Recently there were a few messages exchanged on Twitter between several reptile enthusiasts about the discovery of a hatchling tuatara in New Zealand. I remeber studying tuataras when I took a graduate-level herpetology course back in the late 90’s. We didn’t have any tuataras to look at, of course, so we read a good bit and did a lot of talking. One of the things I remember about tuataras is that the duration of their breeding cycle is insane. Consider this:
- Tuataras reach sexual maturity somewhere around 15 years of age. Hmmph! It doesn’t even take humans that long to become reproductive.
- Gestation is somewhere in the realm of 9 months. After 9 months the female lays about a dozen eggs (give or take)
- Eggs take as few as 11 but as many as 16 months to hatch.
- Females only reproduce every few years.
To say that Tuatara’s are not in any genetic hurry to reproduce themselves is a bit of an understatement.
All this discussion about saving one species or another got me thinking. Consider the following:
As you might suspect, Tuataras are highly endangered. Whenever things become endangered they (quite correctly) become heavily protected. This usually relegates captive breeding efforts to zoos and other scientific organizations. I understand the motivations. If the existence of a species is on the line you want the most educated, the most capable and the most dedicated people on the job. This makes sesnse. But hang on a minute. Has anyone looked around the herpetological landscape lately? Zoos are not the most advanced husbandry facilities around any more. Several for-profit reptile breeders have outpaced the efforts of even the best zoos out there. Money is a powerful motivator for huge portions of the population. When you combine a passion for reptiles with the ability to make money you find that reptile breeders become 1) very intelligent about husbandry and genetics and 2) very agressive in producing the largest quantity possible. Aren’t those the same basic motivations of a species preservation program?
Most of us in the business can readily rattle off a few names of breeders who are worthy of the challenge and have facilities that are up to the task. Why not give professional breeders a shot at preserving endangered species? I see nothing but good to come of it; the animals are highly likely to be produced in larger quantities than any zoo (no disrespect to zoos intended), large portions of the production can be re-introduced into wild, the breeders makes money on some of the production, animals that were once impossible to own become available in the trade which, if we all agree on one of the purposes of captive breeding, decreases the pressure of collection/poaching of animals in the wild.
If producing more of the animal and re-establishing its viability in the wild are our objectives I can’t think of anyone equally qualified than a professional (for-profit) reptile breeder.
Give it some thought.