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PETA says lawsuit forced SLO pet company to drop false guidance on snake tanks

San Luis Obispo Tribune logo San Luis Obispo Tribune 6/12/2021 Matt Fountain, The Tribune (San Luis Obispo, Calif.)

Jun. 12—Animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says its lawsuit against a San Luis Obispo-based reptile business led to the company removing false guidance from its website encouraging consumers to buy enclosures that could have "deadly consequences" for snakes.

But the business, Zoo Med Laboratories, Inc., is still advertising what PETA says are inadequately sized tanks, according to the nonprofit organization.

Known for its aggressive activism, PETA filed a lawsuit in Washington, D.C., Superior Court in September against Zoo Med Laboratories, which has an office on Sacramento Drive and is described as a major global supplier of reptile products to retailers such as PetSmart, Amazon, and Walmart.

The lawsuit alleged that Zoo Med Laboratories "lied to consumers by presenting its small and mostly barren tanks as suitable snake habitats, inevitably causing snakes to suffer and die," according to a PETA news release. "Herpetologists concur that snakes need enclosures that are longer than their bodies and opportunities to engage in natural behavior, including stretching out, basking, burrowing, and exploring."

The group said that snakes' highly complex needs are difficult to meet, and according to a peer-reviewed PETA study, 75% of reptiles die within one year of being introduced into a person's home.

Zoo Med Laboratories' advertisements advised consumers that snakes required enclosures only half the length of their bodies.

PETA's lawsuit, which alleged violations of the District of Columbia's Consumer Protection Procedures Act, was dismissed in January by a Washington, D.C., Superior Court judge, who ruled that the East Coast court lacked jurisdiction over the California-based manufacturer.

In a news release Friday, PETA Foundation director of litigation Asher Smith said that, despite the lawsuit's dismissal, the organization sought to spread the word "that most people cannot meet snakes' specialized needs and that snakes do not belong in captivity and should not be forced to die in someone's house."

Asked about Zoo Med Laboratories' continued sale of the tanks, PETA litigation manager Jenni James said Friday that the company's removal of the dangerous guidance is "a good start" but added that the business "still has a long way to go."

"Instead of just quietly scrubbing the information from their website, they should join PETA's effort and provide enclosures" that are safe for snakes, she said.

Zoo Med Laboratories did not return requests for comment Friday afternoon.

PETA says it will 'hold companies accountable for animal suffering'

PETA alleged in its lawsuit that Zoo Med Laboratories was in violation of the District of Columbia's Consumer Protection Procedures Act by telling consumers that snakes only require enclosures of half their length and that its small and enclosures will allow pet snakes — which the group says can grow as long as 10 feet — to thrive.

The organization says that, before filing the lawsuit, its agents purchased relevant products to evaluate their appropriateness and found they were deficient.

Specifically, PETA found the company was representing to consumers in care sheets that it recommended ball pythons be kept in tanks "no shorter than half the length of the snake."

James likened the business's recommendation to keeping a human in a 3-square-foot cage.

But since the lawsuit was dismissed, similar care sheets now on the business' web page omits that recommendation for ball pythons, red tailed boas, corn snakes, and king snakes, the only other snakes for which Zoo Med makes habitat recommendations.

"That's a victory for PETA and for the snakes," James said.

But the organization still sees problems with Zoo Med Laboratories' snake enclosures. In addition to enclosures of sufficient size, PETA says snakes also need appropriate lighting, temperature, humidity, ventilation and substrates.

It says those requirements "can be impossible to provide in the only 20-inch-long tanks that Zoo Med sells."

The company's enclosures also feature under-tank heaters, and snakes who seek out warmth can be burned by a tank's hot glass or scalded by urine at the bottom of a tank, the lawsuit said.

PETA describes snakes as "sentient beings with individual personalities who are highly aware of their environments" that, in the wild, have access to abundant space and lead "complex, lives enriched by a number of natural behaviors."

"These include the pursuit of prey, companionship, courtship, exploration and relaxation," the organization said.

PETA's lawsuit sought a court declaration that Zoo Med Laboratories violated the law as well as a court injunction and a host of monetary damages exceeding $25,000, including an assessment of $1,500 per violation and attorneys fees.

PETA says pet snakes are the most common among the more than 9 million reptiles kept as companion animals in the U.S.

The organization says it will continue "to hold companies accountable for animal suffering."

PETA encourages anyone who believes that they were misled into purchasing an insufficient reptile enclosure to fill out a survey at


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