Article written by Megan Watson

1.8 million households have a reptile in their house, kept as a pet. Reptiles can be fascinating pets, and many different species will thrive if kept in the right conditions, but they are very different from keeping a domesticated cat or dog. Even if a reptile has been bred in captivity, it is still essentially a wild animal. Despite this, there are still irresponsible pet stores in America selling crocodiles to inexperienced owners, just to make a profit. 

What is the law? 

The laws on owning an exotic animals vary from state-to-state, for instance in Alabama, you don’t need any kind of permit or licence to own a crocodile, unless you are going to show it to the public. Some states require permits if you are going to keep a crocodile. That doesn’t mean however that it’s the right thing to sell a crocodile. Let us not forget that a crocodile doesn’t come with a warranty or return policy if an owner is unable to look after it. Some people might consider that keeping a crocodile as a pet is a good way to help conserve the species, however this will never be as beneficial as preserving the natural habitat of crocodiles so that they can survive in the wild. 

The size of the matter

Crocodiles and other large reptile species have become popular “status symbol” pets in Australia and America. One of the biggest issues that owners have found however, is that they have underestimated how much a reptile can grow in a relatively short space of time. Someone may go down to the pet store and buy a young Angolan Python that is only 18 inches long, and put it in a small vivarium. But Angolan Pythons can grow to 6 feet long in the space of three short years, and this makes them difficult to handle and to keep. The same issue comes with crocodiles – the saltwater crocodile is the largest living reptile on Earth. A juvenile crocodile may not look threatening, but when it grows to 7m in length and weighs over 2,000 pounds, it can become a very dangerous problem. 

Feeding a crocodile

Rick, the Morelet’s Crocodile, a very important CRC Ambassador, had a curved spine when he was found. This appeared to be down to two issues – he was probably kept as a pet in an enclosure that was too small for him. Rick had also suffered the effects of not getting a good diet. When pet stores sell crocodiles, they certainly don’t come with a manual on how to feed your pet, ensuring that he gets a balanced diet. You also can’t pop down to your local pet store to pick up some crocodile food. Feeding a crocodile isn’t just a case of shoving a chicken carcass at him every now and again. A crocodile needs good nutrition in order to thrive. Feeding a crocodile in captivity with some beef or chicken is one of the biggest mistakes owners make. 

In the wild crocodiles live off amphibians, fish, insects, small reptiles and lizards, crustaceans and small mammals – they will also eat plants. When feeding a crocodile that is being kept in captivity, their diet needs to be as close to their natural diet as possible. Live fish and insects should be put into their water to encourage them to hunt for their own food. Insects are sold at many pet stores, but generally not live fish. 

A danger in the home

Crocodiles are extremely unpredictable animals, and this is not stressed by pet stores enough. Crocodiles cannot be tamed, and they certainly cannot be domesticated. Crocodiles can however be target trained, and this is down to pet stores and owners taking responsibility for this training. Target training will build a relationship between the keeper and the crocodile, and also create a safer environment for everyone. Marisa Tellez’s videos of target training show how this can be done. Unfortunately, not enough owners take the time to regularly target train with their crocodiles, and this increases the likelihood of an accident. News stories of owners being killed by their “pet crocodiles” are frequent, because crocodiles are led by their predatory instincts. Let us consider that the biggest threat to a crocodile’s survival is man. We are the ones that are destroying their natural habitat and obliterating their food sources. Crocodiles certainly won’t have a sense of loyalty in the same way that a domesticated dog would. Even if you are feeding a crocodile on a regular basis, it doesn’t mean that you are considered to be his friend. 

Crocodiles continue to be sold by pet stores across America, and this doesn’t always have a happy ending for the crocodile or it’s owner. Conservation of the species relies on supporting crocodiles in the wild, not keeping them as pets in domestic enclosures.