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Illuminated 13th century manuscript, The Art of Falconry by early amateur naturalist Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor.
Illuminated 13th century manuscript, The Art of Falconry by early amateur naturalist Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor.

Learning How to Successfully Maintain Animals in Captivity

Today, many people keep snakes, lizards, frogs, fish, and exotic birds as pets for enjoyment and recreation. Non-domestic animals have been kept in captivity for thousands of years, but it is only within the last 150 years that instructive books focused on exotic animal husbandry appeared. Advances in the knowledge of how to properly maintain exotic animals in captivity also enabled professional scientists and amateur naturalists to closely observe animals that were difficult to see in nature.

Illuminated 13th century manuscript, De Arte Venandi cum Avibus by Frederick II.
Illuminated 13th century manuscript, De Arte Venandi cum Avibus by Frederick II.
Courtesy of the University of Arizona Library Special Collections.

One of the first books on animal care in captivity is a medieval text, The Art of Falconry or De arte venandi cum avibus, written in the 13th century by Frederick II (1194-1240), Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. A progressive for his time, Frederick was a patron of the sciences and this book was an outcome of his innate intellectual curiosity about the birds of prey he maintained for hunting. Frederick covers a wide range of topics in the work including his observations on breeding and nesting behavior, experiments on sensory capabilities of species of raptors, anatomy, his own classifications of bird types, and instruction on training and hunting techniques.

Philip H. Gosse, 1855.
Philip H. Gosse, 1855.
Courtesy of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

By the mid 19th century, keeping small exotic animals in aviaries, aquariums and terrariums was a growing recreational hobby among the general population in Europe and North America. Fish had been kept in indoor containers for surface viewing for thousands of years, but it was not until the 19th century that advances in glass making permitted the construction of aquariums and terrariums. Philip H. Gosse (1810-1888), at times a clerk, teacher, preacher, author, and self taught naturalist, popularized the use of marine animals with plants in glass tanks in 1850s England. A Handbook to the Marine Aquarium (1855) contains instructions for creating and maintaining saltwater aquaria. Gosse coined the term "aquarium" and is considered an innovator in the study of marine biology.

Frontpiece illustration from Butler's Family Aquarium (1858).
Frontpiece illustration from Butler's Family Aquarium (1858).

Following on the heels of Gosse's successes, Henry D. Butler, another Englishman, wrote Family Aquarium; or Aqua vivarium…being a familiar and complete instructor upon the subject of the construction, fitting-up, stocking, and maintenance of the fluvial and marine aquaria (1858) which was a special publication for Americans. It was one of the first books on marine aquariums to be marketed in the United States.

Illustration from pg. 24 of Bateman's The Vivarium (1897)
Illustration from pg. 24 of Bateman's The Vivarium (1897).

Keeping reptiles and amphibians in captivity over long periods of time is a challenge even today given dietary and environmental requirements. Rev. Gregory Bateman was a British pastor who wrote the first English language book on the subject with his book, The Vivarium, being a practical guide to the construction, arrangement, and management of vivaria, containing full information as to all reptiles suitable as pets, how and where to obtain them, and how to keep them (1897).

Wilhelm Klingelhoffer (1871-1953) was a German ophthalmologist, who became known as the leading authority on amphibian and reptile husbandry during the early part of the 20th century. He was a proponent of keeping reptiles and amphibians in naturalistic enclosures. His four volume work detailing his accumulated knowledge on the subject, Terrarienkunde (1931), was considered a standard for several decades. Zdenek Vogel (1913-1986), a Czech amateur herpetologist, primarily supported his scientific studies via popular writing, although he was also a breeder and supplier of reptiles. He maintained a private research and breeding facility, called "The Herpetology Institute" outside of Prague from the late 1940s to 1986. Vogel's Reptiles and Amphibians (1964) documents his knowledge of keeping and breeding reptiles and amphibians in captivity.

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