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The Great Cohab Debate by, Jason Rogue Element Ball

The Great Cohab Debate Cohab should be considered an expert keeping practice.

Many experts and most breeders cohab, but consider the following:

1. These are people who have developed knowledge, theories, and intuitions about reptile psychology as distinct and radically different than human psychology. They are able to see and accept reptiles as different, and work constantly on trying to identify behavior cues in general. This means they can often identify problems before they begin.

2. Development of these skills requires not only lots of experience, but lots of ongoing time with the animals. For whatever reason, these are people that are able to spend a lot of time with their animals and monitor cues. It is not possible to monitor cues accurately when a work schedule or other priorities only permits a few hours of the day (or less) to observation. People cohabbing need to be honest with themselves not only about their level of expertise in the hobby, but also about what percentage of the dragon's waking hours they are actually even observing and not just assuming that the few hours they see them in a week are representative of every phase of the day for their dragons.

3. These are people who precisely have less of a space and materials issue. This is really key. None of the knowledge, intuition, or time with animals is worth very much unless the animals can be separated and permanently housed separately at a moment's notice. It means nothing to see a problem if you don't have the resources to deal with it. Breeders and experienced keepers can re-arrange their entire set-ups if necessary as a result of having surplus materials, or having acquired them to prepare.

For these reasons, the framing for cohab situations should be considered again

1) an expert level activity and

2) an ongoing experiment that the keeper is prepared to abandon at a moment's notice without any emotional attachment to the projection that their dragons are friends or need each other.

Some keepers try separation and when habitat-change stress inevitably begins, they see this as evidence that the dragons need each other. Again, this goes back to doing research on how the reptile brain actually works and paying attention to personality traits that have evolved for survival rather than assuming a unitary form of sociality for all living things based on our own socialization as humans. I say this as somebody who has kept many reptiles for the majority of my life and who has cohabbed dragons to old age. Many expert keepers cohab and nearly all reputable breeders do it - these are the people with less problems rather than the simple contribution to the discussion "nothing has gone wrong for me" - so ask yourselves what is it about the groups of people that provide better chances of success and can I or can I not duplicate those conditions.

Signs you should watch for that the cohab is not going well:

1. Animals with only one option for thermoregulation (one cool side, one basking spot) will establish a pecking order. One BD will invariably make sure that its metabolic needs are met at the expense of the other. This is not only because there are finite resources that cannot be shared equally, but also possibly because the larger more assertive animal is actively trying to limit competition by limiting access to resources - there's good reason for observation of reptiles generally to suspect that this is a survival strategy, and I would say certainly for BD's. This is why when people recommend appropriate cohab practices they generally say to have multiple options for heat, shade, food, water, in the tank. If not, and you will see it yourself in pictures of cohab situations where large tanks with multiple options aren't provided, you will see one very fat healthy looking dragon and one lean dragon almost invariably. Because reptile metabolism is so closely linked to their environment, separate out-of-tank feeding is not enough to mitigate the effects of domination on growth and health.

2. Without a range of options, there are concerns about dragon mental health. In the wild dragons that are smaller have the option (the necessity) to flee and establish, even if for only a day, a new micro territory. Dragons are semi-social, but their sociality - their behaviors - if you notice them are totally geared toward ceding or claiming space. When a smaller dragon cannot actually cede space in order to pursue its own territorial claim, it lives its life out not fulfilling parts of its programming that your more dominant dragon is. I've cohabbed successfully in the past, but this factor is the primary reason I wouldn't do it again unless I could provide a very large enclosure.

3. In the worst case scenarios, dragons will mutilate each other. Young dragons do it largely based on proximity to each other during feeding. Dragons can lose pieces of tail, fingers, hands, and even limbs simply because another dragon missed a strike at a cricket or mistook the moving limb (they are very oriented toward movement) for a food item. As dragons begin to develop sexually, a process which can start to happen as early as five months, they can actually become aggressive toward one another. Again, in the wild one dragon would simply flee from a fight. This is not possible. Moreover, it doesn't take an outright fight. Subtle signs of aggression which would cue a smaller dragon to leave will ultimately have to be ignored, as the smaller dragon will need to access those resources. Many people who do not cohab under the conditions listed in my above post (I would say very luckily) have no problems. Some have no problems for years until they come home one day to a dead or mutilated dragon. Others experience problems right away.

Point being, here are the primary risks, and the above post - rather than simply saying "cohabbing is fine" or "never cohab" is designed to outline the conditions for a more successful cohab."