«A Terrarium Owner Has to be Patient»

Fabian Schmidt is the curator of the vivarium at Basel Zoo and attaches great importance to natural and aesthetically designed terrariums. The biologist explains how reptiles and amphibians should be kept.

Mr. Schmidt, Why are You Fascinated by Reptiles and Amphibians?

My father kept Greek tortoises, which I took care of. The uniqueness of the shell and the longevity of these animals inspire me. Ever since I can remember, I have been fascinated by reptiles and amphibians.

What is the Challenge of Working with These Animals?

They are almost entirely dependent on their environment for temperature. It is not affected by metabolism. It is our job to mimic the ideal conditions. In terrorists, you therefore also have a lot to do with technology.

How Many Terrariums Does Basel Zoo Have?

21 in the vivarium, several scattered throughout other areas of the zoo and numerous behind the scenes as breeding terrariums or quarantine stations.

Do You Cover the Demand with Your Own Offspring?

Yes, we keep multiple breeding pairs of most species behind the scenes. We also trade with other zoological gardens and with reputable private breeders.

How Important are Reptiles and Amphibians for European Zoos?

You are a constant. The Basel Vivarium is known throughout Europe. It has significant collections in Czech zoos, especially in Prague, as well as in German and Dutch zoos. Zoos operate breeding programs for rare species. For example, I am Vice-President of the working group for reptiles and I am particularly responsible for all crocodiles in European zoos.

How Many Species Do You Keep in Basel?

There are between 30 and 40. We have a small but fine collection. We are particularly committed to the radiated tortoises from Madagascar, the Chinese crocodile lizards, and mud devils from the USA.

… Mud Devil?

These are giant salamanders, the largest amphibians in the USA. They can grow up to 60 centimeters and have been locally eradicated. We received six animals from a Texas zoo. In Europe, this species can only be seen in Chemnitz Zoo in Germany. We are currently building a large show terrarium for them.

Are Reintroductions of Endangered Reptiles or Amphibians an Issue?

Partial. First, you have to check whether the conditions on site are right at all. Whether suitable habitat is still available and the original threats have been averted. In addition, diseases from breeding must not be transmitted to wild populations. And the genetics of the released animals must match those of the local species. For example, I genetically tested all the dwarf crocodiles in European zoos and now I know which areas they come from.

Are Reptiles and Amphibians Also Suitable Pets for Private Individuals?

Absolutely yes. Most keepers and curators who deal with reptiles in zoos were previously private keepers and breeders. The condition is that such a passion is designed to last for years, that you deal with the habitats of the animals by visiting the biotopes, measuring temperature, humidity, and UV radiation, or studying specialist literature.

Are Private Breeders Important for Zoos?

We could not fulfill our task of conserving species under human care if there were no dedicated private keepers. That’s why we’re very open to them. There are a number of private individuals who have enormous knowledge. We learn from them.

Is it Important for Reptiles and Amphibians That the Terrariums are Equipped with Natural Materials, or are Plants and Shelters Made of Plastic Enough?

The needs of the animal must be met. If it likes to hide, it doesn’t matter whether its cave is made of natural stone or a flower pot. If you layout black plastic plates outdoors, snakes like to hide under them. In the zoo, however, we want to show the reptiles in their natural habitats.

What are the Central Technical Devices for Looking After Reptiles in a Terrarium?

lamps and heating. Light is essential. Today there are lamps that combine light, heat, and ultraviolet radiation. However, a terrarium should not be illuminated with the same light all day long. Humidity is important for rainforest terrariums, and temperature for all terrarium animals.

Are Different Temperature Zones in the Terrarium Important?

Yes. Today, however, heating is done less via floor plates and much more from above. In nature, too, heat comes from above. Certain species have seasonally different temperature requirements, some even hibernate. The three-dimensionality of the terrarium is essential for many species so that they remain mobile and do not become fat. One must know the needs of a species.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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