Historically, farming reptiles was not easy. The differences between cold-blooded reptiles and warm-blooded livestock is vast. Reptiles require very precise environmental conditions in which to thrive, and these requirements vary over time and between species. In nature, reptiles survive by constantly shuttling between micro-habitats according to their physiological needs. Ambient temperatures are critical, and unless this environmental parameter is understood in a species-specific biological context, farming is near impossible.
The information and technology required to manage optimal environmental parameters has, until recently, been largely unavailable or unaffordable, and this has hampered the development of reptile farming.
The rise of Asia’s tiger economies towards the end of the last century was the initial impetus for commercially farming reptiles as a source of food. Seasonal wild harvests were no longer sufficient to meet rising demand, and savvy farmers seized the opportunity. Initial sorties were mostly ad hoc ventures based on inappropriate warm-blooded livestock principles. Failure rates where high, and often farmers turned to wild harvests to supplement production outputs.
The dawn of the 21st Century saw the advent of cheap climate control technology and a more technical understanding of the biological needs of reptiles. In some cases the reptile farming industry even received government support, and research facilities and training schools were setup to educate and assist farmers. The ‘internet-of-things’ facilitated rapid information transfer, and advancements in commercial production quickly bore dividends. Within 10 years, certified closed-cycle reptile farms were biologically feasible and economically viable. Complex supply chains and trade networks began to emerge to cope with rising volumes of meat, skin and medicinal products.
The last decade has continued to see rapid change. The list of farmed species grows ever-longer, expanding product range and geographical influence. The quest for optimisation brings year-on-year upgrades in methods, technology, welfare and production efficiency. Importantly, there has also been a growing appreciation for the underlying reasons for why the industry has been such a success.
Snake farming is increasingly seen as natural response to the changing landscape of Asia. Aside from providing a traditional delicacy for the growing urbanised elite, it has also enabled small-scale farmers to remain competitive alongside the growing prevalence of corporate monocultures. It has given them the opportunity to participate in a diverse range of niche markets, including high-value exports. Above all, it has provided impoverished rural communities with a novel response to global challenges. It represents an effective tool to mitigate against the threats posed by climate change, energy deficiency, infectious diseases, resource limitations and food insecurity.