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Ethics and the Gecko Community

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It’s no wonder the term ‘ethics’ provokes debates and opinions – the word gets thrown around a lot in the reptile community. We are quick to judge what is ethical and not, but the term itself can be very ambiguous. There are professions such as medical, legal, and academic that actually have very clear, written codes of ethics that are strictly adhered to and is part of a sworn oath taken by those professionals. We are often evaluated on our work ethics by our own employers when we have our performance reviews in our  jobs. Even the controversial organization PETA is the acronym for “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

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What exactly ARE “ethics”?  Simply put, ethics are the moral values, principles, and standards that govern the appropriate conduct of a person or group. The beliefs, integrity, and conduct of an individual or community as it pertains to, and affects others, determines those ethics.

So, who decides what is ethical and what is not? Professions where there are established ethical policies have elected board representatives that make those decisions and standards. The gecko community certainly does not have panel of delegates setting standards of conduct for the rest of us to adhere to. Without documented standards the reptile community at large, like most other groups, is left to govern itself. The acceptable codes of conduct are based on each individual’s definition of what is ethical.

Most of the topics subject to ethical debates involve the husbandry, breeding, and business methods used in our gecko hobby. Let’s take a look at some of them and consider if these examples are ethical issues:

Is it ethical to keep your gecko on sand knowing the potential hazardous consequences of impaction?

We are all weary of substrate debates, but the ethical issue would be: does this affect the moral values, principles, and standards of the gecko community? Some might say, “yes”, but the majority would probably not agree. The individual’s husbandry methods really do not affect the community as a whole. This may not be an ethical issue, but rather a poor personal choice.

 Is selling geckos at wholesale prices on the public market ethical?

Breeders are looking for financial compensation for their time and money spent in breeding, but we are all still consumers. Everyone wants to get the most for our money. Is it unethical for breeders to sell their geckos at trade shows or online at wholesale prices? Or is it just a matter of desperate times mean desperate measures? Selling geckos at wholesale prices to the general public may or may not be unethical, but most would agree it shows little consideration for fellow breeders who have worked just as hard, and promotes low value of their animals on the market.

 Is it ethical to subject a 35 gram female to breeding knowing that there is a possibility of egg-binding, and potential health risks?

Now we are getting into more of a topic of ethical debate. Before casting an opinion, we might first consider the circumstances. If the choice to breed an immature female is based solely on the hopes of getting offspring quickly to make a profit, it could be deemed ‘unethical’. If an immature female ovulates and stops eating, there may be a choice in allowing her to starve to death, or take a chance on breeding her in hopes she will resume eating after a clutch is laid. In a case like this, the motives might be considered ethical or not.

 What about culling less than perfect geckos… is this ethical?

Well, here we go again with an ethical debate. As much as we don’t like to think about euthanizing animals, many might consider this act highly ethical while others would only make the decision based on the animal’s quality of life. A few may consider putting any animal down as immoral, hereby making the decision an ethical one.

 Is breeding a gecko knowing it has a genetic defect ethical?

This is a BIG one! The American Kennel Club (AKC) has very rigid standards about knowingly breeding dogs with genetic faults. The reptile community does not have these guidelines. Some examples might include the Ball Python Spider morph, and closer to home… the Enigma. These morphs have known  genetic defects, yet people continue to breed and work with these lovely animals in spite of their inherent problems. Does this make these people ‘unethical’?  Perhaps. Yet many see the intrinsic beauty in these morphs and find that their genetic quirks pose no real issues with their quality of life. Ultimately, many would probably consider producing Enigmas to be unethical, but for those that do work with them it is an informed choice.

Is it ethical to sell a gecko without disclosing known problems or issues?

This takes the previous example one step further.  Most people would agree that selling anything  that has issues without disclosing those problems, is indeed, unethical. Why? Because it affects the community by denying individuals the right to make informed decisions and choices, and leaves them with having to deal with the consequences. It could be devastating for a gecko breeder’s reputation to be considered dishonest, but most of us would view the ‘unethical’ part about selling a gecko with known issues is not disclosing this to the buyer.
Some may consider these examples to be ‘unethical’, while others may simply see it as inappropriate, irresponsible, or inconsiderate. The subject of ethics when it comes to the reptile community may still be undefined, but hopefully this topic will provoke some thought and tap into the values that are instilled in us.

We all play a vital role in the way the gecko hobby and business functions as a whole, and are left to our own individual values to make the choices we do. Ultimately, we ALL must be held accountable for the consequences of those choices.  We were all taught the ‘Golden Rule’. Sometimes we might need a reminder, and must realize that ethics are born from these values.

What do you think?

Written by Marcia McGuinness

Marcia McGuiness has been the owner of Golden Gate Geckos for 20 years, where she has worked with Leopard Geckos, African Fat-tails, Australian smooth and rough Knobtails, Australian Thick-tails, and Western Banded Geckos.  She has authored many articles, been an active advisor on several gecko-related online communities, as well as hosted and made guest appearances on Blog Talk Radio.  Marcia is coming to the end of her legacy as she and her husband prepare to retire to their home in Mariposa, CA., in the Sierra foothills near Yosemite National Park.

14 Comments

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  1. Great article Marcia! Unfortunately there will always be people who will cross the line by putting their business interests first (greed), rather than the love and well being of their geckos.

  2. What about common breeder practices of hybridizing and inbreeding to create designer morphs to the point that half the collectors out there don’t even know what the animals are “supposed” to look like? What about owning wild caught or smuggled animals? Surprised the last one didn’t come up in here as I think it prevents the greatest problem with, and greatest threat to our hobby.

  3. Good point Alex. The problem is that as long as there is a market out there for these breeders or smugglers, there is really no way to control or put a stop to this practice.

  4. All very good points to ponder. I’ll comment on only the items I have experience with…

    Sand…I personally use it for my 2 beardies, and a cocofiber/sand mix for the tarantula and the land hermits. Period. I also tell my opinion and WHY to those that ask me. (and the first time I see a beardie miss the bugs and get a mouthful of sand, they get reptile carpet too)

    Breeding weight….when I do breed (if I choose to) the female will be no less than 40 gm, and most probably closer to if not 50 gm.. (Leopard and AFT)

    Culling…well what is perfect?? Perfect colors? Leg-length?? No, culling is not right…Find a person who just loves the species and give it to them. A little girl Crestie with a badly skewed lower jaw turned out to be the sweetest thing. Lost her at a yr of age, but what a fun 10 months or so.

    KNOWN genetic defect? Well there is a difference between quirk and defect.. Not ethical at all to breed, let alone sell, a genetic defect. Which leads to the disclosure part…a gecko with a known issue needs to be found a home, to be able to live out its life and not be bred. I have albino types of Leopard gecko, some are SUPER intolerant of light, others are not. I would call that a quirk.

    🙂

  5. Just got back from vacation, so I missed the article when it came out. Thank you for your responses! Alex, I could have written on and on about ethical issues in the reptile community, but I was limited to 1000 words and touched on some of the most common questions I hear of with the gecko folks. I couldn’t agree with you more when it comes to some of the practices with hybridization, and especially illegal importation and smuggling. These are truly ethical subjects that affect the entire herp community as a whole.

    My article was not intended to place my own moral and ethical values on these subjects, as much as defining what ethics really are and how our own actions affect gecko community.

  6. Kendra, thank you for you coments! The ‘ethical’ debate in regard to culling imperfect geckos will probably remain a debate. For example, several years ago I hatched a gorgeous Tremper Sunglow that had an underdeveloped front leg/arm. It looked like a small paddle. I labored over the decision to put the baby down, but decided to give him a chance.

    He thrived and turned in to the most gorgeous, sweet-natured little fellow. I put him up for adoption, and a couple drove 3 hours to come and pick him up. They absolutely adore “Tripod”, and I get updated photos of him regularly. I’m glad I didn’t cull him… he became a precious, beloved pet.

    Now, had his deformity been genetic, I might have decided differently. Most likely I would have humanely euthanized him and never bred the parents again – selling them as pets with the full disclosure of the genetic issue with their offspring. I feel that it is my ethical responsibility as a breeder to prevent the propagation of known genetic faults.

    So, the question here is… who decides what is a defect and what is a ‘quirk’? No argument… just food for thought. 😉

  7. Nice article Marcia… Makes me think there should be some set standard of ethics… The only things I do not see being ethical issues at all is the sand as substrate thing and the market prices…

    With pricing of a gecko or any animal, it is up to the breeder to sell it for what ever they want… Price fixing is illegal… I can see why some would get upset if someone is selling a gecko for 25 bucks that everyone else has listed for a hundred, but in all honesty, no one has the right to tell the person selling their gecko for $25 they can not sell at that price or they are being unethical for doing so…

    As far as the sand thing goes, I will not even go there on here… This is a very good article and the debate does not belong here…

  8. Thanks for the feedback, Gregg. I don’t necessarily think that substrate wars or gecko pricing are ethical issues, either. However, I included them in this article to give comparisons of what ‘are’ and ‘are not’ ethical subjects. If you read, the examples given started out as non-ethical and escalated up to real ethical debates. Many people don’t realize what ethics are exactly, so my purpose was to define them, and give examples of the differences.

  9. “What about culling less than perfect geckos… is this ethical?

    Well, here we go again with an ethical debate. As much as we don’t like to think about euthanizing animals, many might consider this act highly ethical while others would only make the decision based on the animal’s quality of life. A few may consider putting any animal down as immoral, hereby making the decision an ethical one.”

    — First off I would like to say, I enjoyed this article very much! Bravo!

    Secondly, on the question of whether or not it is ethical in Culling less than perfect gecko’s, If there is ever a time I would have to make this decision, I would base it off of the quality of life the Gecko would have. Would this Gecko have to endure a life of surgeries and medications for the rest of his life? If so, would I be willing to take this on for the rest of that Gecko’s life? I say this, because I have seen how some… and I say those that take on a Gecko as a pet (or any animal) and are not educated in how – to take care of them or just do not care. I would not subject a Gecko to the chance of going to a home in that situation for only the chance to not be properly taken care of and only to expire.

  10. Thank you for your feedback, Jennifer! It’s great that this article is still being read… 🙂 Indeed, culling imperfect animals seems to be a topic of ethical debate no matter what specie it is. Personally, I agree that if there is no possiblity for quality of life or a known genetic problem that could cause future generations quality of life issues, humanely euthanizing the animal is probably the best option.

    Now, the debate is… “what is a humane method of euthanizing an animal?”

  11. Hi Marcia: Great article on ethics and the gecko community. I would hope that most gecko owners and breeders would encounter any problems in an ethical manner. For the few that do not, perhaps having their reputation taking a dive, will show them there is a better way.

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