Acclimation and Success with Wild Caught animals.
When it comes to wild caught animals, there is much controversy in regards to how to acclimate individuals. Some swear by only one method, while some work for others. However, it ultimately boils down to the species involved and the state of its health, as well as how long it has been in captivity.
When it comes to a species not easily accessible in the hobby, there are steps to take for the best success for your new reptile/amphibian as well as yourself.
First thing, before receiving the said animal, research it. However, when it comes to researching, don’t just google something like “X Snake care”. You will not get very far in that, and a lot of uncertain information can, and will show up. While there is useful information to weed out, there are other steps I feel should be taken first.
Study the habitat. Look into the species range, and if you can get specific, the locality. A great website to use to find the distribution is http://reptile-database.reptarium.cz/, here you often can find locality pinpoints.
Once you have successfully found where the individual comes from, look into the habitat type, and how you can best recreate it. In this case, I actually use facebook often as many legitimate herps are on there. I’ll look up the species and find in-situ herping photos to study images of the habitat. I will go through at least 50 photos to get an idea.
Check out the weather patterns of the distribution range. Is it hot? Is it cold? Or does the temperature swing wildly during the day or throughout the seasons? If you cannot find weather patterns on a very specific spot, check out the closest national park or city for an idea throughout the year.
Now that you have a good grasp of how to keep the habitat steady and well, what does it eat? Are you able to provide the necessary food source? Some species are food specific. For example, Xenodermus javanicus – they eat frogs and sometimes fish. Will you be able to provide that or do you have a thought in the back of your head to try rodents? If you think rodents – erase that thought. More often than not, specialized eaters will only fare well long term on their specific diet. Ensure you can provide it long term if it turns out to be one of those species. If it is a species that can over time (and be certain!) do well on rodents, make sure you can still provide natural prey for converting over if they allow you.
Is the reptile or amphibian healthy? What would you do? I will do my own personal example for this one, as it partially involves newly acquired individuals. Some species, when unhealthy, people will QT on paper towel, or bare bones, which, I completely understand and is very functional for some species. However, when it comes to many lizards or uncommon/rare snakes, this is more often than not, detrimental and ultimately a reason why many will die. Sometimes, you just have to accept the risk of introducing something into a very elaborate enclosure. Optimally, do so away from your main established reptiles of course. When it comes to a species like Chironius scurrulus, I feel with these, they have a HUGE mortality rate due to QT process people put them through. *Knock on wood*, I have not had an issue yet. However, I approach my method very differently. They are an extremely shy and nervous species. Take this into account with the type of species you are looking to acclimate. My male arrived to me quite emaciated and dehydrated. However, instead of rushing to a sterile enclosure for him, I immediately put him into a large, heavily planted enclosure where he can hide but still “watch” me. He felt more at home per say, was able to settle quickly and eat within a week. Whereas, in a sterile tub prior (not with me) he absolutely would not eat. 6 months later, this snake looks like he would have been captive bred. It is definitely a risk doing so, but sometimes if you want to work with sensitive species, you just have to take it.
This topic also leans into another controversial one. Worming. I absolutely encourage de-worming some species if you absolutely are confident about the animal being able to handle it. However, I do not encourage worming immediately. This is another way to accidentally kill an acclimating animal. If you worm a snake, or lizard immediately upon arrival, you are introducing a toxin to an already stressed body. This more often than not, will lead to death. I have yet to worm any of my Chironius spp in my care, mostly being the prey items they eat. All animals in nature have a natural gut load, as do humans, birds, fish etc. Only when the immune system is under stress, do they pose a problem, and thus becomes a requirement to worm. However when you have species like Chironius, Xenodermus, or live-only eaters, deworming is senseless. You are forced to keep deworming every single meal if you want to keep up with keeping an animal clean. This, yet again, will ultimately lead to death due to the consistent toxins in a body. If the animal is very healthy and not having troubles, I personally do not deworm. However, I also do not share tools between other individuals either to not have any potential pathogen spread. Some people may not like this method, but when it comes to a species that is very sensitive, you just have to weigh your options for the best success. **Please note, external parasites do not fall under this. That is something where sterile situations are ideal, and cross your fingers.
Behaviour of individuals will often vary. More often than not, many wild caught species will be way too shy to even eat in front of you, let alone eat at all for some time. Observe the animal from a distance. Better yet, use a camera. Find out their habits without interfering and their preferred spots to hide. Offer food without them really knowing you are there and leave the room for the day/night so they are comfortable. Again, use a camera to learn how they go about their business when it comes to feeding. If it’s a potentially dangerous live meal, moreso reason to have a camera and not have to bother the snake. Another key in acclimating a species is quite simply – do not touch it. Even if you have the utmost urge…just don’t! With my Chironius and Boiga, even Ahaetulla, they absolutely do not get touched unless mandatory. I have maybe touched my male C.scurrulus 2x in the last 10 months. That was to unbag him, and to upgrade his enclosure.
I hope you learned some tips and tricks when it comes to acclimating wild caught animals, there will forever be new knowledge to learn and things to change when it comes to specific species.