Not long ago I was browsing an on-line reptile classified web site and I came across the ad of a well-known reptile wholesaler. The ad was of the “want to buy” nature and he was offering to buy the entire breeding production that you have for sale. After saying that he wants your production he typed in bold characters, “WE ARE ONLY PAYING WHOLESALE PRICES.” Sadly, wholesale pricing in the reptile industry is often considered to be in the 50% off retail range (or more). As I finished reading the ad a few choice words came to mind regarding how I felt about its audacity. The brazen call for you to sell your production to someone else so they can make a profit equal to the person who did all the work (you) always gets me a little annoyed …almost as annoyed as I get at the idea that people regularly agree to the sale.
“The things you own end up owning you.” – Tyler Durden
I’m self-employed. I have been that way for almost a decade. In addition to my reptile enterprise I am a founding owner of a small information technology (IT) company. Because I have a passion for computer networking and information security I long ago decided to start my own business doing the thing I love. That is a theme familiar to a lot of self-employed people and if you are not currently self-employed I’ll wager that a good number of you aspire to one day be so. For those of you not currently at the helm of your own enterprise let me remind you of an expression I’m sure you have heard before: “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” Owning your own business does nothing to eliminate the stress and frustration you
As I type my daughter is a few months into her third year. As is often the case with parents I put nothing else on this planet before her. She is everything. Every parent wants to protect their children from as many bad things as possible in this world. To that end we often turn to professionals for advice on when it is OK to do certain things. Take peanuts for example. The prevailing medical wisdom says that if nobody in your family has a history of allergies then you should wait until your child turns one year old before exposing them to peanuts. If you have a history of allergies you should wait until the child is at least three. Because neither my wife nor I have any known allergies we treated the arrival of our daughter’s first taste of peanut butter with an unusual amount of excitement. Well, I did. Peanuts, peanut butter in particular, are a big deal to me. I find peanut butter delicious and combining chocolate with peanut butter is next-level stuff. The peanut butter cup is a triumph of taste and I am sure that achieving nirvana involves peanut butter at some point.
A few days after my daughter’s first birthday my wife and I decided to give her a peanut butter cracker. We had waited the required amount of time recommended by the pediatrician and it was time for her to learn about another wonderful part of being alive. About 9 or 10 hours later when we left the emergency room we knew that peanuts and my beloved peanut butter would no longer be welcome in our home. After taking a bite of a peanut butter cracker our daughter had gone into anaphylactic shock.
For longer than I have been on this planet people have been keeping reptiles as pets. The original reptile keepers were mostly academics, scientists fascinated by their enigmatic subjects of study. As reptiles began to enter into the pet world they were most often the choice of young boys and other people who were more …colorful …than mainstream society typically allows. The keeping of reptiles was often tolerated by the parents of young children who wanted to humor their whims and foster a love of science and nature. Thirty years ago there wasn’t a large captive bred trade in reptiles, at least not compared to what it is today. It wasn’t unusual for specimens to be either imported or, in the case of native species, self-caught. What better way to get a pet snake than to go out and catch one yourself? Those young herpers are now grown and they brought their once unusual choice in pet along with them. They grew up to enter into every facet of society across all levels of industry and income. Their choice to own a reptile was likely viewed as an oddity by many of their friends, family and co-workers. In fact, it was probably not unusual for them to simply not mention they had a reptile as a pet. Because reptiles were not mainstream and were viewed as a quirky choice in pet it was often easier to simply leave it out of conversations. Fifteen years ago I can say for sure the none of my professional co-workers knew that I kept snakes (I worked for a bank in those days). My banking buddies and I exchanged dog and cat stories often but snakes never came up during discussions about pets. On the few occasions that snakes did come up in conversation I often got the typical reaction that comes from the uninformed: disgust, fear and general discomfort at the idea of creepy crawlies slithering around my house.
Do you have a male albino ball python in your collection? How about a male pastel? A male black pastel perhaps? I know you have a male pinstripe, right? How about a male piebald? Got one of those?
Many enthusiastic ball python hobbyists answer “yes” to at least one of those questions. If you’re a ball python breeder the answer to most or all of the above should be a foregone conclusion. For many breeders they are project staples. Considering only the single gene males for a moment, do you need any more of the same in your collection? Probably not. If you are not already doing so I’ll wager that you are focused on getting the existing males in your collection to the next level; albino spiders, black pewters, honey bees, etc. How exactly are you going about that particular process? There is a long road and a short road to getting there. Some of you are adding the next-level males to your collection by breeding your own (the long road) while others opt to buy or trade with someone to add them to the mix (the shorter road).
Sure, sure, many of us are still missing a wide variety of single gene males in our genetic armory. Champagne males, ultramels, lavender albinos, and candy/toffee ball pythons are still pretty darn desirable and highly sought after. To not have them means you know what it is to covet.
Back in high school I sat through more than one government class. In my freshman year of college I went through the motions during a year-long course on the history of the United States. While sitting in those classrooms I wasn’t really investing in the information, I was enduring it. I memorized facts, names and dates that would need to later be regurgitated on an exam. Despite the quality of my schooling I must admit that I failed to process the information as anything other than raw data. True internalization of the information didn’t really happen for me. Part of the reason I missed so much was (honestly) a general lack of interest. For no good reason I found the history of places like Persia and Greece to be much more intriguing than that of my own country. History is often presented by academia as a string of names, dates, documents and military conflicts, each of which is summed up in a few paraphrased and often opinionated paragraphs. The impacts and long-term meanings of the events are not often taught in a way that encourages students to understand the information as it relates to their own lives. The end result is that many of us fail to fully connect the dots on how the events that occurred before our birth actually impact our existence. Teaching is an art form and most educators who have the ability to regurgitate facts lack the talent to make it relevant and interesting. As a result many students frequently purge the information after its usefulness on a test is complete. I do not fault my teachers for this. I take responsibility for my own actions, including the concerned attention I did not pay to my own nation’s history. During my earlier years I never fully took the opportunity to explore how the decisions of the founding fathers were supposed to impact the life I am living more than two hundred years later. The past several years, however, have changed all of that in a way I never expected. If someone had told me many years ago that it would be pythons and boas that suddenly caused the processes of government to be immensely relevant I would have rolled my eyes and wandered off.
The illusions surrounding the live animal business can readily be compared to the old saying that ‘you shouldn’t sit up front at the ballet’; get too close and the magic vanishes, the harsh realities revealed. Despite our best intentions something changes when we take that which we love and turn it into a commodity. Tending to the day-in, day-out needs of live animals is neither elegant nor glamorous work, especially when it is done in quantity. The reptile’s comparatively infrequent elimination of bodily waste seems to become a non-stop fecal barrage and feeding time, once a source of intense fascination, shifts to a relatively emotionless event with speed and efficiency being the motivating factors. The rare loss of an animal shifts from being a time of sadness to one of cleaning, sterilization and a double-checking of proper husbandry techniques. You know, asset management and risk mitigation.
I recently received a letter from the office of my representative in the US House of Representatives. The letter reiterates what one of his staffers told me during a face-to-face meeting when I went to his office in Washington DC. While I characterize Mr. Forbes as a delegate who is “on the side” of responsible pet owners I think his opportunity for opposition has been limited. This is, of course, unfortunate. What is more unfortunate is that the limitation stems from one of S373 and HR2811’s biggest sources of resistance: USARK.
In Mr. Forbes letter he points out that which we already know: an agreement has been reached between USARK and the HSUS to limit the scope of HR2811 to Burmese and African Rock pythons. That agreement unanimously passed the House Judiciary Committee on 7/29/09. I was at that hearing, I watched it happen. USARK, in what they believed was an effort to save all pythons, offered Burms and Afrocks in the spirit of “we’ve got to give them something.” In reality USARK’s compromise didn’t give supporters of the bill nearly as much as it took away from its opponents. On July 28th Mr. Forbes was opposed to HR2811. By the time the afternoon of the 29th rolled around he had little choice but to support it. Why? How can he oppose a bill that has been agreed upon by both sides of the issue? He can’t. It would be politically silly and a waste of time to do so. This was the exact sentiment shared with me by one of his staffers during our meeting. USARK’s decision to agree to a limited scope for HR2811 effectively ensures its passage when sent to the House floor for a vote. I can see delegates saying, “HSUS likes it and the snake people like it, too? All right then! Let’s vote on this thing and go grab a burger.” What is there to debate? It appears that everybody is happy. Except me. I’m not happy.
If S373 passes the impending full Senate vote and HR2811 passes a House vote the absolute best we can hope for when the two bills are reconciled is the elimination of Burmese and African Rock pythons. It won’t be any time soon that I forgive anybody who is responsible for that.
It’s a horrifying proposition but plausible to think that one of the best things that could happen at this point is that the HSUS gets one of their Democrat House delegates to introduce a new amendment to HR2811 that makes it mirror the current verbiage of S373 (e.g. all 9 animals in the USGS report). At least that way the venomoid-rendered opposition in the House can have a renewed reason to oppose the bill. How else are they supposed to argue against it? That’s not really the kind of gamble I’d like to take but…
They say the first step on the road to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Well, after several years of denial and inner-confusion I have come to realize that I have an odd sort of problem. Now that I know I have it I’m not entirely sure what do to about it. It vexes me because it’s part of me, I internalized it long ago. People who don’t suffer from one type of affliction or another often don’t understand why people struggle with such things. Skinny people who eat to live can’t figure out why fat people live to eat. People with no particular desire to gamble are baffled by the compulsion others have to do it. Souls at the mercy of a bottle of Jack Daniels are odd to people who don’t have any desire for a drink on Friday night. The problem I have may be just as elusive to understand as those just mentioned. My problem is the strange combination of ball pythons and money. It’s a multi-faceted problem with the ever-present “too much out, not enough in” issue riding on top of the heap. But the problem I’m writing ab out today is not how much money is coming or going; it’s about how the money goes after it comes.
Pull any breeder aside and they will tell you that there is no better way to build an excellent reptile collection than to produce your own babies and raise them. The problem is that it usually takes forever to build a collection worthy of note when you do it this way. Producing new morphs of your own is an incredibly gratifying accomplishment, though. It’s a big part of the reason that so many of us are in this business. Pretty much every breeder holds back a few animals each year but it’s often a tough call to to determine which ones and how many to set aside. Producing something cool and deciding to keep it means your pocket is ultimately missing some cash. Sell it and your collection is not as cool the following year. It’s a constant battle. Unless you are financially well-to-do from other sources you do, at some point, have to take the money. But that point is different for each of us. People who know me know that I am a notorious ball python hoarder. I hold back a lot of production each year. It is an addiction for which I am unable to find a cure.