Sunday, 17 October 2010

Reptile Roadshow - The Results Are In!

RSPCA Manchester & Salford Branch

Reptile welfare first came to the branch’s attention in late 2008/early 2009 when the RSPCA inspectorate working in the Manchester & Salford area investigated several cases involving reptiles.

The branch had by now established a programme of animal welfare promotion, mainly involving the delivery of free pet health clinics to communities that did not have easy access to veterinary services whether that be through geographical or financial restrictions. Rarely were reptiles seen at these clinics despite always having (and advertising) the presence of an exotic vet specialist.

When the branch secured a grant from the national RSPCA to deliver ten pet health clinics during 2010 the idea of trialling a Reptile Roadshow came to mind. The branch had long been running very successful specialist Rabbit and Guinea Pig Roadshows and so the hope was that an event specifically for reptiles might reach these creatures and their owners and offer a wealth of advice and support to all.

What We Hoped to Achieve

Each time we delver a free pet health clinic our goal is to:
· help animals whose owners may not be able to afford routine health care
· help as many people and animals stay together during this time of financial hardship
· offer affordable microchipping and treatment for fleas and worms
· help prevent or alleviate illness and/or suffering
· help raise awareness about welfare needs and best practices
· offer further financial assistance with veterinary treatment, subject to availability and means testing

The goal was no different on this occasion accept with one added hurdle – overcoming prejudices amongst reptile keepers toward the RSPCA. Unfortunately the RSPCA is not popular amongst all fractions of society and previously it was felt by many reptile keepers that the RSPCA had a limited and scant understanding and knowledge about reptile keeping. Whilst we were fully aware that the odds would be slightly stacked against us we have never been a branch to avoid a challenge.

How We Achieved It
The branch is fortunate to have some very good friends in the reptile world, namely leading environmentalist and conservationist Crocodile Joe ( , tortoise expert and welfarist Debs Glanville, trainee exotic vet Sarah Pellet and one of the most prominent exotic vets in the country, Molly Varga. In fact, Molly is one of only four vets in private practice in the UK to hold the qualifications in exotic medicine that she has.

The team of experts provided invaluable help and support in setting up and running the roadshow and their credentials enabled us to approach reptile forums, tortoise charities and leading purveyors of reptile products with confidence and clarity of vision.

We received the most fantastic support from Practical Reptile Keeping magazine, Vet Ark and Bio-Care. The publicity achieved enabled us to reach a far wider audience than we could have hoped for whilst the product samples enabled us to offer free samples to animals in need and in the process educate owners about their availability and necessity.

At each event Crocodile Joe held court; educating and advising visitors on best husbandry practices for their reptiles. He was able to easily demonstrate these practices with his exhibition vivariums and expert handling skills. Undoubtedly Joe stole the show each day and added a really vital dimension to the roadshow because we all -staff, volunteers and visitors alike - learnt so much from his infectious enthusiasm and wealth of knowledge and experience.

Debs Glanville worked tirelessly talking at length with tortoise owners; offering alternative husbandry ideas, dietary and care advice and never failed to ‘coo’ over each and every tortoise that came along! To be honest, we could have done with cloning Debs, such was the demand for her helpful hints and advice.

But of course the main draw was the free health checks and advice offered by the exotic vets. Over the two roadshow dates a total of 98 animals were health checked for free in just 8 hours! By far the most popular animals that attended were tortoises followed by bearded dragons. More unusual visitors included a chameleon, red headed aganas, a white tree frog and a pastel boa.

Microchipping was not so much in demand as we had thought, even though we charging just £3 a time, as only 14 animals in total were microchipped and all of these were tortoises.

Attendance at each event proved surprising; the Saturday date in Stretford, South Manchester saw just 32 animals attend. Whereas the event that took place in Eccles on a Sunday saw 66 animals attend. If the funds are available for us to repeat the roadshow in 2011 we will head back to the Eccles event on a Sunday again, but this time in the height of summer, as the cold days would have definitely have deterred people from bring their animals out of their cosy, warm vivs.

As always, getting events publicised is the hardest bit but with the help of Practical Reptile Keeping and the local newspaper, Salford Advertiser, we received attendees as far away as the Lake District, Rhyl and Congleton in the heart of Cheshire. Hopefully, with having delivered this roadshow so successfully, word will get out about it and next time more people will feel able to trust our motivation and expertise.

Of the animals that were brought along the most striking cases were that of a recently rescued tortoise that had metabolic bone disease and septicaemia. We also saw a bearded dragon with septicaemia and plenty many examples of tortoises that had at some point not received sufficient calcium in their diet and developed deformed shells.
The highlights for the vets were the larger tortoises that came along, including a Burmese and a Leopard. The latter Molly had not seen before in all her years of private practice work. Both vets stated that they consistently saw well cared for animals whose owners had a better than average knowledge about good reptile keeping and had clearly come along to check they were doing things right and to get more helpful hints and ideas.

Of course what this does mean is that we were not successful in reaching the people whose welfare practices may need some additional support, and to be honest, we are not sure quite how we reach these people in the future. In addition, as the vets said, it can sometimes be harder to tell if your reptile is ailing (than amore common companion animal) so people may not know there is a problem until it the condition has progressed or it is too late.

The two day Reptile Roadshow cost over £1,000. All in all we feel it has been a success and hope that we have started something that we can build upon in the future. Ideally we would like to begin to develop a more trusting relationship with reptile owners and offer our services to many more of these magnificent creatures.

In the meantime we would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who came along and supported the event and even bigger thank you to our team of volunteers, experts and the very wonderful reptiles that we met, because without you all we really could not have done it.