Royal Pythons are one of the most prevalent reptiles in the pet trade. But misinformation and outdated keeping habits often prevent these animals from thriving.
Reptiles are arguable among the most mistreated animals in the pet trade. Many species, including the Royal Python, are treated more like collectible items than actual living creatures. People put looks ahead of health and welfare, and ultimately the animals suffer as a result. Royals especially are seen as a thing rather than something that’s alive, which has meant the doors have been left wide open to poor and outdated keeping practices.
Getting given Nimbus, my first Royal Python, was amazing. That crazy bundle of curiosity and adventure is the reason I fell in love with reptiles, and have had the privilege of being able to learn about them. He opened up a whole new world of experiences and knowledge to me. I’ve been able to meet so many people so passionate about these amazing animals who really strive to push the welfare standards higher, but it also showed me how outdated many of the keeping practices are.
When I found out I was being given Nimbus my research led me to all of these ‘myths’. In my first year as a Royal Python keeper I’ve found none of them to be true, more so just ways for keepers to try and justify their inadequate care of these animals.
I feel it only appropriate to add that I’m no expert and everything I’ll be talking about I’ve learnt through research and my experiences with my own Royals. I’m also not above learning new things so I’m absolutely happy to have healthy conversations and debates about my opinions in this blog.
Myth 1 – Royal Pythons don’t require space and need small enclosures to be ‘happy’.
Common arguments that keep this myth circulating:
- Royal Pythons live in termite mounds in the wild so they should obviously live in small enclosed spaces in captivity. They don’t need space to bask or climb.
- They breed problem-free when kept in rack style enclosures so they must be thriving.
- Large enclosures are just for show and to be aesthetically pleasing to the keeper, they aren’t display animals and need to be kept in small, dark places.
Of course there are many other arguments for why keeping Royals in small minimalistic plastic boxes is the best way to keep them, but I chose these 3 as they’ve been the most common ones I’ve seen.
•This argument is probably the most commonly used one. The idea behind it is the tubs in racks the snakes are kept in are equal to a hide which they’d live in in the wild. This argument has many flaws.
Royals rest in termite mounds, however they don’t spend their entire lives in them. When they leave to get food or find new hiding spots, they climb, bask and investigate along the way – they spend a good portion of their lives outside and on the move. I’m not denying they enjoy squeezing into tight spaces because we all know they do, but they don’t spend their entire lives in tight spaces.
You could easily question this point by asking if keeping snakes in racks is done only for the benefit of the keeper. After all you can keep more snakes in less space, it’s easier to keep clean, and it’s cheaper than having to provide all your animals with everything they need. Believe it or not, Royals don’t live on newspaper in a tiny tub with only a water bowl to keep them occupied in the wild.
In reality Royal Pythons thrive in large enclosures as long as they’re set up correctly. With plenty of hides, foliage and other clutter the snake will have enough places to squeeze into to rest and feel safe, but also have the option to move about freely and exhibit natural species behaviour.
•Just because breeders can get these animals to churn out eggs in a puppy farm type setup, doesn’t mean it’s the right way to do things. Dogs in puppy farms breed with little to no issue, but they certainly aren’t thriving. And it’s arguable that the reptile industry is heading in a similar direction – with ‘designer morphs’ being created all the time, and the intentional breeding of animals with know health conditions and disfigurements. Keeping animals in sub-par conditions, breeding constantly with little to no regard to the health of the parents to get the most physically desirable and profitable offspring with absolutely concern for their long term health or welfare. To many they’re nothing but egg machines, laying season after season until they’re of no use anymore and are sold off, or die.
Of course not all breeders are like that, but you have to question anyone who buys an animal, keeps it in a dark box with no enrichment or stimulation, and only brings it out the draw to give it a rat, brag about the way it looks or use it for breeding.
Since they started being bred in captivity, Royals have shown they don’t need to live in the best conditions to breed, but should we really be turning a blind eye to the fact these animals have no quality of life until the day they die?
•Of course a 5 foot box in your living room with branches and plants and rocks all done up nice is going to be aesthetically pleasing to look at, after all it’s been made to recreate a gorgeous part of the world. The natural habitat areas of Python Regius are stunning – why wouldn’t I want to look at that all day?
But it’s definitely not done for my benefit. By creating an enclosure that replicates Nimbus’s natural habitat, I’m allowing him to display all his species typical behaviours and be fulfilled. These are animals that do climb, and do bask, and do stretch out, so by offering him a species appropriate home I can give him everything he needs to exhibit all these behaviours.
Myth 2 – Royal Pythons will occasionally randomly go off food, this is normal.
Throughout the Royal Python community it has been dubbed the norm for them to be ‘notoriously picky’ and when they suddenly stop eating it’s something to just shrug off.
It is entirely abnormal for any animal to go off food.
Something is wrong if your Royal suddenly stops eating, I can’t stress that enough. There are many reasons that will cause them to stop eating, often things that you wouldn’t typically immediately think of, including:
- Husbandry – The first thing to look at if your Royal stops eating suddenly is your husbandry. Even the smallest changes can cause some Royals to go off food so make sure to check everything. Miniscule changes in temperature and humidity which tip the gradients they require can be all it takes for a food strike. Make sure there is enough clutter and places to hide, enough fresh water, no open areas that could be causing stress.
- Moving to feed – ‘Cage Aggression’ is another myth that’s still prevalent within the community, and it needs to be laid to rest. Moving a royal to feed causes unnecessary stress and discomfort, and could easily be a reason they turn off food. Feeding in their enclosure will not cause any sort of aggression, and can be a great opportunity to add enrichment into your Royal’s life. The chances of regurgitation are also greatly reduced by choosing to not move to feed.
- Time of day – Royals are crepuscular, most active around dawn and dusk, which means they’re more likely to have a strong feeding response around these times. If you’re feeding you’re Royal during the day, try to feed during the evening instead and see if that helps activate a response.
- The wrong prey – it’s pretty standard to just feed Royals rats in captivity, but in the wild their diet is much more varied with a more scattered feeding pattern. Instead of rats you can try mice, African soft-furred rats, day old chicks and quail, gerbils, even hamsters. Also look into the size of prey you’re feeding as if it’s too big it could turn your Royal off food. Try varying the size and species of prey and see if it helps.
- Live or Frozen/Thawed – While I personally prefer to feed f/t, I would absolutely offer live if that was what was needed to get Nimbus to eat. Some animals may just have a preference towards one or the other. (If you do choose to feed live be sure to always closely supervise interactions between your snake and their prey)
- Illness or parasites – If you still can’t get your Royal to eat after checking these things off the list, you should probably start thinking about taking them on a trip to your local exotic vet. It could be something as simple as internal parasites, but if in doubt a vet visit is always worth it.
When I found out I was getting a Royal I was very worried about this being an issue because of how prevalent this myth is within the community. So far I’ve been very happy with Nimbus’s eating habits and schedule – he’s growing as he should and has a very strong feeding response every single meal time. In the year I’ve had him, Nimbus has never missed a meal, even when he’s been deep in blue. It’s reassuring to know I’m doing something right!
Myth 3 – Royal Pythons don’t benefit from enrichment.
All animals benefit from enrichment. Royal Pythons are no exception.
Enrichment means to provide stimulating environments and situations to encourage species typical behaviours that satisfy the animal’s physical and psychological needs, and increase their well-being.
For many reptiles the best and easiest way to enrich their lives is by giving them a naturalistic enclosure that mimics their wild environment. If done correctly everything should be provided to allow them to exhibit all their species typical behaviour. The keeper can then vary what’s on offer in the enclosure depending on the season, add and change things around occasionally to keep things new and interesting for the animal(after all, the wild is never always the same) and add things like food enrichment to really ensure the animal is having as much enrichment as possible.
Enrichment you can offer includes:
- Branches to climb
- New hides, such as ceiling hides and underground hides
- Tubes, pipes and tunnels to allow for burrowing behaviour
- Leaf litter in a box
- Food scent trails to encourage hunting
Providing enrichment for Royal Pythons is fairly easy and inexpensive, but will really allow your animal to thrive.
So why does this myth still exist? It makes it easier for people to justify minimalistic and poor keeping practices. As with Myth 1, just because Royals have been kept in bare tubs for many years doesn’t mean research hasn’t caught up enough to tell us enrichment is incredibly beneficial for these animal’s mental and physical welfare. Even if you do choose to keep your Royal in a rack style enclosure it’s not difficult, time consuming or costly to add even the most basic enrichment.
To sum this post up, I’ve learnt a lot in my first year as a Royal Python owner. I’ve learnt many are in it for their ego and not for their animal, I’ve learnt some people aren’t interested in up to date research because it proves their way of keeping is detrimental to their animals welfare but that aren’t willing to accept or embrace change, and, I think most importantly, I’ve learnt it’s ok to speak up. I may not have 30 years experience with these animals like some brag about, but my single year has been full of non-stop learning and researching so I can provide the best for Nimbus.
I believe if the industry began to view these creatures as living beings rather than just collectors items, welfare standards would really increase. But until people stop treating them like toys they’ll continue to find whatever excuse they can to justify the inadequate care they provide.
Anything less than the best just isn’t good enough when another living being relies on us to provide for all their needs. We shouldn’t be content that our animals are able to just survive, we should all be striving to ensure our animals thrive.