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  • Faye Da Costa

Statement from Tariq Abou-Zahr on AWC review on the space requirements for snakes

Tariq Abou-Zahr, exotics vet and advisor on the FBH Code of Practise for reptile enclosure sizes and published and important statement on the Animal Welfare Committee's review on the space requirements for snakes, please read below:

Attention to all snake keepers!!

I'd like to bring your attention to the AWC review on space requirements for snakes, which has been published this month, about 2 years from when a working group was formed to report on it:

I was asked to be on this working group, but, I've only recently seen the final report, as it was kept hidden from the non-AWC members who participated, on the basis that

once submitted to DEFRA and the devolved administrations (which once finalised by the AWC, it swiftly was), it was then "confidential".

I have never before participated in a working group where I wasn't aware of the definitive contents of the final report before it was made public, ever before!

The working group consisted of a very diverse group of people, mostly people outside of the world of exotics - this seems to be the trend these days, as people on the front line are not necessarily considered knowledgeable and experienced - but biased and with an agenda.

Because my name is on it, I wanted to clarify where I stand: Many aspects of the report are very good and scientific. However, to cut a long story short, the report has come to the following con


"The aim for all terrestrial snake species should be a minimum of 1x the snake’s length for the length of the vivarium and 2/3x [ two thirds] the snake’s length for the width and 1/3 [one third] for the height of the vivarium"

"However, even these increased dimensions will still restrict the freedom to display the full range of normal movement and consequent behaviours and therefore should be limited in time and should never be considered as adequate in the long term"

So on that basis:

- A 4.5 foot corn snake or royal python (i.e. your average specimen) would require an enclosure of approx. 4.5 x 2.97 x 1.35 feet (and this is still potentially not adequate long term)

- A 6 foot corn snake or royal python (bigger specimens) would require an enclosure of 6 x 3.96 x 1.8 feet (and this is still potentially not adequate long term)

- An 8 foot long boa would require an enclosure of 8 x 5.3 x 2.4 feet (and this is still potentially not adequate long term)

This means that royal pythons and corn snakes in 4x2x2, 5x2x2 or 6x2x2 vivariums - as I would say the vast majority of reasonably "well kept" snakes are, certainly the vast majority of snakes I see in practice anyway, according to this report, should now be concluded to be living in unsuitable accommodation for their welfare.

This contradicts the FBH guidelines, available here: Which was put together by multiple stake holders and co-badged by many different organisations.

Those guidelines allowed for some flexibility, such that the length could be decreased if the width increased etc, so as not to reduce the total size of the enclosure, providing the snakes could still fully stretch in at least one dimension.

While I will always strive to ensure the welfare of all animals that I work with, and on that basis, you may think that I should be suggesting that bigger is better - I don't think that recommending very prescriptive, specific dimensions, not specifically backed by science, which could potentially render the vast majority of snake housing out there as a

rguably unsuitable is the way to go for the best results for animal welfare.

I worry about the wider consequences, particularly in the current climate where reptiles are being rehomed left, right and centre as a result of the cost of living crisis - and I worry also about the subsequent vastly reduced availability of facilities for those snakes to go in the short term, or in an emergency as a result of this too!!

It'd be great to hear views.

As many know - I'm not in favour of the industrialised, barren, tiny compartments that some snakes sadly live in. I would love to see all snakes in big, enriched setups. But I also think we need to be sensible and reasonable when dictating to people what is acceptable as a minimum.

The AWC opinion is not yet law, however it may well be that DEFRA follow the

recommendations made by the committee to make this law in the near future. If it does become law, initially it will be for shops only, but it will likely set a precedent for all snake housing, be that private owners, rescue centres etc.

I've not seen much mention of this report elsewhere and just wanted to bring it to the attention of interested parties!


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