Since the age of 15 I have been fascinated by amphibians and reptiles, as well as, a little later, by birds and small mammals. These animals provided the insatiable desire to understand how they work and why they work the way they do. Keeping such animals in captivity was the accepted way of finding out about animals and many professional biologists who have made major contributions to their fields were enthused by the animals in their aquaria, vivaria, cages and aviaries.

Since the 1950s, knowledge of how to keep and breed small animals has advanced by leaps and bounds. From statements in books of the time that reptiles do not breed in captivity, breeding is now routine to the extent that captive-bred reptiles rather than birds abound in pet shops in Britain. Much, if not most, of that increase in knowledge came from amateur keepers, not from those working in zoos.

The general public is now far more sympathetic to reptiles and amphibians than they were since they have the opportunity to see and handle specimens at school and in zoos or specialist collections, or at home. The health and welfare of captive specimens has increased alongside an increase in veterinary participation (unheard of in the 1950s and 60s). Captive animals have increasingly become ambassadors for conservation, as well as temporary repositories for endangered species. That is all on the plus side.

On the minus side, the fancier mentality has taken hold, joining aviculture and fish-keeping in undermining the good reasons for keeping animals in captivity. The many colour forms of species forged by natural selection, are a sad travesty of the real thing being produced by a psychological state (plus a desire for profit) that I neither understand nor condone.

In this blog, I plan to cover the history of keeping small vertebrates in relation to the advances that have been made in the past century. In other words, some of the many things that interest me and have kept me interested as a sideline to my professional research interests for the past fifty-odd years.


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