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It’s no wonder the term ‘ethics’ provokes debates and opinions – the word gets thrown around a lot in the reptile community. We are quick to judge what is ethical and not, but the term itself can be very ambiguous. There are professions such as medical, legal, and academic that actually have very clear, written codes of ethics that are strictly adhered to and is part of a sworn oath taken by those professionals. We are often evaluated on our work ethics by our own employers when we have our performance reviews in our  jobs. Even the controversial organization PETA is the acronym for “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

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What exactly ARE “ethics”?  Simply put, ethics are the moral values, principles, and standards that govern the appropriate conduct of a person or group. The beliefs, integrity, and conduct of an individual or community as it pertains to, and affects others, determines those ethics.

So, who decides what is ethical and what is not? Professions where there are established ethical policies have elected board representatives that make those decisions and standards. The gecko community certainly does not have panel of delegates setting standards of conduct for the rest of us to adhere to. Without documented standards the reptile community at large, like most other groups, is left to govern itself. The acceptable codes of conduct are based on each individual’s definition of what is ethical.

Most of the topics subject to ethical debates involve the husbandry, breeding, and business methods used in our gecko hobby. Let’s take a look at some of them and consider if these examples are ethical issues:

Is it ethical to keep your gecko on sand knowing the potential hazardous consequences of impaction?

We are all weary of substrate debates, but the ethical issue would be: does this affect the moral values, principles, and standards of the gecko community? Some might say, “yes”, but the majority would probably not agree. The individual’s husbandry methods really do not affect the community as a whole. This may not be an ethical issue, but rather a poor personal choice.

 Is selling geckos at wholesale prices on the public market ethical?

Breeders are looking for financial compensation for their time and money spent in breeding, but we are all still consumers. Everyone wants to get the most for our money. Is it unethical for breeders to sell their geckos at trade shows or online at wholesale prices? Or is it just a matter of desperate times mean desperate measures? Selling geckos at wholesale prices to the general public may or may not be unethical, but most would agree it shows little consideration for fellow breeders who have worked just as hard, and promotes low value of their animals on the market.

 Is it ethical to subject a 35 gram female to breeding knowing that there is a possibility of egg-binding, and potential health risks?

Now we are getting into more of a topic of ethical debate. Before casting an opinion, we might first consider the circumstances. If the choice to breed an immature female is based solely on the hopes of getting offspring quickly to make a profit, it could be deemed ‘unethical’. If an immature female ovulates and stops eating, there may be a choice in allowing her to starve to death, or take a chance on breeding her in hopes she will resume eating after a clutch is laid. In a case like this, the motives might be considered ethical or not.

 What about culling less than perfect geckos… is this ethical?

Well, here we go again with an ethical debate. As much as we don’t like to think about euthanizing animals, many might consider this act highly ethical while others would only make the decision based on the animal’s quality of life. A few may consider putting any animal down as immoral, hereby making the decision an ethical one.

 Is breeding a gecko knowing it has a genetic defect ethical?

This is a BIG one! The American Kennel Club (AKC) has very rigid standards about knowingly breeding dogs with genetic faults. The reptile community does not have these guidelines. Some examples might include the Ball Python Spider morph, and closer to home… the Enigma. These morphs have known  genetic defects, yet people continue to breed and work with these lovely animals in spite of their inherent problems. Does this make these people ‘unethical’?  Perhaps. Yet many see the intrinsic beauty in these morphs and find that their genetic quirks pose no real issues with their quality of life. Ultimately, many would probably consider producing Enigmas to be unethical, but for those that do work with them it is an informed choice.

Is it ethical to sell a gecko without disclosing known problems or issues?

This takes the previous example one step further.  Most people would agree that selling anything  that has issues without disclosing those problems, is indeed, unethical. Why? Because it affects the community by denying individuals the right to make informed decisions and choices, and leaves them with having to deal with the consequences. It could be devastating for a gecko breeder’s reputation to be considered dishonest, but most of us would view the ‘unethical’ part about selling a gecko with known issues is not disclosing this to the buyer.
Some may consider these examples to be ‘unethical’, while others may simply see it as inappropriate, irresponsible, or inconsiderate. The subject of ethics when it comes to the reptile community may still be undefined, but hopefully this topic will provoke some thought and tap into the values that are instilled in us.

We all play a vital role in the way the gecko hobby and business functions as a whole, and are left to our own individual values to make the choices we do. Ultimately, we ALL must be held accountable for the consequences of those choices.  We were all taught the ‘Golden Rule’. Sometimes we might need a reminder, and must realize that ethics are born from these values.

Marcia McGuinnessVisit Website

Marcia McGuiness has been the owner of Golden Gate Geckos for 20 years, where she has worked with Leopard Geckos, African Fat-tails, Australian smooth and rough Knobtails, Australian Thick-tails, and Western Banded Geckos.  She has authored many articles, been an active advisor on several gecko-related online communities, as well as hosted and made guest appearances on Blog Talk Radio.  Marcia is coming to the end of her legacy as she and her husband prepare to retire to their home in Mariposa, CA., in the Sierra foothills near Yosemite National Park.

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