In-depth Look into NASAHERP
In simplest terms, the North American Society for the Advancement of Herpetoculture (NASAH) is an alliance of stewards, hobbyists, and professionals seeking to nurture and uplift the community of herpetoculture in North America and beyond. Through advocacy, education, and encouraging responsible pet ownership, alongside honest accounting of the obstacles and issues within mainstream practice, we aim to support herpetoculture’s progress and improve its image in public discourse.
But why is such an alliance even necessary?
In short, it’s necessary because the future of herpetoculture - despite its largely positive influence - is far from assured.
The threats that face herpetoculture today are numerous and many-faceted. There is profound division within the practice, with cultural warfare abounding, and ranks dividing along arbitrary lines of rack keepers versus vivarium keepers or hobbyists versus professionals. Blatant disregard of welfare science and poorly-founded folklore husbandry standards are mainstream, while quality natural history accounts and husbandry information can be difficult to find for even the most commonly kept species. Animal rights organizations and lobbyists persistently mount attacks on the hobby wielding staggering financial influence, despite making inconsistent, incomplete, and often contradictory claims, while only a small handful of underfunded coalitions work tirelessly advocating to protect herpetoculture for future generations. Underlining it all, public perception of reptiles and amphibians (and by extension the people who enjoy them in their homes) is largely mired in ignorance and fear, to put it mildly.
Regardless of all these issues, herpetoculture continues to grow worldwide - and so does its relevance. In a time when more and more people are disconnected from nature and the wild, as human populations continue to rise in largely urban environments, the widespread accessibility of herpetoculture offers an invaluable window into the world of wildlife and natural ecology. An eleven year old in inner city Oakland or Toronto can begin to develop a sense of natural systems, and most importantly, their inherent limitations, in the practice of observing and maintaining a vivarium for dart frogs or mourning geckos. That same child might then follow their interest for the frogs or geckos in their home, to the places in the world that those animals come from. The curiosity might wane there, or it might mature into wonder as the child begins to understand the relationship between that animal and the ecology it fits into - how its camouflage perfectly suits this shape of leaf or that texture of moss. It is difficult to fathom how such a trajectory could result in a negative outcome for the child, the animals, or society as a whole, and to anyone invested in herpetoculture, this trajectory is a familiar one.
Herpetoculture has inspired, nurtured, and produced countless biologists, conservationists, and dedicated hobbyists - many of whom found in the practice of keeping reptiles and amphibians a greater meaning and purpose in life, and a greater love and sense of wonder for the natural world. To the benefit of the scientific community, herpetoculture has also helped to illuminate the natural history, behavior, and reproduction of hundreds of species, largely based on the independent study and experience of devoted stewards, most of whom donate their time and energy to improving the lives of the animals in their care and take pride in continuously refining their husbandry. Without such efforts, even basic understanding of countless taxa would be woefully lacking.
Furthermore, herpetoculture provides independent income and livelihood for thousands of people globally. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry that represents an overwhelmingly positive economic input. The vast majority of the industry is based in the trade of products - habitats, lighting, feed, etc. - and services, such as safely shipping, importing, and exporting herpetofauna between countries. A secondary input comes in the form of breeding and trade of herpetofauna between hobbyists, professionals, and institutions. For thousands of people who have built their lives and livelihood around these economic ventures, herpetoculture represents an industry, as well as a community - one on which their well being depends.
However, all of these positive impacts are undermined if the well-being of captive herpetofauna is not situated at the center. Too often, reptile care is portrayed as being as simple as providing the basics - food, water, heat, shelter, etc. - but it is all too rare to find resources about how to approach reptile care in an individualized manner, informed by a species natural history and ecological niche. For us, the pursuit and implementation of this rare kind of ethical, responsive, and individualized welfare is the North Star that guides our actions as herpetoculturists - a guiding orientation, rather than a destination. We extend this same curiosity and respect to considering the lives and natural habitats of the wild counterparts of the species we keep, as well as the well-being of our fellow keepers, breeders, and businesses. We believe that acting with consideration for these elements can only encourage better outcomes for all of those involved in herpetoculture - both herpetofauna and humanity alike.
In accordance with this, NASAH seeks to define standards within herpetoculture that prioritize a high level of animal welfare. We view spacious, enriching habitats, broad spectrum lighting and heating, and nutritious diets as the baseline standards from which to explore the wonders of herpetoculture, with the understanding that the provision of such conditions only serve to reward both the animals in one’s care and the steward. We do not come to this stance arbitrarily, but rather backed by the latest welfare science, buoyed by countless studies that affirm the complexity of herpetofauna. It is no longer acceptable to proceed with maintaining reptiles under bare minimum standards alongside the adage that it is simply “how we’ve always done it.” In the modern day, we have the technology, information, and collective experience to provide more than ever before to the benefit of the animals we love - we owe it not only to the animals we care for, but to ourselves!
To support this vision, NASAH offers a diversity of content, including online workshops, to facilitate a systems approach to herpetoculture. From the basics of understanding heat and light, to utilizing natural history information, to creating an efficient herp room layout, our workshops aim to equip stewards with diverse toolkits, capable of approaching husbandry in an individualized, thoughtful manner. By developing a more comprehensive understanding of the factors that inform success in the husbandry of herpetofauna, we can move past the limitations of reliance on care sheets that rarely offer anything more than the bare minimums, and instead base our husbandry on the parameters experienced by the species we keep in their natural habitats. With this approach, coupled with good observation of the animals themselves, one can begin to reveal and refine the nuances of care for even the most sensitive species.
Lastly, NASAH seeks to nurture the broader community of herpetoculture within which it is embedded. We strive for collaboration, mentorship, and relationships of mutual benefit within the industry and community. By amplifying the voices in the practice that represent the best of herpetoculture, we can have a profound positive impact on a public perception that is far too often dragged down by the loudest, and ironically least equipped, voices in the community. We conduct ourselves with respect for our fellow hobbyists, stewards, and professionals, engaging inquiry, dialogue, and debate across disagreement, with the knowledge that we are in this together. We advocate for growth and progress in herpetoculture, with the utmost respect for those that came before us, upon whose shoulders we now stand.
The future of herpetoculture lies in the hands of those who practice it today. Together, let’s make it something worth inheriting for generations to come.
For me, herpetoculture has provided a space to be creative while connecting to the natural world. As herpetoculturists, I believe we should strive to push the limits of our husbandry and ensure that our practice is beneficial for not only the animals in our care, but the animals in the wild as well. I have created the Animals at Home Podcast Network to explore these ideas in detail.
Other than being an importer, I love keeping reptiles as proper as possible. Part of learning and growing means that we keep animals in naturalistic enclosures and we love to encourage others to do so as well. By doing so, not only are we providing the best for the animal, but we are continually growing and gathering knowledge along the way.
Herpetoculture is one of the greatest joys of my life. As a child, it was my first window into the natural world, introducing me to my life’s greatest passion. Now as an ecological educator, I am enlivened by the way in which natural history can inform captive management and best husbandry practices to the benefit of captive herpetofauna. Simultaneously, I believe herpetoculture has the capacity to enrich human lives and societies in powerful and meaningful ways. Bridging these aims into a mutualistic exchange is the driving force behind my efforts.