It’s a common situation at reptile shows: a novice reptile keeper gets in over his or her head. Gecko Time asked a number of experienced reptile breeders and a reptile rescuer how to deal with this all too familiar situation.
My son and I went to a reptile expo yesterday and purchased a tokay gecko. We weren’t planning on getting a gecko and we’ve never really had a reptile before, but our friends got one and it was only $10. When we got it home, it escaped from the container and it took us a long time to get it into its cage. I’ve done a little more research online and now I realize I’ve gotten in way over my head. I don’t think we can keep this gecko. What should we do?
Whitney Lowell responds: It’s not uncommon for people to purchase reptiles without the proper research and knowledge about how to care for the animal: their diet, housing, and temperament characteristics. It happens all the time at pet stores, when young Johnny begs and begs for the tiny gecko in the case, so mom or dad buys it to pacify him. But, impulse buys hurt everyone, especially the new pet. So many impulse buys leads to animals being improperly cared for, becoming sickly or being let loose in the wild, neither case is ideal.
In the cases of impulse buys that go bad, there are a few options that you can choose from. You should first try to return the animal to the breeder or pet store that it came from, which will allow someone with more experience to care for the animal until it can be re-homed. If that doesn’t work, or you just can’t remember the breeder’s name, consider finding a rescue, vet, or rehabilitation center that can take on the pet. If that doesn’t work, keep trying; you want to consider all of your options so that the pet can be placed with someone who is able to care for it. Try talking with other breeders who may be able to take on the reptile. As a last resort, you may want to try craigslist, the newspaper, or a company ad posting, but never release the animal to the wild.
While you’re trying to find a proper home, try to do the research so that you can attempt to provide better care until a more qualified caretaker is available.
Khrysty Gonzalez responds: Impulse buys are never really the best choice for pet owners, especially when it’s a species of animal you’re not familiar with. It’s really easy to get in over your head. While it may be adorable sitting on a table at the show (or in a tank in the pet store, etc.), all animals require individual care. If the species is new to you, the best thing to do is read up as best you can on its care, gather all of the supplies you’ll need to give it the best possible life, and then purchase your animal.
You now have a decision to make: do you and your son assume responsibility for an animal you weren’t prepared to own, or do you find it a new home with someone who is? Both situations are tough, I’ll admit, which is why everything is easier if you know what you’re getting into beforehand.
If you have the supplies needed, for the Tokay’s sake, I’d say the best route is to try and keep it and make it work. If you don’t have the supplies, it may be easier to get them than to find him a new home. They’re beautiful animals, they really are, though they are a little ornery. A lot of keepers have reported successfully hand-taming these guys, but most of the time they’re simply look-don’t-touch display animals.
If you really don’t think you can’t keep it, then the only real other option is finding it someone who can. Finding a reptile a new home isn’t as easy as one might think. I would recommend first contacting the original breeder. Maybe they will understand and take the Tokay back. If they don’t, I’d begin looking around locally. See if you can find any reptile hobbyists or owners that know how to really care for the species and would be happy to give the gecko a new home for you. Craigslist is a good tool for that, but be wary of people who respond to your ad. Make sure they really know their stuff and aren’t going to draw themselves into a similar situation. If that fails, there are a few reptile rescues out there, but sometimes they’re hard to find. Internet searches and sometimes asking around at veterinary clinics are good ways to find them.
Wally Kern responds: “Oh my, that is a pretty gecko. How much is it? Perfect, that is just the amount we were looking to spend for a pet. We’ll take it!”. We’ve heard this so many times at reptile shows. While it might seem that our next question would be “Will that be cash or charge”, it is actually “Can I please share some information about the animal you are interested in?” We are very fond of the animals we sell at these shows. We ask questions like “Do you know about these geckos?”, “Do you have an enclosure set up already?”, and “Have you had reptiles before?”. We share information about the animals such as adult size, food and water requirements, temperature and lighting needs, life expectancy, and special care that should be give the first few weeks. We encourage them to take our business card. It includes our web site featuring many care sheets/instructional videos. Then we ask that they contact us with questions, even if they purchase a gecko from another vendor at the show. Why do we spend so much time with customers? Because we are fond of our animals and want to make sure each sale results in a healthy pet and a longtime, happy customer.
Julie Bergman responds: First, I am sorry to hear about your negative experience with a gecko purchased at a reptile show. It is the responsibility of those vending at reptile shows to ensure their customers have a good experience, and you and your son were let down by the vendor who sold you this gecko. To cut down on impulse buying, geckos should not be retailed for less than about $20. The only geckos usually sold for less than $20 are wild-caught geckos, which are ill-suited for beginners due to their wild nature, not being raised in captivity, and tendency to be unhealthy due to typically high parasite loads. The gecko should always be matched to the customer – usually beginners need a sturdy, captive bred, easy-to-handle gecko such as a leopard or crested gecko. Handling should always be discussed as most beginners feel it is important. The vendor should also encourage you to thoroughly research the gecko’s care before purchasing. Once the purchase is made, a care sheet should be provided, and also a receipt with information about the gecko’s origins (wild caught, captive-bred, hatch date,) along with a business card . At a minimum the receipt should also have the vendor’s name and contact information in case any issues arise. Do shop around and ask about the vendor’s experience, how long they have been working with geckos, what types, how long have they been in business, etc. It is also better to stick to a gecko specialist as they are more likely to be more experienced with geckos. I would contact this vendor and see if a return is possible, or check with the local herpetological societies and see if you could find it another, better-suited home. I hope this information helps for next time you consider purchasing a gecko, which I highly recommend as a good pet for children of all ages!
Julie Bergman is the current president of the Global Gecko Association and an
experienced gecko breeder of over 50 species of geckos. She established her business Gecko Ranch, LLC in 1993 and carries gecko supplies as well as breeding her own geckos. In her spare time she can be found road racing her 1994 Trans-Am in the Camaro-Mustang Challenge.
Khrysty Gonzalez from Khrysty’s Kritters has been caring for reptiles for almost 10 years. The raising of, breeding, and intense research into the husbandry of leopard geckos in the past couple years has led her to open a leopard gecko rescue of her own. She hopes that it will eventually grow to incorporate other species of reptile as well. You can visit the Khrysty’s Kritters website to read about the rescue program at: http://khrystys-kritters.webs.com/
Wally Kern founded Supreme Gecko a few years ago with a focus on customer
service and quality animals. Its policy from the start has been on education, from their extensive on-line library and Blog to the time they spend with EACH customer at reptile shows to timely, detailed Emails answering every question they receive. While they take pride in their reputation for producing some of the highest quality leopard geckos and crested geckos around, they enjoy the opportunity to provide the first
time owner just the right pet for their needs.
Whitney Lowell is a college student working on a degree in Political Science. She has been working with reptiles since 2002, focusing her interests in leopard geckos, crested geckos, rosy boas, Russian tortoises, and red foot tortoises. Her other interests include freelance writing and blogging, dog training, and surfing the web.