Right now, wild caught animals play a large role in the pet trade. They’re inexpensive, relatively easy to get a hold of in large numbers (without researching the natural history of a species, formulating a breeding plan, raising up animals to adulthood, breeding them, caring for the offspring, repeat, etc), and are sometimes seen as more desirable by some customers. We see this, and we see a big problem, especially if the exotic pet industry is planning on staying around for the long term.
Removing animals from the wild to directly meet the demand for pets is not sustainable. Using those wild collected animals as founding stock for carefully managed breeding programs or to introduce genetic diversity to captive lines, however, can lead to the production of tens of thousands of healthy, captive bred animals from a handful of wild collected herps. Let’s explore these ideas further:
Wild Caught Animals as a Founding Population
When carefully managed, a few wild caught animals can lead to the sustainable breeding and creation of tens of thousands of captive bred animals. Care must be taken when receiving them, as they generally require veterinary attention for parasites, physical injuries, and infection. Wild Caught animals are much more expensive (both in time and money) to acclimate to captive life than captive bred animals.
Breeders can use the small sample of wild caught frogs to create and promote captive bred animals in the herpetology hobby.
If we look at a simple breeding plan designed around avoiding all inbreeding (IE only pairing unrelated animals), 12 wild caught animals (6 males, 6 females) could easily result in tens of thousands of offspring over the course of 3 generations, or about 30 years if we’re talking about dart frogs or commonly available tree frogs. Such a small number of wild caught imports would meet the demands of the pet trade within 3-4 years of being imported, as their captive bred offspring are paired off and used as breeding stock.
In an ideal world, a small number of wild caught imports would be made available to large breeders, who would, in turn, use that founding stock to ensure that species are available for the next several decades. Short of something wiping out the captive population, additional importation of that specific species would not be needed for 20-30 years. That would only be necessary when it comes time to outcross lines to prevent inbreeding.
Wild Caught Animals for Genetic Diversity
Wild caught animals serve as an important source of genetic diversity, which is necessary to maintain captive lines over time. Eventually, captive bred lines may become susceptible to diseases, dangerous recessive traits, weakened immune systems, or poor growth rates. As lines become inbred, it becomes more likely that undesirable and dangerous traits will begin to appear. There is some evidence that it may take several generations of inbreeding before it becomes detrimental to the animals, but this is not something to be taken lightly.
There are already plenty of examples in the pet trade of specific lines or morphs of animals being weak, having poor growth rates, or being more difficult to keep alive. This is often due to inbreeding.
Each imported animal can serve to add another generation of time to captive bred lines. With many common species, the importation of a handful of individuals every 5 years or so would keep captive lines healthy for generations to come.
Josh’s Frogs Roll in Captive Breeding
Having strong captive bred frogs while limiting wild caught frogs sounds like a great solution, right? Using a very small number of wild caught animals to create captive bred frogs for the pet trade, instead of removing thousands of animals from their natural habitat every year. If this is such a great idea, why isn’t it being done?
We are – Josh’s Frogs has used small numbers of wild caught animals as founders of breeeding populations in order to provide healthy, captive bred animals for years. Or as a source of genetic diversity to keep older lines healthy. It’s so important to understand that we will never sell wild caught animals to the public or directly profit from their sale, but they are needed in order to offer captive bred animals – they have to come from somewhere!
In order to decrease wild caught animals on a larger scale, what we need is cooperation.
We need breeders (both hobbyists and businesses) working together to ensure that lines are managed and available to anyone producing animals. We also need cooperation from importers and exporters – wild caught animals would need new practices to be implemented to ensure those wild caughts arrived disease free and in good shape. This would result in a pet trade where animals benefit and wild populations are more or less left alone. This also removes another source of pressure on already at-risk species. It’s a goal worth striving towards.
***Please keep in mind the information above is a very simplistic approach to population management. While it serves to make a point and show that relatively few individuals can lead to the creation of a genetically diverse captive population, there is a lot more that goes into population management.