Dropping the Ball? The Welfare of Ball Pythons Traded in the EU and North America
Ball pythons (family Pythonidae) remain a commonly exploited species, readily available for purchase in North America and Europe. We assessed the housing conditions of more than 5000 Ball pythons across six exotic pet expositions and 113 YouTube videos. We scored provisions for hygiene, mobility, shelter, substrate and water provision, based on the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA) minimum guidelines. We found most entities involved in this commercial enterprise are not providing housing conditions that meet the minimum welfare recommendations for Ball pythons, either publicly or privately. We found that breeders and vendors typically utilised small and highly restrictive enclosures, with dimensions that prevented occupants from extending their bodies to full and unrestricted natural length. Our study also highlights that most vendors are not providing adequate written husbandry guidance to potential consumers, either at exotic pet expositions, on their commercial website, or on associated social media pages. Furthermore, our study also indicates that most potential consumers may themselves be unable to recognise unsuitable housing conditions that do not meet minimum animal welfare standards for Ball pythons. We suggest that more consistent guidance, adherence to agree principles and more potent operating models that are formally incorporated into relevant legislation would greatly aid existing and future efforts to safeguard animal welfare in this regard.