Hell of snakes crammed into small plastic boxes and put up for sale for over £1,000


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World Animal Protection say the hundreds of reptiles on sale, which include ball python snakes, suffer unnecessary cruelty after being crammed into small plastic boxes and put up for sale

Snakes for sale in boxes

It is 11am at Doncaster racecourse and I am standing next to a table containing over 30 pythons squeezed into a tiny, plastic box – just a fraction of their size.

On a nearby stall sit dozens of small containers full of colorful leopard geckos, while two iguanas on sale for £1,250 each are in an enclosure – thousands of thousands away from their natural habitat of the humid and tropical forests of Central and South America.

I’d queued early in the cold alongside hundreds of reptile enthusiasts, mainly men wearing black hoodies, to get inside the event organized four times a year by the International Herpetological Society, which has been held at the racecourse for the last two decades.

This is no ordinary shopping trip. Here nearly 100 stalls flog an array of exotic creatures ranging from tens to thousands of pounds at the venue – home to one of the last and biggest reptile markets in the UK, which attracts up to five thousand visitors.







Many stalls had numerous reptiles on sale
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Adam Gerrard/Daily Mirror)

World Animal Protection say the hundreds of reptiles on sale, which include ball python snakes, suffer unnecessary cruelty after being crammed into small plastic boxes and put up for sale.

The animal welfare organization said the shy and nocturnal animals, which are popular exotic pets in the UK, were being denied the space to move properly, as well as being subjected to bright lights and loud noises.

Charlotte Regan, Wildlife Campaigns Manager said: “The conditions ball pythons and other reptiles are kept in at the Doncaster reptile market are totally unacceptable and fly in the face of all we know about their welfare needs.

“Ball pythons are sentient wild animals that feel pleasure, distress, excitement, fear and pain. They aren’t products and they shouldn’t be kept in conditions that cause them suffering.”







Axolotls were also up for sale
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Adam Gerrard/Daily Mirror)

By 11:30 the room is packed full of punters, some with kids in tow, who have paid £5 each to browse the stalls. I also encountered a stall selling baby axolotls, for £25, a species so rare in their native Mexico they are listed as critically endangered. But thanks to their inclusion in the Minecraft computer game and their ability to regenerate lost limbs, their popularity as pets has recently soared.

I witnessed many stall owners operating under a visible trader company name with some offering merchandise for sale, including T-shirts, hats, mugs and badges. Some stalls also offered a payment plan for reptiles over £1,000.

Many stalls had numerous reptiles on sale.

In the UK it is illegal to sell animals as pets ‘in the course of a business’ from a market stall, or without a licence.







A snake on sale for £1,800
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Adam Gerrard/Daily Mirror)







An albino iguana on sale for £1,250
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Adam Gerrard/Daily Mirror)

A report by World Animal Protection, Suffering in Silence, states that in the UK the exotic pet trade is dominated by reptiles, with an estimated 200,000 snakes kept in British homes.

It said that ball pythons have complex needs – including the ability to extend the full length of their bodies – and that the only place these could be met properly was in the wild.

It also details how designer snakes (known as morphs) are highly sought after and bred for particular patterns and markings through artificial selective breeding. But many morphs are known to suffer from severe health issues including painful spinal and skull deformities and nervous system disorders as a result.

Over the last two years the group has contacted Doncaster Council several times with their evidence, supported by a petition of 75,000 signatures and a legal letter from firm Advocates for Animals.







Nothing next to a stand selling snakes in boxes
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Adam Gerrard/Daily Mirror)

As a result of their campaign, Dan Swaine, director of economy and environment, at Doncaster Council, which has joint ownership of Doncaster Racecourse Management Company (DRMC), said: “We have been in ongoing discussions with the Racecourse management to understand their longer term vision and position on such events and we have been informed that they will no longer host IHS events after their contractual obligations end in June.”

Doncaster Council refused to comment on whether it would investigate whether illegal activity took place.

Richard Brook, event organiser, said: “I am deeply disappointed that Doncaster Council executives only listen to one side of the debate and failed to enter into dialogue with the International Herpetological Society”.







Some of the snakes being sold at the IHS Breeders Reptile Show at Doncaster Racecourse in South Yorkshire
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Adam Gerrard/Daily Mirror)

Charlotte Regan, Wildlife Campaigns Manager, World Animal Protection said: “We’re pleased the event will close.

“Doncaster Council, or any other local authority if the event leaves the area, must take proper steps to prevent illegal activity and ensure the end of this cruel and outdated event. Even captive bred reptiles are wild animals with complex needs that suffer in captivity.”

Edie Bowles, Solicitor, Advocates for Animals added: “There are several laws that protect animals at the time of being sold, including the need for businesses to have a license, compliance with animal welfare legislation and a ban on selling from market stalls. For years Doncaster Council has ignored calls from campaigners to close a large scale reptile trade fair that takes place at Doncaster Racecourse.

“We are delighted that our work with World Animal Protection, highlighting the potential for systemic illegality and animal welfare concerns at the event, appears to have finally been taken on board by the Council with the event finally closing in June this year”.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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