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Effects of domestication (AKA story of a 2,5m (8+ ft) long Hog island boa)2013-09-25

Domestication means every circumstances in captive reptile keeping that has effects on animals and may cause changes in the long run...

Maybe it's hard to believe at first sight, but sometimes subtle factors, nuances can have major effects on reptiles in captive. Most hobbyst do not aware of these effects existing, therefore I'll try to draw attention by showing some examples.

Domestication have more or less effects on each and every captive animals. This is especially true for wild animals, since we have pulled them out from their habitat, which they had been adapted to over thousands of year to survive. As we have changed the enviroment surrounding them,- since nobody is able to copy their original ecosystem and this is not one's purpose, either -to we put them under a new pressure for selection.

New pressure for selection could be a coming up of an allele responsible for new color morph, but even a changed feeding schedule and temperature, as well. Snakes don't have to compete for survival anymore in captive, everything is given for a long, healthy life (assuming their keepers are well-educated and responsible).

Take a look at dwarfish island boa populations, whom primary food sources are birds (Hog island boas for example). These snakes- having minor food supply -often spend several weeks or even months without finding a new prey, therefore they can barely average 1,6m (5+ ft). Contrarily, among Hog island boas- that have been fed on rodents for numerous generations in captive circumstances -we can find 2,5m long specimens. There is no further explanation needed, how natural and appropriate is to feed this locality on mouses and rats every week, while its ancestors could take birds only 10 times a year in the wild. Thas does not mean that one should feed Hog island boas only on birds or starve them in captivity just because they do in the wild, of course. However, I think it would be important to focus on animals true, natural needs and ensure them. A domesticated 2,5m long Hog island boa would most likely starve to death in the wild, because it was not able to find enough prey to maintain.

Same applies for seasons and temperatures in captivity. If one keeps his boa at 28-32 °C daytime and 22-24 °C nighttime 365 days a year, one keeps his boa properly, we can say. However, this is barely natural for the boa. In the wild various seasons have effect on boas life-cycle and breeding behaviour and some localities are even inactive during the cooler months. Those changes of seasons, inactive periods plays an important part in boas behaviour. No wonder that lot of reptiles will not reproduce under permanent circumstances without changes in captivity.

The opposite is also known. Crossbred boas- that had adapted to captivity over generations -have lost their seasonal breeding pattern, therefore they can reproduce any time of the year (even if cooler months are more typical). Interestingly, same changes in reproduction behaviour happened to some of our pet mammals over few thousands of years.

I 'm not suggesting that snakes in captive will become pets like dogs or cats in the nearest future. However, effects of domestication are noticably there and important in long term. To decide it whether it is a good thing or not, is subjective and matter of personal view.

Of course, one may say that "reptile keeping is having much more urgent problems than this" or "why to care about that, when even the basic care is not applied for lot of animals".

I personally try to work against domestication and not to secede from natural circumstances too much. I think it is not right when a Hog island boa can reach 2,5m in captive, because this seceding from nature make them just as viable as an albino morph would be in the wild.

Seasonal changes and stimulation of that are undoubtedly a key factor in breeding reptiles in captivity, therefore their reason for existence is unquestionable.

Hopefully, that "if it is a tropical race all you need is a warm terrrium and unlimited food supply" view will pass and there will be a new keeping philosophy applied instead, which will truly satisfy the animals needs.

Young Hog island boa (Boa c. imperator)

Botond Ádám

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