Having a new reptile companion can be fun and exciting, but it can also be an extremely stressful situation for the reptile as they are transported to a completely alien environment in a short span of time.

Establishing a trusting relationshop with an animal mean gently easing them into their new home. Below are a few tips.

1. Set up a comfortable home

Before the reptile arrives, make sure their home is properly set up. Research well about the right temperature, space requirement, lighting, substrate, humidity, and hiding spots. Provide a shallow water dish as soon as they arrive.

2. Give enough space

Imagine being placed in a small, cold, and dark space with a few holes for ventilation and maybe a bit of substrate, being transported in cars or planes, only to arrive in a foreign place you aren’t used to. That is what reptiles experience, which explains why they arrive stressed and terrified.

Every new reptile caregiver would want to get to know a reptile right away, but it’s best to resist picking them up or touching them for the next few days. Give them space as they explore their new home and leave them alone until they get comfortable.

3. Be patient with them

Their acclimation – or adaptation to a new environment – can take months to years, so it’s important to be patient. Avoid forcefully grabbing them as this instills fear and make you seem like a threat more than a friend.

Expect them to run away or strike in the next few months as they adjust. This may be frustrating, but it’s normal. If necessary, pick them up from the side rather than from above so they don’t think you’re a predator. Move slowly but confidently as they can read your body language.

Always be cautious of their warning signs – for example, an open mouth, an upright position, a swaying tail, or a bobbing head – as these are all clear signs that they’re ready to attack. Stop what you are doing, slowly back off, and try again only after they’ve calmed down.

Handle them only in short periods of time, perhaps a few minutes a day, and slowly increase the interaction until they’ve completely adapted.

4. Allow them to feed in private

Reptiles may feel extremely stressed from their trip, so they probably won’t have much of an appetite in the next few days. Never force-feed them. Don’t worry if they eat very little; their appetite will go back to normal after they adjust to their new home. They may also prefer eating when nobody’s watching, so give them some privacy.

After some time, try to use tongs or hand-feed them. Allowing them to see you while they eat will make them realize you can be trusted.

5. Respect the reptile

Reptiles are not toys for amusement. We have a duty to not only provide their needs, but also to make sure they get to live a long, healthy, and comfortable life.

Remember that they have their own personalities, fears, and individual needs, so we must respect them as living beings. Adopt a reptile only if you are ready, and try to always understand why they act in a certain way.

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s November-December 2020 issue.

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