Being in the ball python business is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. I love the animals and I love the whole yearly cycle involved in breeding them. I have also developed some good friendships with other ball python breeders and that’s something I would not have been able to do if it weren’t for ball pythons. Our paths simply would have never crossed without these snakes as a binding agent.
But being in the reptile business doesn’t come without sacrifice. You give endlessly of your time and money. If you allow it to do so the constant demands of animal husbandry can put tremendous stress on other aspects of your life. I own more than one company and there is a constant struggle to split my time between the two enterprises. I also have a wife and daughter who want to be with me and nothing in life comes before being a father and a husband. Nothing. But being so resolute does not change the needs of my ball pythons. They still have to have fresh water, clean cages and food. And they never stop requiring it. By the time I finish cleaning, feeding and watering it’s time to start again. To successfully balance all of these facets of my life is almost impossible but I’m not willing to give any of them up. Something must be sacrificed. I sacrifice sleep. I seldom sleep more than four hours per night. I’m fortunate that I can still function very well on that little sleep. I’ve been doing it for years so my body is used to it.
Time isn’t the only thing that gets sacrificed in order to participate in the ball python business. Other things have to be given endlessly as well. Money is at the top of the list. To make a living on ball pythons you need a lot of them; a whole lot. While many ball pythons have become extremely affordable (their prices are falsely low, actually) it wasn’t always like that. Many of you know this all too well. An animal that cost multiple thousands of dollars a few short years ago is now in the low hundreds. Pinstripes, for example. I get a little sick to my stomach every time I think about their current price.
Breeders who have adult pinstripes, genetics stripes, bumble bees, black pastels, ghosts and albinos paid a lot of money for them. A LOT! Some of you who are relatively new to the business don’t fully get that. What have you sacrificed in order to be in this business? Anything? Everything? There may be a choice few who have jobs that afford them the opportunity to pay cash for their animals. But that’s a select few, I’m sure. Most of us have had to make many personal sacrifices of one type or another to build our collections.
The other day I was preparing to reinstall the operating system on my computer so I was moving my files to another computer so I could restore them after the rebuild. I always seem to come across interesting photos when I do that (I’ve got dozens of gigabytes of photos on my laptop) and it was these photos that prompted me to write this little article:
This was my 1996 Twin Turbo 300ZX. Most car enthusiasts agree that this is a very special car. I had wanted one for years but their $50K plus price tag back in ’96 put them out of my price range. It wasn’t until several years later that I could afford one. When I did get one I proceeded to put many more thousands into upgrading it; custom exhaust, upgraded computer, turbo timer, performance intakes, and beefier brakes. I waited for several years to be in a position to buy that car. And just after I got it to the the point that it was perfect for me, I sold it. Why did I sell a car that I wanted so badly for so long? I sold it to buy ball pythons. Building my collection was worth more than having that car in my driveway. The sale price wasn’t anything magical; somewhere in the $17K range. But that was back in 2006. $17,000 in 2006 didn’t go very far in the ball python world.
This isn’t the only big sacrifice I have made over the years to be in the ball python business. I haven’t been on vacation in almost a decade for example. I choose to take the money I would spend on a vacation and re-invest it into building my ball python collection. If I were to give it some more thought I’d be able to come up with a long list of personal sacrifices I have made to be in the position I am in today. When I look at the sacrifices I have made to have the animals I do I get all the more annoyed with people who say that all ball python morphs should cost $50 so everybody can have one. You know what I say to those people? Two words: “Pack Sand!” I gave up things that I wanted to get the animals I have and you need to do the same.
And it’s because of these sacrifices that I hold the line on ball python prices. I am not now nor will I ever be the guy who sells ball pythons for a bargain basement prices. I will never lead the way on decreasing ball python prices and I will fight against those who do. I have put too much of myself into this. I have made too many sacrifices in the form of time, money and personal relationships. I will not discount the value of my investment simply because some guy on kingsnake.com is freaked out over money and is selling his animals for $100 less than the going rate. I won’t do it and neither should you. I love ball pythons and this industry too much to do it. I won’t do it to myself and I won’t do it to my peers who have made many sacrifices similar to mine. I’ve got your back on pricing. You got mine?
I’ve been in and around the snake business for almost 20 years. I took a hiatus for a few years when I got married back in the latter part of the 90′s but I’ve been back in it full-force for many years now. While these days I am mostly a ball python breeder I spent a lot of time with a lot of different animals in my earlier years. Ball pythons in the early 90′s were not even a little bit what they are today. Most of the people who read this already know that. Back in the 80′s albino burmese were the big deal and things like albino kenyan sand boas and hognose snakes were just getting rolling. Pete Kahl and Brian Sharp were starting a firestorm in the boa community with their albino strains. Jungle carpet pythons were the coolest thing in the carpet world and all that mattered in the world of chondros was that you could actually breed them successfully; never mind all this locality stuff we’ve got today. Juno road in Texas was Mecca for grey banded kingsnakes and blackhead pythons and womas were borderline mythical. I remember seeing a pair of womas at Tom Crutchfield’s place in the early 90′s and thought I had seen the holy grail of snakes. I also remember seeing the first albino alligator around the same time and thought it wasn’t real until it blinked.
Anyway, to my point. Somebody once said that hinsight is 20/20. I can’t begin to express to you how true that is. One of my fondest and most embarrassing memories about being in the snake business took place at the Mid-Atlantic Reptile Show (MARS) somewhere around 1994 or 1995. I can’t remember the year exactly. Anyway, Ian Gniazdowski and I had been friends from college for several years and I often helped him at his table during the shows. Back in the 90′s the MARS show was actually a cool show. All the big names were there (even though they weren’t necessarily “big” names yet): Barczyk, McCurley, Gniazdowski, Barker, this list goes on.
None of the other parties of this conversation will remember this but me (and it will be evident why after you read it). Ian and I were standing at his table and Kevin McCurley from NERD walked up carrying a ball python. It was a bit unusual looking but it didn’t immediately grab me. Ian and Kevin were talking about ball pythons and I wasn’t paying too much attention. During the conversation Brian Barczyk walked up and joined in on the talk. Within a minute or two Brian had agreed to buy the ball python from Kevin for an amount that is nobody’s business but Kevin’s and Brian’s but I remember thinking, “Why the $%$#@ did Brian just pay that much for a frickin’ ball python?’ Over the course of the next few minutes several more ball pythons were purchased for dollar amounts that I thought transcended insane. And here’s where I made the single biggest mistake of my life: I turned away from the three of them, muttering under my breath, “A ball python is a ball python. Anybody who pays more than $65 for one is crazy.” And that was the last of it. I blindly kept my focus on breeding burmese, rainbow boas, kingsnakes and boas. Little did I know that if I had paid a little more attention, just a little more, I may have been there at a moment when it was all beginning. Instead I walked away, arrogant and blind to the opportunity. Had I not been such a fool on that day you might know my name the way you know the others who were in that conversation that day; Gniazdowski, Barczyk, McCurley, and Weaver. Huh? Who the hell is Weaver? Oh, he’s the guy who walked away from the conversation that defined the next fifteen years of the ball python industry. Smart guy.
The lesson learned that day is that I don’t know it all. People have insights that I don’t see and I need to be less arrogant and open to the possibilities. Ball pythons could have been a bust. But they weren’t and my close mindedness cost me more than just a few dollars.
Pay attention, something new is coming. Don’t miss it the way that I did.
Colin (ahem!) Weaver