RESPONSIBLE HERPETOCULTURE – MANIFEST
proposed by BION’s team
Our planet is undergoing a global environmental crisis, associated with the destruction of natural ecosystems, climate change and large-scale extinction of plant and animal species. It is easy to imagine who will be next in the line.
We are witnesses and, at the same time, the culprits of the impending collapse. Our number is constantly growing, technologies are becoming more advanced. Today, voluntarily or involuntarily, we continue to kill all other living creatures that share the Earth with us in cold blood; we ruthlessly destroy their habitats. By what right, let us ask?
We won this right once, taking a stick in our hand millions years ago. For today the stick is still in the same hand. In the other hand we usually have… a smartphone.
Let us finally become aware! We must honestly acknowledge who we are!
Herpetoculture, having arisen once as a hobby, brought together hundreds of thousands of people passionate about the idea of keeping and breeding amphibians and reptiles. This community has now grown into a powerful movement of enthusiasts and professionals who know and understand the needs of their pets than no one else.
In some cases, a specialist in zooculture give their upper hand to academic scientists. Over the course of several decades enormous practical experience and knowledge have been accumulated for managing ex situ populations.*.
At the same time, recent decades are characterized by catastrophic degradation processes in natural animal’s habitats associated mainly with anthropogenic interference. Many species of plants and animals have died out, many are on the verge of extinction, most populations are influenced by various factors of anthropogenic pressure.
One can formulate such a definition as “a species without a habitat” and state the existence of species whose natural habitat is completely destroyed.
Therefore, people who have linked their lives with amphibians and reptiles cannot continue to be just outside observers of the species extinction.
By now we want to formulate new principles!
Herpetoculture as a hobby only and herpetoculture just a business only should be in a past!
RESPONSIBLE HERPETOCULTURE offers new approaches to safe endangered species in ex situ* populations – approaches of the 21st century!
(* ex situ – strategy in which the resources of the gene pool of one or another species are kept in artificial conditions, under the human control).
SECTION 1. ORGANIZATION OF EX SITU POPULATIONS’ LIVELIHOOD IN THE CONTEXT OF SPECIES CONSERVATION STRATEGY
1.ECOLOGICAL AND GENETIC CONCEPT
Environmental factors, species biology, plasticity have always been the topics of close attention of specialists of ex situ studies.. For a long time the analysis of available information and field investigations have been part of the work of serious herpetoculturists, as well as the subject of cooperation with academic herpetologists.
Here we just want to stress the need for a complete transition from analysis at the species category level to the analysis at the population category level. This is true, in particular, for species with wide natural ranges characterized by marked differences in environmental factors in individual parts of the range.
The genetic concept, as applied to ex situ population management, is deeply developed and tested in work with many animal species for today. Thanks to the introduction of approaches of population genetics, the groups of animals kept in terrariums and even by separate individuals become important in the active conservation and restoration of the gene pool of natural populations..
In many conservation strategies, researchers are guided by the provision on the ability of protected ecosystems to self-repair. Certain territories are given the protection status at various levels, descriptive research is conducted, and scientific papers are published. Unfortunately, this state of affairs is effective, having been relevant on paper only.
After analyzing the details, we often understand the illusory nature of described approach in relation to the problems of real nature conservation.
Usually the size of protected areas is initially small and provides no long-term perspective for the existence of many species of animals and plants. Specific living conditions in small isolates of a fragmented landscape lead to a gradual change in the structural and functional properties of the gene pool of protected populations and their extinction due to gene drift and inbreeding. A decrease in the heterozygosity’ level of the population leads to a decrease in viability.
In many cases, contrary to existing legislation, especially in the third world countries, the locals continue economic activities in the protected areas, destroying the them. A large contribution is made by the activities of large corporations. Climatic changes also lead to the degradation of primary landscapes.
In some cases the growing tourism industry becomes a cause of serious concern for the inhabitants of national parks. In its ugliest manifestations, the environmental strategy in a number of reserves comes down to organizing several ecological trails where unsuspecting tourists are fed the illusion of biodiversity, pumping quite decent amounts of money out of them. Other territory of the park, where visitors are not allowed to get in, is gradually turning into pastures and agricultural plantations.
All of the above leads us to believe that the ecological and genetic concept of animal and plant protection should include, along with territorial protection, the active restoration of the population’s gene pool, which may be possible owing to creation of reserve populations ex situ and the controlled organization of artificial genetic flows from nature or from zooculture.
Zooculture is able and should become a lifeboat, a temporary, hopefully, a haven for animals from endangered or near threatened natural populations. Our goal is to maintain a gene bank in the form of groups of breeding animals for the longest time possible.
Ex situ populations should have a gene pool, being as similar as possible to that of the corresponding natural populations.
Creating a sustainable, genetically complete ex situ population to save natural populations or provide a reserve stock of individuals should play a critical role in preventing the extinction of species.
The first step should be to determine the degree of genetic variation in the wild population. The primary stock of animals withdrawn from nature should reflect the full range of genetic diversity.
The next task should be to preserve genetic diversity for as long as possible. This can be achieved in various ways. For example, an increase in intergenerational intervals, controlled by the exchange of breeding stock between individual ex situ populations and between ex situ and in situ populations. All this requires careful consideration and a well-developed action plan.
At this point, the terrariumistics community has developed quite detailed methods for keeping and breeding many species of amphibians and reptiles. This information has been published in manuals and books, including more and more electronic resources in last decades.
A number of companies have launched the production of related reptile products – from terrariums and lighting devices to food and vitamin-mineral supplements. All this allows to effectively keep and breed animals in captivity for a long time, significantly exceeding life expectancy of individuals in natural populations.
It should be mentioned, that optimization of techniques of animal husbandry often leads to a simplification of technology, and the desire to obtain the maximum result in breeding leads to speeding up life cycles and other tricks. In many cases, this approach is reasonable and correct. However, if we want to maintain the ex situ population in conditions as identical to the natural population as possible, within the framework of the RESPONSIBLE HERPETOCULTURE project, it is reasonable to analyze all aspects of the biology of a particular natural population, the influence of factors of the abiotic and biotic environment, animal adaptations, the degree of plasticity, and to identify those that are critical to the survival of the species in nature. Based on this information, it would be imperative to develop/adjust the methods of keeping animals.
Neglecting this approach in some cases can lead to a decrease in animal population immunity and other negative consequences. In the medium term this may result in certain physiological and behavioral anomalies, which would reduce the identity of ex situ and in situ populations.
Interaction with specialists in veterinary medicine specializing in herpetology is a prerequisite for long-term survival of animals in the context of the need to slow down generational change to maintain the genetic well-being of ex situ populations. Also, the identification and correct interpretation of certain pathologies is an important condition for creating optimal ex situ population management techniques.
The presence of competent, highly qualified specialists in veterinary medicine is the most important condition for achieving the success of RESPONSIBLE HERPETOCULTURE. Currently, such specialists, unfortunately, are rare, and a doctor having no specialized training in veterinary medicine of amphibians and reptiles cannot take into account all aspects of the species biology.
Our priority is to ntroduce approaches that would ensure health of not only each separate individual, but the health of the population as a whole in the long run.
We are confident that the popularization and scaling up of the RESPONSIBLE HERPETOCULTURE project will entail an increase in the number of doctors specializing in this field.
SECTION 2. POSITIONING OF EX SITU AND IN SITU POPULATIONS AS PARTS OF ONE CONTINUUM
In the context of an impending anthropocene, integrated conservation planning in the natural and ex situ populations is perhaps the only possible way to implement a biodiversity conservation strategy.
Currently, some people profess false ideas about herpetoculture, presenting it as a kind of negative phenomenon that competes the issue of preventing the extinction of species. Unfortunately, many extremist nature conservationists prefer to see the animal extinct in nature rather than agree with its keeping and breeding in zooculture. They stubbornly do not want to see the real picture of degradation of natural populations, against which the creation of reserve populations may become the only possible solution to stopping or at least delaying the species extinction.
Skeptics will definitely say that this is a false path and will continue to admire the touching picture of the riot of colors of the majestic nature .... onscreen. Such position is still a position.
We hope that sooner or later the humanity will come to its senses, make adjustments to the birth rate and cease to relate to nature to such a degree of consumerism that it agrees with its complete destruction.
And in this case, the reserve populations created will serve the cause of restoration of natural populations. We consider this to be a great goal and define it as our mission.
The use of ex situ programs in environmental activities should be carried out consistently involving the stages of planning, feasibility analysis, risk analysis, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of project effectiveness. Ideally such work is to be carried out by a group of specialists having experience and knowledge both in in situ species conservation and ex situ population management.
However, such a large-scale work requires a lot of time and resources for its implementation; in some cases, it will be carried out and completed too late, with no chance to stop the extinction of the species.
Therefore, we propose to look at things as realistically as is possible and in the situations where the threat of extinction of natural populations is completely obvious, be guided by the principles of maximum efficiency and speed of action, albeit to the detriment of academicism and the thoroughness of the scientific approach.
On the other hand, in most cases, scientists and state functionaries take on the right to control nature, which does not belong to them. Currently we observe the results of such "hegemony". The planet is dying.
At the same time, the role and importance of people involved in zooculture, as well as the public concerned, are unreasonably underestimated. They are deprived of leverage of real influence on the situation; pressure is being exerted on them. On an international scale, this is tantamount to neglect and leads to disagreement and discontent. This state of affairs is erroneous and needs to be reviewed.
Ex situ specialists should be given the opportunity to control the seizure of several rare specimens long before the onset of a critical situation. This will allow to develop in advance a breeding technique for certain species and to create a reserve population.
One of the basic principles of the RESPONSIBLE HERPETOCULTURE should be the responsibility for the survival of the natural population, which the herpetoculturist’s community takes over when starting an ex situ project.
Regular monitoring of the in situ populations’ status, the systematic study of all aspects of the species biology, factors threatening animals’ well-being in nature should become an integral part of ex situ specialists’ work. Informing the public, organizing the volunteer movement and educational work will also help implement these plans.
SECTION 3. PROGRAM IMPLEMENTATION MECHANISMS, MONITORING AND COORDINATION OF EFFORTS.
In order to maintain the full range of functions related to the conservation of species, ex situ populations must have demographic stability, adequate behavioral characteristics of individuals, and genetic representativeness with respect to characters typical for the natural population. The individuals that make up such populations must be healthy and their acquisition must be lawful.
The size of small populations is usually not sufficient to ensure species long-term survival. Also, the lack of space required for animals’ keeping and breeding is a serious obstacle in the work. The next problem is the issue of transfer of individuals between organizations and individual breeders. Legislative barriers are the main thing that complicates the inter-regional movements of animals.
In order to solve these and other problems within the framework of the RESPONSIBLE HERPETOCULTURE project, the following algorithm is proposed.
The initial number of animals withdrawn from the natural population is transferred, under the supervision of the Curator, into the hands of experienced specialists known and recognized in herpetoculture. They are to carry out work related to the development and adaptation of methods for keeping and breeding species. In the best case scenario, these people participate in the study of the biology of natural populations. At this stage, genetic research is being carried out, and in close collaboration with population geneticists and herpetologists, an ex situ population management strategy is being developed in the context of species conservation.
If the first generation is successfully received, the animals are transferred to other organizations and individuals who would wish to participate in the project. At the same time, special documents are issued for each animal, including the date of birth, information about the parents, the exact location of natural populations, and genetic guarantees are given.
Animals are transferred from the herpetoculture expert to the future owner only after passing the test, where he/she demonstrates the level of knowledge that allows to maintain and breed this species. Also, premises for keeping animals are to be inspected for compliance with the developed standards. Together with the animal owner, all methods for working with this species are transferred and the channels and interaction algorithm are negotiated. Thus, the ex situ population is increasing and it goes up to the worldwide level.
In accordance with the recommendations of population geneticists, regular genetic monitoring is to be carried out within the ex situ population to control the degree of change in the level of heterozygosity and decisions shall be made for the correct transfer of animals during the exchange between participants in the species restoration program. This approach expands significantly the ability to maintain stability of ex situ populations.
Among other things, reserve populations provide a unique opportunity for scientific research. Establishing trustful relationships based on mutual respect between an ex situ specialist and herpetologist, coordination of efforts aimed at solving a common problem is another key to the successful conservation of species.
In addition, the topic of interaction with zoos that have gone from ordinary places of public entertainment with a demonstration of exotic animals to organizations that give priority to scientific, educational and environmental work should be addressed separately. With a huge global audience, zoos have unique opportunities for positive changes in environmental protection.
The RESPONSIBLE HERPETOCULTURE project pursues similar goals and professes a philosophy similar in spirit. The amount of work facing us is enormous and the tasks are urgent. Only through joint efforts can we enlist the support of society and see positive results.
SECTION 4. INTERACTION WITH THE PUBLIC
Informing and interacting with the public, of course, is the most important, and possibly the key objective of the RESPONSIBLE HERPETOCULTURE project.
Society can and should be involved in the active protection of natural animal populations. It is very important not to deprive ordinary people of the opportunity to communicate directly with nature. As has already happened many times, a devoted amateur has achieved more than teams of paid professionals. Relying completely on professionals is simply not safe, nor is it safe to cooperate with “activists” whose interest in nature is satisfied exclusively through television or a computer.
People brought up on an edited idea of reality are not able to sensibly judge the problems of nature; they become puppets of the media, which, in turn, serve the interests of governments and corporations.
It would be naive to believe that the RESPONSIBLE HERPETOCULTURE project can be limited to only specific issues related to animals’ keeping and breeding. This approach is utopian.
The formation of the ecological culture of human society is an essential part of the process that arouses desire in people to save species and maintain healthy ecosystems.
Each project participant must become an environmental missionary and even a warrior since, in some ways, this is war. We are confronted by millions of people, zombie masses of media, IT technologies and ideologists of a consumer society. Our task is to cool hot heads going under the banners of the anthropocene!
Only such approach may give us a chance in the long run.
Our tools are specific facts and results. Conducting large-scale educational and campaigning events in places where natural populations are directly located should be an obligatory part of field expeditionary work. We must change the minds of people, unconsciously transforming the consumer attitude towards nature into a sense of responsibility and reverence for it. There are psychological and historical bases for this. It is worth remembering how much and unshakably among many peoples the veneration of ancestors or the elevation to the rank of inviolable individual species of animals and plants is. (сложно понять. АВ)
Effective communication with local authorities, educational programs in schools, a joint search for solutions in the field of economics, replacement of economic activities that damage the environment with more appropriate ones.
Also, it is necessary to mention a conscious, environmental approach to the consumption of goods and services. It must be clarified that, for example, each chocolate bar made using palm oil is another felled tree in a tropical rainforest. People need to understand this!
All this is RESPONSIBLE HERPETOCULTURE in the full scope of the project. Only in this context we can talk about seriousness of our intentions and the soundness of our approaches. Each sample of printed matter, each video should contain a powerful environmental message. We believe in absolute cynicism of making films only about the beauties of nature .... that dies.
Unfortunately, much of what we know about the state of nature today is a Hollywood Show. Our task is to bring things to reality.
SECTION 5. FINANCIAL SECURITY
It is absolutely obvious that any project, and even more so a large-scale one as the RESPONSIBLE HERPETOCULTURE project, requires the allocation of certain material resources. Environmental protection is a luxury. Very often governments failed to find funds in their budgets. Moreover, environmental projects need long-term and sustainable financing. This can be a problem for many positive endeavors.
In this regard, the RESPONSIBLE HERPETOCULTURE project offers absolutely unique approaches.
By now an extensive community of amphibian and reptile keepers and breeders has been formed. It consists of individuas, as well as specialized organizations, often well-structured, that can coordinate the overall efforts within the framework of the RESPONSIBLE HEREPOCULTURE project.
Also there is a global international trade market. Certain trends and market conditions have been formed. For example, artificially derived color variations of various animal species, the so-called morphs, often are more expensive than "ordinary" typical, natural color variations.
The RESPONSIBLE HERPETOCULTURE project offers new trends! Healthy animals with a natural heterozygosity level, the genotype of which is fully consistent with specific natural populations, is a new trend that we urge all herpetocultists to strive for.
The cost of such animals should be reasonably high. And this will become one of the important economic factors, which would determine the feasibility of the project.
Is there any motivation for this? Sure! A person is invited to not only purchase the animal he likes, take care of him, enjoy communication, breed and sell for the sake of a certain benefit. Primarily, he/she is invited to become a member of the global program for saving the species, preserving the biodiversity of our planet! Today it’s hard to imagine a goal greater than this!
So, we define the sale of animals as the basic source of financing for the project, since it relies on market mechanisms.
The next option is membership dues, which are paid by the project participants, making an informed decision to support it by allocating additional funds. As a result, they become full members of the group for the conservation of a particular animal species with additional access to all types of activity within the group.
Also, we count on the support of reptile-related business companies, one way or another engaged in the production of goods for herpetoculture.
The volunteer movement should be an invaluable help, especially where it comes to field work, monitoring of natural populations, educational and campaigning activities.
Targeted revenues from grantors and other sponsors should be an additional source of funding for scientific activities carried out within the framework of the project.
Of course, we expect support from all people of goodwill, for our part, committing ourselves to inform the public in detail about the work done.
SECTION 6. PUBLIC AND SOCIAL STATUS OF PROJECT PARTICIPANTS
Raising the social status of people involved in the conservation of species is, in our opinion, absolutely necessary to achieve success. This is especially true for those who are engaged in practical work with animals, since people from science certainly already have such status.
Scientists have long learned to distinguish their caste in society and clothe themselves with regalia. Nowadays, the most prestigious and highly paid professions are not zoology and ecology but IT specialists, lawyers, economists. If we take biological specialties – there are biochemists and molecular biologists. As a rule, all of them work only within the narrow interests of human population. At the same time, everyone is talking about an impending environmental disaster, about the extinction of species.
The concept of disaster involves active, urgent and emergency actions. What is being done now is clearly not enough.
The best minds of mankind should become involved in environmental protection, powerful financial flows should come here, and without delay.
Practitioners in nature conservation, all those who are engaged in the field of zooculture, carry out globally important and socially significant work to preserve the biodiversity of planet Earth.
It is necessary to carry out administrative, PR and other events and activities to raise their public status. Note that some countries, have no professions that determine the types of activities of people dealing with zooculture. They are forced to register their activities as livestock in a number of agricultural professions. This gap needs to be addressed.
By now zooculture, not related to the branches of agriculture (herpetoculture), is still a rather unusual type of activity. We believe that the time has come to make ourselves known.
It is necessary to take the initiative to make additions to the classifier of types of economic activity, formulating the concept of zooculture. It is necessary to establish new professions and positions. For example, a specialist in zooculture, an ex situ specialist, a leading specialist, an expert in herpetoculture, etc.
The herpetoculture community is formulating new principles and approaches to organizing the livelihood of reserve, ex situ populations as part of a strategy for creating global metapopulations of rare and endangered species of amphibians and reptiles.
We hope that a new look at the issues of animals’ keeping and breeding will make it possible to re-evaluate the possibilities and role of herpetoculture in preserving the biological diversity of our planet.
It is quite obvious that the mobilization of experience and knowledge accumulated by mankind, the unification of efforts of all concerned people, the transformation of the consciousness of society as a whole, are the only possible condition for environmental safety.
That is why we also relate all these issues to the activity of RESPONSIBLE HERPETOCULTURE.
We draw the attention of colleagues who relate themselves to herpetoculture.
The realities of today present us with new challenges and the inability to act more decisively and effectively can hinder our business and moral reputation, which determines the possibility of the existence and prosperity of herpetoculture.
We urge everyone to rally and support the project RESPONSIBLE HERPETCULTURE - 21st century project!