Update (July 2023):
Good news – the government’s Animal Welfare Committee has examined the scientific evidence for the welfare of snakes held in “pet” shops and found, as PETA recommended, that the minimum tank size should allow snakes to stretch out to their full body length! However, there’s a worrying loophole. It says that snakes can be housed in “temporary” cramped enclosures for 14 days, despite the latest studies showing that snake welfare is compromised when they are kept in inadequate conditions for longer than 24 hours. Please urge the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to scrap this loophole and change the 14-day limit to a maximum of 24 hours.
There are an estimated 400,000 captive snakes in UK homes and many more in pet shops, at breeding facilities, and in mobile zoos. The vast majority of these animals are likely kept in tanks that aren't big enough for them to stretch out fully. This means that most of them have too little room to move and can never extend their bodies to their full length – causing immeasurable suffering and contributing to disease and death.
Likening this experience to forcing a human prisoner to live in a cell with a ceiling so low that he or she can't stand up, veterinarian Pete Wedderburn invites people to put themselves in snakes' position, asking, "Can you imagine going around hunched up all the time, unable to stand tall? It would be uncomfortable, you'd suffer from cramps, and you'd want to escape … [to] experience the comfort and relief of stretching out fully."
Because current regulations do little to help captive snakes – in fact, they're the only type of animal not afforded sufficient protection that they must be housed in enclosures in which they can straighten their bodies – we're calling on the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) to update the Animal Welfare Regulations (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) 2018 urgently so that snakes who are exploited in pet shops, by breeders, or in mobile zoos can – at the very least – stretch out during their otherwise miserable time spent confined to tanks.
The ability to stretch out fully has been proved to be a significant factor in snake welfare in captivity. In fact, a new study titled "Spatial Considerations for Captive Snakes", published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, found that for snakes, having the opportunity to extend their bodies is not only important but essential. Those who aren't afforded even this basic comfort show far more signs of stress and are more likely to suffer from disease and die prematurely.
Supporting PETA's campaign, Clifford Warwick, a biologist and the author of over 100 scientific books and articles on snakes and other reptiles, says, "Snakes have long enough endured misplaced fear, disdain and abuse from so many quarters. Imposing what are known to be harmfully restrictive conditions on snakes to protect the interests of exotic pet traders and keepers is another burden these animals should not face, and that the public should not tolerate."
To be clear, PETA does not encourage people to keep snakes or other exotic animals as "pets". These animals suffer immensely in captivity, and many are torn away from their natural homes and shipped hundreds or thousands of miles in appalling conditions, only to be shoved into a small tank. In even the best cases – in which owners have some understanding of these animals and their needs – a domestic environment can never meet all their basic requirements or provide a meaningful or pleasant life. However, we're also pragmatic, and we recognise that an update to these regulations would make captive snakes' lives slightly less miserable, which is why we support it – and hope you will, too.
Take Action Now
Please urge the Defra minister of state to update the law so that snakes exploited in pet shops, in mobile zoos, or by breeders must be housed in tanks in which they can, at a minimum, stretch out to their full body length.