indigo release and you will find many examples of this). With licensed zoos/organizations, they are communicating with other groups and making the best pairings to reduce inbreeding and maximize future possibilities.

I’ve talked to a couple people that have helped with an SSP (Species Survival Plan) for a species. This is when zoos/organizations take animals that are endangered/threatened and do their best to captive breed them, and often restock wild populations. Everything is tracked to the extreme and they communicate with dozens or hundreds of accredited zoos and organizations across the country and sometimes world and compare pedigrees and ancestry to find the best pairings to reduce inbreeding. Then, animals are shipped and traded between the organizations, bred, and then the cycle continues, trying to create as many captive animals as possible while keeping inbreeding to a minimum. Testing is done to make sure the animals don’t have diseases or parasites that could wipe out an ecosystem. Often, the animals are then released in very specific spots and sometimes acclimated in pens to reproduce and attempt to start a wild population.

Honestly, the reason why this won’t work is because the hobby is lazy. Nothing is seriously tracked (there’s no major database connecting everything) and even when breeders track pairings/parents/offspring, it doesn’t go back far enough and it isn’t detailed enough to be seriously effective. If hobbyists actually wanted to support wild populations by captive breeding, they would need to join a zoo/organization and help with conservation plans with their animals.

These are a couple other posts from discussions about this topic:

Edit: I just had another thought. The main way that hobbyists can truly help wild environments is by avoiding wild caught animals. The capture of these animals for the pet trade is doing horrible things to wild populations and occasionally nearly wiping them out. Don’t support the selling of wild caught animals to try and discourage the capture and destruction of the population. If someone is serious about this, they could start a captive population of often WC species. For example, Josh’s Frogs talks a lot about their work with red-eyed tree frogs. Many of the frogs for sale are wild caught, but captive breeding has made more CB animals available. I was very serious about starting a project like this for day geckos. Many day geckos are WC and some are very endangered in the wild (like the williamsi/electric blue day gecko). I wanted to get many species of them and breed them to create many CB offspring and sell them at prices competitive to WC animals. I decided to put those plans on hold because right now I don’t want the responsibility/expense of all of those animals, but someday I fully plan to pick those plans back up and help prevent WC animals from being caught and sold.


Hmm, I doubt zoos really pay much attention to herps. Look at the San Diego Zoo collection of kingsnakes, for example. For a while, they featured a few carnival freaks like a two-headed one and an aberrant stripe Cali. No San Diego county or Riverside typicals in their collection that I could find, let alone any available to reinvigorate a population, even though they’d at least serve for educational purposes for what is in their own freakin’ backyard. And they’re supposedly a paragon for zoos.

And if they happen to collect & freeze sperm for artificial insemination, I’d be surprised - noting it takes time for that to percolate through a population where there may not be time left, even if there were that precaution.

Yes, I realize breeders on the whole are lazy, but there are tests that could be done for rewilding suitability of individual specimens and dismissing that possibility from the onset is a doomsday self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts.

And as you mention red eyed tree frogs, here’s an open access article that may interest you on this very topic: Impact of Plant Cover on Fitness and Behavioural Traits of Captive Red-Eyed Tree Frogs (Agalychnis callidryas)

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It depends on the zoo. My local zoo has a great herpetology department and they have a lot of herps and some super hard to find ones. I don’t know if having local species is necessary for paying attention to them. My local zoo doesn’t have a ton of local herps (which there aren’t many of, they only have a handful of species). I don’t think it’s necessary to keep sperm, you just pair two animals you want to breed, unless there are a handful left nothing like that is necessary. Zoos are already doing quite a bit of work for wild populations, there’s not much that hobbyists can do by themselves.
Also, the link for the article doesn’t work for me. If there isn’t a working link I could probably find it by the title of the article.


Oops, sorry. Here it is (my C&P dropped the last digit): Impact of Plant Cover on Fitness and Behavioural Traits of Captive Red-Eyed Tree Frogs (Agalychnis callidryas)


The herps you see on display in a zoo are roughly equivalent to the fossil displays you see at a museum - Just the tip of the iceberg.

Unless you have worked in a zoo or have an intimately familiar relationship with AZA personnel, you are very much speaking from a place of ignorance and may want to temper your words given that.