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Should we farm native geckos?

A discussion document by Rod Rowlands
If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got. In New Zealand, although it is possible to obtain a permit to keep and breed some native reptile species in captivity, such permits have always forbidden the sale of captive bred animals. Most local herpetoculturists seem to have embraced this as desirable. But is it necessarily in the best interests of the hobby, or indeed of the animals themselves? 1. The “no selling” situation seems to be the exception rather than the rule, with most countries allowing some degree of trading. Consider our nearest neighbour Australia, a country which has a reputation for being very protective of its wildlife. Yet their permit systems (which are operated by state governments and may differ in detail from state to state) nevertheless allow selling of reptiles and birds to some degree. For example, New South Wales operates a system with two classes of licence, one for fauna dealers and the other for fauna keepers. Dealers may trade commercially as a business, whereas keepers essentially keep protected species as a hobby in the same way as most NZHS members do, and the holder of a keeper’s licence may trade in a restricted manner with other licencees, i.e may sell captive bred stock to other licence holders. Prices reflect the comparative ease or difficulty involved in breeding a particular species, which tends to encourage good husbandry practices and facilitate increased numbers of the more “difficult” 2. Farming of wildlife is an almost failsafe method of preserving a species. Consider the farming of crocodiles in Africa and Australia, and alligators in the United States. The numbers of animals of species which were previously endangered have increased dramatically. Admittedly these species have been bred for skins and meat, but why should the outcome be different for species bred for hobby 3. Allowing trade in native species would put them on an even footing with exotics. People wanting to keep reptiles in New Zealand are faced with not only obtaining a permit, but also often having to wait a considerable time until an existing keeper can spare some animals of the species they want. Many find it easier to buy exotic reptiles of various kinds, some of which may pose a threat to our native fauna if 4. There has been publicity lately regarding attempts by individuals to smuggle native lizards out of New Zealand. We see the cases where these people have been apprehended, but how many get away with it? We know that some do, because of the instances of New Zealand species advertised for sale on the internet, in countries like the United States and Germany. Because these species are hard to obtain, prices are very high, encouraging unscrupulous people to take the risk by plundering wild populations. If captive bred animals were available at much lower prices, wouldn’t this make smuggling attempts not worth the risk? 5. We seem to have an ingrained idea that native animals should not be commercialized. But how strong is that belief? What are the reasons behind it? It seems to me that we only apply the rule to species which until now have not been considered to have a commercial value. If the animals happen to be good to eat, it’s a different story. The eel is a case in point; late last year DoC issued three concessions for commercial fishers to take eels from rivers located in the West Coast Tai Poutini Conservancy. DoC would never dream of allowing commercial hunters to kill even the most common birds or reptiles, so what is different about eels living within the conservation estate? Is there a justifiable difference, or is this an example of institutional hypocrisy? We all know the situation with marine fishing, where quotas are issued for tonnes of certain species to be taken. There also seems to be no impediment to the “captive” propagation of native plants, even though the widespread growing of certain species outside their natural range may have implications for the local flora regarding possible hybridization. 6. The current permit system is not working. DoC’s permit database is in disarray. Permit conditions vary from one conservancy to another. But what is worse, expired permits are not followed up, so that there is no record in the majority of cases, of what happened to the animals held under those expired permits. For all we know, such animals may form the basis of unrecorded captive breeding for 7. Last year, DoC embarked on an exercise to overhaul the permit system. Much effort was put in by the NZHS and individual herpetoculturists, preparing submissions, following which DoC canned the project, citing lack of resources. The status quo of a poorly functioning, unproductive system remains. In my view, a permit system for keeping native reptiles is a must. But we need to approach the question of allowing some degree of buying and selling under a permit or licence system with an open mind. We should closely examine what works in other countries, particularly Australia, and consider adopting provisions which are working well for them. We also need to look seriously at whether we need to introduce permits for exotic species. If some of these may be able to establish here to the detriment of our native fauna, it may be negligent not to. This article is intended to stimulate discussion. I hope we have the foresight to firstly discuss and agree on the direction we would like herpetoculture in New Zealand to take in the future, and secondly to pursue our objectives with the NZ authorities to achieve a system that works, and fits in with those already in place in Australia and elsewhere.

Source: http://homepages.xnet.co.nz/~rpvr/Farm%20native%20geckos.pdf

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