8. HEALTH CARE
4.1 Where can I buy a caiman?
Caimans and a few other crocodilian species are available from several sources, dependent upon local laws. In areas where selling crocodilians is legal, you'll find them at specialist pet stores. They are also available through various distributors who trade over the Internet and through hobbyist reptile magazines. On the Internet, one of the best places to start is http://www.kingsnake.com where a number of dealers advertise. Good magazines to buy in the US would be Reptiles and The Vivarium. In Europe, look to Reptilia. You may also be able to buy privately from experienced keepers who may advertise hatchlings or adults for sale in any of these publications. A list of possible sources which sell or advertise crocodilians for sale can be found in Appendix III.
Also, consider contacting your local herpetological society. A high percentage of caimans and other crocodilians are dumped by their owners who either get bored of them or who are bitten once too often. Herpetological societies are often the benefactors of far too many caimans, and would be happy to see at least one of them go to a good home. However, they are usually very careful to ensure that any potential owners are up to the task, and will refuse to let an animal go to anyone who doesn't have the right permits, the right experience, or the right setup.
4.2 What do I need to consider when buying a caiman?
Before you purchase any animal, never mind a caiman, you need to make sure you've thoroughly researched its requirements, and that you have everything you need for it already. Make sure you have the right permits if they are required, and that you've built the tank or enclosure in which you plan to keep the animal. You won't believe how many people buy the animal first (especially if it's from a pet store) and then try and figure out how to house it!
If you're buying mail order, then obviously you can't inspect the animal before you buy it. It goes without saying, however, that you should receive a healthy and uninjured specimen. If you're able to see the animal before you buy it, check it thoroughly - pick it up and examine it, although do so without getting bitten. The animal should be alert and active, often trying to bite and vocalise. Lethargic animals should be treated with suspicion (they could be ill, or simply too cold) although some individuals are naturally calmer than others while still being alert. Check for injuries. Small cuts, scratches and bites are common in crocodilians kept together, but they must be minor. Ensure that the skin is clean, smooth on the belly and free from fungus. The eyes and nictitating membrane should be clear and open fully. The nostrils should be clear of any discharge, and the mouth clean. Check for inflammation around the back of the throat that could be indicative of respiratory problems or secondary infections. The vent should be clean. Check also for mites and other parasites that can get into the folds of skin around the eyes, and within the earflaps. Parasites are not normally a major concern with crocodilians, but their presence occasionally may be indicative of a more serious problem. Check the tail base, which should be relatively plump and firm - the base of the tail and the neck are two areas where fat is stored, and animals which aren't eating will lose condition here first. Larger animals that become emaciated also show a loss of condition around the shoulders - the enlarged, nuchal plates on the neck become very conspicuous. If you're dealing with a hatchling, check the belly for a yolk scar. This should only be visible in animals that are under a few weeks old, although in some species (e.g. Alligator mississippiensis) the scar persists throughout the animal's life. There should be no excess tissue attached to the yolk scar either - the belly should be almost completely smooth. Newly hatched animals often show incomplete closure of the belly skin over the yolk sac, but this will disappear in a day or two after hatching. An infection of the yolk sac, however, will lead to an early death.
4.3 How much can I expect to pay?
The cost of an individual animal varies depending on the species, size of the animal, and the area in which you live. Animals from private breeders are often cheaper than those from pet stores (e.g. double the costs listed below if you buy from a pet store in Germany). The prices listed below are for hatchlings and juveniles, which are the size classes normally offered for sale. They are meant as a rough guide only to give you some idea, so please don't treat this as an official source. The different currencies are provided only to show the range of prices in that particular country.
Genetic colour variations fetch ridiculous prices, and are generally more trouble than they're worth to keep unless they're for public display, you have someone to impress or you plan on breeding them in the long-term.
Remember that the cost of purchasing the animal is but a tiny fraction of the amount you'll have to invest to set it up and maintain it correctly.
4.4 Is there anything else I need to buy?
When you purchase your crocodilian, you should have the rest of your set-up in place. This will include the enclosure itself and other items such as water filters, water heaters, air heaters, lighting, thermometers, substrate, furnishings, and food. Other items, depending on the size of the crocodile, might include gloves and some method of restraint such as a catch pole. Once you've read this FAQ thoroughly, you should have a good idea of what you'll need for your animal.
4.5 How do I transport my caiman?
If you need to transport a crocodilian any distance, whether by car or by air, you must ensure that it's housed in a secure, comfortable and safe container for the duration of the journey. The type of container will depend upon the size of animal, the transportation method, and any shipping requirements which need to be satisfied. All shipping companies, such as Delta-Dash, U.S. Mail, UPS or Air Borne Express (for zoo animals only) have specific policies regarding the shipment of crocodilians, so talk to them first before you prepare the animal for travel. For example, United States Postal Service (U.S. Mail) will ship crocodilians up to 20 inches (domestic mail manual, code section CO22.3.2) and Delta Airlines (Delta Dash) will ship crocodilians where the animal and its container do not exceed 50 lbs. The following information provides a useful guide to ensure that your animals survive the journey in one piece.
Hatchlings can be transported in a non-deformable, sturdy box that is well ventilated. Styrofoam boxes can work well with adequate ventilation, and this material is particularly good for retaining heat. However, most airlines consider styrofoam by itself to be unsatisfactory because it's easily crushed unless reinforced (e.g. with wood). For small hatchlings, soft material loose within the container can be used to provide some protection from knocks, although some materials such as paper can be unsuitable because when damp they'll create a soggy, unhygienic mess that the animal will not appreciate. For larger animals, well-ventilated boxes and crates can be used together with suitable insulation. Another method is to use a sturdy, ventilated plastic tube. The crocodilian can be slid into the tube and the ends secured with plastic or wooden capping, securely fastened. Soft padding should be used to line the box or tube capping as the crocodile will, unless physically restrained, rub its snout against the sides in a valiant attempt to get out.
For larger animals, it is a good idea to secure the jaws with strong elastic material or tape (left) to ensure safe removal from the box or tube. Be very careful to ensure that any tape or band does not cover the nostril button at the tip of the upper jaw! When the mouth is closed, the nostrils are the only way that the animal can breathe, and if covered it will suffocate in a couple of hours or much less. Improperly secured bands have been known to slip over the nostrils, resulting in a dead crocodile. Another way to minimise stress is to ensure that the animal cannot see anything - either by ensuring the container is totally dark, or by covering the closed eyes carefully with appropriate, soft material secured using tape. Larger animals can be immobilised for their own safety by tying the legs together at the sides, being careful not to over-tighten any such restraints. Very large animals (over 6 feet / 1.8 metres) may require sedation during transport, and for this you must consult a qualified veterinarian.
Consider also that once inside the box or tube, the animal can no longer thermoregulate effectively. Therefore, ensure that it isn't exposed to excessive cold or heat during transport, remembering that most crocodilians prefer a body temperature of around 29 to 32 degrees C (84 to 90 F). Most species can tolerate a drop in body temperature to the low 20s Celsius (low 70s F) for a short period, but prolonged excessive heat above 38 Celsius (100 F) (core body temperature) can be fatal. Ensure that, according to USF&W regulations, there is at least a 3 cm (1.2 inch) space above the animal to allow adequate airflow.
When transporting a crocodilian, always mark the carrying container appropriately (e.g. "Live reptile", or the name of the species) with large lettering - if someone has to open the container, they need to be forewarned of its contents. Other instructions should also be used (e.g. "Avoid extreme heat & cold", "Keep out of direct sun", etc).
The primary purpose of whatever method you use to house the animal for transport is to ensure that it reaches its destination uninjured, in good health, and with the minimum of stress.