As an American I am chronically aware that many of my fellow citizens don’t pay much attention to what is going on in other countries. By no means is that an across-the-board statement; it’s just something I have made note of in my interactions with others as I travel about the country. It’s not unusual for Americans to be so unabashedly and ignorantly ethnocentric that they don’t have the slightest idea of what is going in the rest of the world. Who am I kidding? Many don’t even know what is going on in this country. Jay Leno is good at pointing this out from time-to-time in his late night talk show antics (and here). Most Americans know that something is going in in Iraq but many don’t realize that Iran is different than Iraq and they certainly don’t know why Israel is so despised by them. Most of us know that Princess Diana died a while back
Fellow pet owner,
My name is Colin Weaver. I am 37 years old. I am probably a lot like you in that I have had a dog and/or a cat as part of my family for all but a tiny handful of years in my life. My current dog, a 4-year old Weimaraner named Seven, is not just a pet; she is a member of my family. Taking care of her and protecting her is no less a responsibility than taking care of my 3-year old daughter.
In addition to being a dog lover I am also an enthusiastic reptile fan. In particular I have an affinity for pythons. This fact, I suspect, will immediately distance some of you. Pythons are not conventional pets and because pythons are enigmatic they are often feared. Despite their fast-growing popularity, they are on the edge of mainstream pet ownership. It is true that reptiles do not show the same affection toward their owners that dogs and cats do. The opposite, however, is not true. The way you feel about your dog or cat is the way that many feel about their reptiles. For the moment I ask that you not judge the particular animal that some choose to make a part of their lives. For now, just focus on the way you feel about your pets and give credit to reptile owners for feeling the same way about their companions.
In the United States dog ownership is under constant attack. The source of this attack is most commonly the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Volumes have been written on the Internet about their deceptive ways but they continue to be successful in launching attacks against pet owners (and breeders) around the country. I know your frustration regarding this because I feel it, too. Dogs are only one of several targets of the HSUS. Reptile keepers are also struggling with the HSUS’ powerful lobbying skills. At this moment there is a bill in Congress called HR2811 which seeks a nationwide ban on many of the most popular reptiles in the pet community (the Senate version of the bill is called S373). At a recent hearing in the House a team of more than 25 HSUS members were present to forward their efforts to get this bill made into law.
The reasons proposed for this ban are false. They are being sensationalized by the HSUS and this is being compounded by the media. South Florida does have a problem with a population of pythons having established themselves in the Everglades. This problem, which is isolated to extreme South Florida is being used as a point of leverage to ban the ownership of pythons and boas throughout the entire United States. There are two primary points of the HSUS argument:
1.The HSUS and USGS feel that the python might be able to spread north from Florida and establish itself in the lower 1/3 of the United States.
- Because pythons cannot control their own body temperature this is simply not possible. Highly experienced reptile veterinarians with detailed understanding of reptile physiology have testified to this fact. The ecosystem of South Florida is largely unique in the United States. Their ability to spread north from the Everglades is false and being driven by nothing more than the average person’s fear of snakes. Pythons have been kept as pet for not less than 50 years in this country. If they had the ability to establish themselves in other parts of the country, they would likely have done so by now. One of the USGS’ selling points on this matter is that global warming over the next 100 years could allow the snakes to survive further north. Is that what we’re going to do now? Legislate the pet trade on what might happen in the decades to come? Really? Remember the movie Minority Report starring Tom Cruise? In that movie people were arrested and put in prison for crimes they were going to commit in the future. Banning the ownership of snakes because the temperature might change in the future is just as preposterous. That movie sought to teach us a subtle lesson; it appears that it was not learned.
2.Pythons are a public safety issue.
- The HSUS states that pythons kill people and are a risk to public health. This is both fear-driven and false. Of the pets that people choose to keep pythons are one of the least likely to be a danger. Severe injury or death because of a python is incredibly rare. It is estimated that more than 5 million Americans own a reptile, several hundred thousand of which are large pythons and boas. Over the past 30 years there have been a total of 12 deaths attributed to large pythons. While nobody should ever discount the value of a life we have to admit that so few deaths in that many years is hardly justification for pythons being a public safety issue. It is worthy to note that none of those 12 deaths was from a python or boa escaping into the wild and attacking someone. Each of those incidents occurred in the home and each was the result of poor caging and/or improper handling. The simple fact of the matter is that responsible ownership of pythons and boas is not a public health concern.
The pythons in the Everglades is a decidedly Florida problem. Florida Fish and Wildlife has jumped on the bandwagon of this ban because federal legislation means federal dollars. The prospect of getting the entire country to fund Everglades restoration is a compelling motivator. In order to generate support for their desired end-result they have begun actively searching for pythons and when found they parade them about on the evening news. The media, and their love of all things sensational, is glad to feature them.
One of the most recent efforts of the HSUS has been to call for a ban on the Boa Constrictor in addition to several python species (they initially tried to ban all pythons). Suggesting a ban on ‘boa constrictor’ is the same thing as suggesting a ban on all terrier breeds because you feel that pit bulls are a problem. It it absolutely ridiculous. If one of the 15 species of terriers (that’s how many my research showed there to be) was a member of your family how would you feel if they were banned because of a HSUS/media-driven view of pit bulls? I hope you would be as frustrated and angry as the reptile community is right now. Similar to the diversity of terriers, there are literally dozens of different types of boa constrictors and most of them are very small as adults. We are in danger of seeing a huge portion of the pet trade eliminated by this proposed legislation. We are scared. We are angry. And we are frustrated.
Now, here is the point of my letter: The reptile community is not large enough to indefinitely withstand the assault being launched by the HSUS and our current political representation is too new and inexperienced to avoid being blindsided by the clever lobbying skills long-since perfected by the HSUS. The passage of this bill is a very real possibility. Because of this I am asking you to help me and the rest of the reptile community. I need your help. Part of my livelihood and my right to responsibly own the pet of my choosing is in danger of being taken away from me. I need you to defend pet ownership in this country by contacting both your delegate in the House of Representatives and your Senator and tell them you oppose HR2811 (the House bill) and S373 (the Senate version of the bill). I need this help because I believe with all my heart that the only way that pet owners in this country are ever going to be safe against the efforts of organizations like the HSUS is for all of us to work together to protect the rights of all pet owners, regardless of what type of pet it is.
Do this for me. Please. I need your help. Make the call to your House delegate and your Senator and I, in return, make myself available to you when you need help in your fight for your right to have the pet of your choosing. It is past time for the pet owners of this country to come together, to form a collective and work as a unit to oppose the HSUS’ attacks on responsible pet ownership.
To find out who represents you in the House of Representatives, follow this link: https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml
To find out who represents you in the Senate, follow this link: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm
HR2811 is currently in committee in the House. Here is a list of the committee members: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/committee.xpd?id=HSJU
I have been keeping reptiles for about 20 years and I have been going to reptile trade shows in a vendor capacity (on and off) for a little more than half of that time. I took a hiatus from the reptile scene in the early part of this decade but I have been back in full swing for more than four years.
In the early-to-mid 90’s reptile trade shows were awesome events; the excitement and enthusiasm could sometimes be carnival-like. Both vendors and customers came from all around the country to participate. Show dates were comparatively few and far between and the Internet, as the average persons knows it today, was not reptile-enabled. There were far fewer breeders (even though many of today’s names remain the same) and many of the animals that are commonplace today were available to most of us only in pictures. Outside the potpourri of animals in our own collections all most of us could do was look at the small assortment of available books. My top five books were:
- The General Care and Maintenance of Burmese Pythons by Philippe De Vosjoli. A tiny and concise book, printed in black & white, but still one of my favorites. My affection for this book is more sentimental than anything; it was my first book on reptiles.
- The Reproductive Husbandry of Pythons and Boas by Richard Ross. A bible to reptile keepers. I really wish there was an updated version of this book, one that reflects all the things we have learned over the past 15-20 years.
- Completely Illustrated Atlas of Reptiles & Amphibians for the Terrarium. This book is mammoth in size but short in the amount of detail it has on each species. But in a time when the inventors of Google were still in middle school there weren’t many choices for getting information on obscure reptiles.
- Kingsnakes & Milk Snakes by Ron Markel. Still relevant today. Would very much like to see it updated.
- Rat Snakes: A Hobbyists Guide to Elaphe and Kin by Ray Staszko, Jerry Walls, and John Quinn. Another excellent book, also still relevant.
Don’t be even a tiny bit confused. These weren’t just books that were in my personal library; these books were in my hands every single day! I spent hours upon hours poring through the pages, memorizing the images, the content, the latin names, everything I could. I didn’t just read these books, I consumed their content. I read them with such frequency that their pages fell out. I loved the Kingsnakes & Milksnakes book so much that one day in 1994 I jumped in my car and drove 18 hours to Arlington, Texas just so I could meet Ron Markel and talk to him about gray-banded kingsnakes. Completely broke and sleeping in my car I spent a week hanging out with Ron, learning everything I could from him (Ron thought I was staying in a hotel. I was too young and proud to admit otherwise). It was such a cool experience. I never made it the rest of the way down to Del Rio, TX to search for gray-bands of my own but a few weeks later I bought a captive-bred pair of them from Brian Barczyk at the Mid-Atlantic Reptile Show (MARS). To this day I still owe myself a trip to southern Texas to hunt for kingsnakes.
I digress. I didn’t sit down to write about books and road trips from the 90’s. I’m sitting here to write about trade shows. Having been back on the Mid-Atlantic trade show scene for several years I must say that it is no longer what it once was. The excitement and novelty of those days so long ago are all but gone. The market is saturated and it is getting worse. But it’s not the number of animals that seems to have saturated the market, it’s the number of shows. The number of reptile trade shows being hosted on the east coast of the US has exceeded critical mass. A few days ago I sat down to work on my list of show appearances for 2010 and was blown away by the addition yet more reptile shows in the Mid-Atlantic and surrounding area. Vendors have been complaining for a long time that there are too many shows. But there the shows are and more and more are being added all the time.
There are several factors at work causing this increase in the number of shows:
- Not everybody knows it but the Hamburg, PA show was actually two different shows. For years there were two different promoters with different show dates. The shows were held in the same place and to the customers nothing looked different. The politics of reptile trade shows has produced a situation where one of those vendors is no longer able to host their show at the Hamburg armory. In response that promoter has launched a list of multiple new shows in Pennsylvania and surrounding locations.
- The promoter of the White Plains, NY show, which is one of the best trade shows on the east coast, added another show on Long Island last year. That show continues to struggle to match the White Plains event. Both of those shows are outside the Mid-Atlantic but White Plains is a good enough show that it attracts people from quite a long way away. Me, for instance. I travel almost nine hours to get there. I know other vendors who come from several more hours away than me.
- NARBC tried to host a trade show in Northern Virginia. The show lasted two years before poor attendance caused its cancellation. Northern Virginia is brimming with reptile people but even NARBC’s first-rate shows didn’t survive in the over-saturated mire of the Mid-Atlantic scene.
- Repticon continues its northerly march, expanding up to Baltimore in 2010. Prior to this they only went as far as Charlotte, NC.
- One show promoter in the Mid-Atlantic area hosts monthly shows in Virginia and Maryland. The shows are poorly advertised and poorly attended by vendors and customers alike. At most these shows should happen every other month (and that’s me being generous). The show promoter can’t resist the dollars made by the trickle of patrons coming in the door so he continues to try and jam more and more shows down the community’s throat. More and more vendors are no longer supporting these shows. Despite the continuing and ever-increasing lack of participation from customers and vendors alike the promoter insists on adding more and more show dates to the schedule.
Show promoters can’t force vendors to come to shows so let’s focus our attention on the real culprit: the show vendor. Show vendors are duplicitous. We say we want fewer shows but we support the promoters when they add new one’s to the schedule. But why do we do such things? The prospect of money, of course. To understand how the money presents itself I recommend you visualize a polar bear fishing at a hole in the ice. Imagine each morning a polar bear wakes up and hauls himself down to a hole in the ice. For hours upon hours he sits, patiently waiting for a sea lion to rise up through the water and poke its head through the hole. Most days the bear goes hungry, leaving at the end of the day with nothing to show but a wasted trip. It is however, inevitable; a sea lion will eventually poke its head up through the hole in the ice. The key is for the polar bear to be there when it happens. When he is, …delicious! It’s a polar bear payday. It’s the prospect of getting a meal that keeps the bear coming back. The sea lions are few and far between, sometimes eluding the bear for painfully long periods of time. But they seem to pop up just enough to keep him coming back. It’s an inconsistent and inefficient process but he doesn’t really know any other way to catch the sea lions. With seemingly limited options he is, at this moment, preparing for his next trip to the ice hole.
- Show vendors are polar bears. They require a consistent and steady supply of food (money).
- Customers are sea lions (Pardon the crassness of referring to you as a consumable but the reality is that vendors don’t spend money, time and energy to go to shows to socialize and display animals; they are there to give you reptiles in exchange for money.)
- Trade shows are ice holes. Despite the ease with which they can be created they will freeze over and disappear if left alone.
These days there are so many holes in the ice (trade shows) we don’t know when or if a sea lion (customer) is ever going to poke his head through and spend some money (become a meal). In response we (the vendors) need to make sure we never miss an opportunity, knowing full well that most of our time at the ice hole is going to be wasted, fruitless.
What the polar bears don’t know is that by running from hole to hole they are helping to create more holes. The more holes there are the less likely it is the bear will be at the right place at the right time. The sea lion may pop up through the hole but the bear was staring down into the wrong one. Opportunity missed, another wasted effort. If I could sit all the polar bears down for a chat I would tell them not to spend all day in front of the holes. I would tell them to cover most of them up in order to get rid of them. By eliminating most of the holes in the ice they can focus their attention on the best producing holes; achieving a similar end-result with a lot less overhead.
Alas, most polar bears are too caught up in the cycle of running from hole to hole to break trend. They system has them and they can’t break free. It’s a shame, really. They are running themselves ragged, effectively chasing nickels when they should be focusing on dollars. The joy they once derived from going to the ice hole is gone. It has become a chore encapsulated in frustration. While the costs of policing all of the ice holes continues to rise profitable results continue to decline and the cycle is made even worse as a result.
The solution is easy to write but tough to implement: If we (the vendors) stop supporting the show promoters by buying tables they will stop having so many shows. The trickle-down effect is that customers won’t continue going to trade shows without quality vendors with quality products. The vendors I have spoken with this all give me a similar argument; that it’s better to go to the show and make a little bit of money than to stay home and make no money at all. This, however, is only an opinion, not a fact. I suggest that there are ways to better your business each weekend without going to trade shows. Consider the following:
- Rather than going to yet another local trade show that is poorly run, poorly attended and barely profitable, stay home and work on your web site. Have you looked around at reptile web sites lately? Most of them are in poor shape, terribly outdated and incomplete. My own site suffers from this in some places. Web sites are a lot of work if you want them to be good and you can get the time to work on them by foregoing a trade show each month.
- Pick a web site and go take a peek at the list of supposedly available animals. Most reptile web sites (mine included) are not up-to-date. Few have actual lists of animals that a person can really shop from. Some have available lists that are several years old. That’s damaging to your credibility in the long run. So rather than going to the next trade show spend that time taking photos of your available animals and posting them up on your web site.
- Update your content, add updated pictures to your photo gallery and incorporate new content into the site. Make your site better each month by skipping a trade show and adding new information that will cause people to come back on a regular basis. Static web sites with unchanging content don’t need to be visited on a regular basis. If you take the time to populate your site with photos, discussions, how-to articles, videos, etc. you will find that you get a good amount of traffic and that traffic will lead to sales. Most of us don’t have time to do all of this, especially if you spend so many of your weekends doing trade shows. Skip the trade show and you have created the time necessary to get this work done. It will pay for itself in the long run.
I am bailing out on a long list of reptile trade shows in 2010. I just don’t see the value in doing them anymore. My efforts as part of the reptile community are better spent doing other things. Don’t get me wrong, I will still attend every Hamburg and every White Plains show. They are quarterly, which is reasonable and they are still solid staples of the business. But all of these smaller shows …I’m done with them. They are a waste of time for vendors and customers alike. Vendors: join me on this. If you do we can make the industry better by restoring value to the trade show scene.
On a regular basis other ball python enthusiasts ask me if I will breed one of my snakes with theirs. For many, the so-called ‘breeder loan’ is a staple of the industry; two breeders working together combine their stock to produce animals that would be unattainable (in the near term, at least) if working independently. The parties involved in a breeder loan usually work out an agreement (hopefully in advance) that is amicable to everyone involved. I have some pretty definite opinions on this so I think it’s time I sat down and laid it all out for everyone to contemplate. About 1/3 of you are going to agree with me. Another third will think that I’m just not that cool of a person and the final third will label me a money-hungry bastard. There is a modicum of truth in each conclusion. Let’s talk about it.
The idea behind breeder loans is “together everybody achieves more”. If I have an adult female pastel and you have an adult male spider we won’t produce anything but spiders and pastels by working alone. But together we can have a chance at producing Bumble Bees. This appears to be a compelling synergy; a win/win! On paper a lot of things look good. Plans nicely laid out on paper have a bad habit of being pummeled by reality, seldom working the way we intended.
There are things that need to be considered when contemplating a breeder loan. There are a lot of ‘what if’s’ that can happen and if they are not adequately vetted prior to entering into the arrangement things can get ugly, feelings hurt, egos bruised and friendships shattered. Breeder loans require you to consider many things. On the bottom of the list should be how cool the animals you are going to produce will look when added to your collection. Keeping your eyes on the prize is typically good advice but when it comes to a breeder loan you may find that a fixation on the end result will do more harm than good. Listed below are just a few of the things that need to be pondered.
Consideration #1: The values of the animals entering into the transaction versus the value derived from the union
What is the financial value of the parents entering the breeding arrangement? If I have an adult normal female (say, 3,000 grams) that is het for orange ghost and you have an adult male Ghost Mojave ball python, things are financially lopsided. Dividends paid on an investment are based on the number of shares owned (e.g. the more you put in, the more you get out). Because of this, dividing the clutch is not a matter of 50/50 division if the initial value of the animals is used to determine how the bounty (e.g. babies) are to be divided. Currently my adult female het ghost ball python is worth a small handful of hundreds while your adult Ghost Mojave is worth a few thousand dollars. In this example I will assign arbitrary values of $600 for the big adult het ghost female and $3,000 for the adult Ghost Mojave male. The total value of the parents is $3,600 which means that my female is a mere 16.6% of the total value. Using this as a single measure I should get 16.6% of the value of the production, you should get 83.4%. But which 16.6% am I entitled to (genetically speaking)? The genetics of this particular union can yield:
- Normals, 100% het ghost
- Orange ghosts
- Mojaves het ghost
- Ghost Mojaves
Producing ghost mojaves is obviously the most desirable result, with male ghost mojaves being arguably at the top of the list. If a single male ghost mojave is produced, who gets it? The 16.6% equity I have in this breeding arrangement isn’t going to cover it so I’ll need to pony up cash (or something else in trade) for the difference. And that is only after we agree that I get first crack at taking it. What happens when I really want it for my collection but you already have a client who is ready to pay you cash for a male? Well, that’s a problem. Who wins? Your desire to make money or my desire to upgrade my collection? The same situation is true regardless of the number of ghost mojave’s produced. To keep it equitable I won’t be able to walk away with a ghost mojave without going out of pocket. Using the values I assigned above I won’t be getting a male mojave het ghost either. The cash value simply isn’t there, especially if the clutch size is on the smaller side.
Because my 16.6% equity in the project isn’t substantial enough for me to get one of the higher-end animals (assuming any are actually produced), how does it benefit me to participate in the arrangement? In theory it doesn’t. Lopsided deals provide lopsided benefits. The end result of such a lopsided arrangement is that I am doing little more than helping you to better your collection and/or your bank account. Compared to the gains you stand to make neither my wallet nor my collection are going to get better. But the parties in the arrangement could be cooler about things. I have seen people split the clutch evenly, regardless of the value of the animals in the arrangement. In this circumstance friendship supersedes business and the party with the more valuable snake is freely giving money away to a friend. You can wordsmith it all you want but that is what is ultimately happening when someone splits a clutch down the middle. Deciding if that is worth it (or if it will pay itself back in the form of good-will in the future) is a personal matter that must be independently evaluated. I can’t offer you any advice on this angle other than to say I don’t do it.
Splitting clutches down the middle without considering the value of the animals involved is never going to go unnoticed by the person giving more than the other. I do not care what they say to your face, they are aware of the reality. If the total value of babies produced is $6,000 and I walk with $3,000 after only having contributed 16.6% of the investment you (the 83.4% shareholder) are not going to be able to forget it. You have essentially given me $2,004 out of your pocket. Have you ever just handed a friend that much cash for no particular reason? If you are running a business the answer should be no 100% of the time. The person giving more will expect something in the future. Trust me. It will manifest as a sense of entitlement or an expectation of future favors. One way or another they will expect to be “paid” at some point in the future. They may deny it and they may not even be conscious of it but it will eventually come back around.
Friendship and money do not go together. Entering into financial dealings with people you call friends is a sure-fire way to lose them as friends. I write from a position of experience. I ruined my relationship with a very good friend over debates about who gets how much of a combined reptile investment. In my business ventures outside the reptile world I have business partners with whom I am friendly, but we are not friends. We don’t hang out and we rarely socialise outside the office. We maintain a positive relationship because we do not burden our business dealings with an excess of friendship. The model works. People who are in business with their spouse may relate to what I am writing better than most. Seldom is tension greater in an office than when it occurs between two people who sleep in the same bed at night.
Consideration #2: Uh, Quarantine? …And re-introduction.
I treat every snake coming into my collection like it has mites and any other potentially bad things that we sometimes see. Translation: My “Welcome to the team” party is the snake getting Nix-ed and quarantined. It’s unlikely that any of us would knowingly enter into a breeding loan with someone who has mites in their collection. Knowingly sending your animal to a collection that has mites is just silly. Regardless of the opportunity for financial gain, you cannot do it. I know people who have done it, though. I also know people who have lied to the other party about the presence of mites in their collection. They told me it wasn’t a big deal because they would just treat the snake for mites before sending it back home again. Really? Seriously? People get shanked for less in prison.
More to my point: How do I bring your animal into my collection and quickly let it mingle with my breeding stock (or vice versa)? Unless I’m breaking my own quarantine rules, I can’t. Who am I kidding anyway? If the het ghost female is mine and the ghost mojave male is yours the animals will be in your collection, won’t they? That’s probably the most normal way breeder loans take place; the female goes out on loan, not the male. But the same problems are still there. How can you bring one of my animals into your collection and immediately let it be with your male? You male is going to be making the rounds through other girls in your group so if my animal has something bad your male becomes the vector for spreading it through your collection. Are you really ready to take that risk? Stop staring at the dollar signs you think you see at the end of the tunnel and focus on what I am writing. Is the fallout of something wrecking your collection really worth what you might gain from this breeder loan?
And how am I going to safely reintroduce my own animal back into my collection? If I stay true to my quarantine principles I’ll have to separate her just like any new animal. The logistics of doing it right and the consequences of doing it wrong are just too great for me. Being willing to loan out an animal and then have it come back again means you are likely to make exceptions to your own rules. As I write this my snake collection is 100% mite free and has been so for several years. The thought of having a mite come into my building is one of the most terrifying things I can think of. I’m not kidding. Having to treat a large snake collection for mites is a monumental undertaking. It is such a daunting task that it is far easier to never let a mite come into the collection in the first place. Meticulous tenacity and an unyielding focus on prevention is the only way to avoid it. Being lured by the prospect of getting a certain morph or financial gain is enough to make some us let our guard down.
You might not have a problem this year or next year but what about the year after that? The more often you have animals coming in or going out the more likely it is that something bad will be riding along with them. Sooner or later it is going to catch up to you.
Consideration #3: Paper, Cypress Mulch, Aspen? Does Bedding Really Make a Big Difference?
In my experience the type of bedding a ball python is raised on is not trivial. The transition from paper to mulch and then back to paper can produce an animal that refuses to eat for months. I have seen it several times. For example, a friend of mine who keeps his animals on paper had a ball python that ate well. The animal went out on breeder loan for about a year. While away the animal was kept on mulch (and fed just fine). When the animal was returned and put back on paper it would not eat. It did not eat for almost a year. The animal became part of my collection where it was once again placed on mulch. It ate 3 rats the first day it was back on mulch. It had been perfectly happy on paper but being on mulch did something to change the snake. I don’t have a word to define it, I just know it to be true.
What type of bedding will your animal be kept on while it is away? What impact will that have when the animal returns home. Maybe none. Maybe a lot of unexpected frustration. What good is a female who comes home from a breeder loan that won’t eat enough to get up to size for the following year? Whatever it is that you gained from the breeder loan may need to be enough to compensate you for this breeding season as well as the next if you have an animal come home with a feeding problem.
Consideration #4: Food & Feeding
Who pays to feed the animal while in another person’s care? Is that cost negligible? For some, yes. For others, no. If you have a snake for a year and it eats 40 rats @ $1.50/rat you are down $60. Not a large sum of money but in a business that has a nasty habit of nickel and diming people to death it’s the sound of yet another coin hitting the offering plate.
Snakes that cost $50 cost just to much to feed as snakes that are worth $5,000. This is a cost that should be evenly distributed between the parties.
Consideration #5: The Silent Investor and the Swoop-In
“It’s like it’s both of ours, we’ll just keep it at your house.” You feed it, you clean it, you keep it warm and make sure it is grows into a big snake so we can make baby snakes. After you do all the work I will take my cut. What’s my cut? We worked that out years ago. When you made the deal did you account for the time an effort required to take care of the animal during the last few years? If you are like many of us you didn’t put sufficient value on your time on the front-end. We seldom do. Taking care of snakes in the future is always worth less to you than the snakes you just took care of. Call it sentiment for life spent (life is a currency and the balance is always heading toward zero), call it a sense of value for efforts put forth. If you put years of time into raising a snake from a hatchling to a successful breeder you are going to be mentally more invested at the end than you were at the beginning. That sense of being vested is worth money in your mind. It is not likely to be worth money in the mind of your partner. He/She was outta’ sight, outta’ mind for the past several years and will do little else than swoop in to collect the return on their investment when the babies hatch. This is certain to leave a bad taste in your mouth.
Neither party can de-value the time invested by the person holding the animals, especially if the loan is going to be long-term.
Consideration #6: The Snake Got Sick. Worse Still, It Died.
A snake on breeder loan dies. Oh, dear. How do you handle this? Did you discuss it before you went into the arrangement? Once in a blue moon a snake will roll for no observable reason and with no warning. It’s rare but how much would it suck if it happened while a buddy’s snake was visiting your collection? All the wondering that will take place is sure to put a strain on the relationship. Was the animal not properly cared for? Is someone to blame? How about replacing the animal? Is there any expectation on that front?
Because it is rare it is likely to be dismissed on the front-end. Eyes once again too focused on the end result with no real attention being paid to the nasty little realities that creep in from time to time.
Last year I had a snake of my own develop a problem with one of its hemepenes. I immediately took the snake out of breeding rotation and sent it to the vet. I got it back six months later. Needless to say it missed the breeding season. My bill? It was well over $1,000. I talked with my vet at length about things I can do to diminish the likelihood of it happening again. There were no definitive answers; sometimes things just don’t go right. What would have happened if this was not my snake? What if it belonged to a fellow breeder and was with me on loan? His problem developed very early in the breeding season so none of the girls became gravid by his effort. Now we have no babies and more than a grand in vet bills. The snake was in my care so is it my responsibility? Or is it yours because the snake belongs to you? Perhaps we both should contribute to the bill. Should the contribution be evenly split? These are things to discuss before a breeder loan begins, not when the snake is already at the vet.
Despite not being thrilled about having to spend money on vet bills I must say that I am glad the problem was mine and mine alone. Having to try and sort things out with the owner of the snake would have made a bummer of a situation even worse. And yes, the snake is doing great now. He is cleared for action this coming season.
Consideration #7: Helping Another Herper Get A New Morph Makes One Less Customer For You
For me this is a business. Relationships with other breeders are nice but there are less financially strenuous ways to have friends. I could play softball or fantasy sports if I was just in this for the friendship. I hear World of Warcraft is a great way to have lots of friends and you never even have to take a shower or leave your house. So no, I didn’t get into the ball python business to make a lot of friends. It’s a nice fringe benefit, though. It is callous to say but friendships are secondary. Letting friendship entice you into entering into a breeder loan is going to make one less customer to whom you can sell your production. You just helped them get the morph that you could have charged money for! Wanna’ make it worse? Congratulations! You already did. You just helped them produce the same morph in as little as a year. This means they are now a direct source of competition for you to sell your animals in the future. Give it some serious thought: If everybody has all the same morphs because we help each other to get them through breeder loans who are you going to sell you animals to? The massive influx of people getting into the ball python breeding game? (<— That’s me being facetious.) Seriously, this is called the ‘ball python business’, not the ‘ball python co-op’.
A fellow breeder and friend regularly tries to chastise me on this topic. He is constantly trying to get me to breed my animals with his and when I refuse he tries to use our friendship as a weapon, suggesting that I should do this because we are friends. I tell him that I will not do it because we are friends. He thinks I’m rigid and missing the bigger picture; that this is about comradery more than money. Uh, no. Nope. Negative.
Consideration #8: Trust but Verify
It’s not cool to think about but what would happen if the person with whom you worked a breeder loan decided to lie to you about the results of the pairing? Unless you are there when the eggs are cut you have to rely upon the level of trust you have in your breeder loan partner. In general I think that most of us would not consider a breeder loan with someone who did not already have our complete trust. And it may be true that they are worthy of trust but go back to what I wrote a bit earlier. They may have just spent a year or more taking care of your animal and have developed a greater sense of their contribution to the arrangement. They may no lonber buy into the original terms. A sense of entitlement, financial stress or just plain greed may push them into a bad place; a place where they lie to you about the animals produced.
I hope it has never happened and I hope it never will …but c’mon, this is the reptile business. Some of the greatest people I have ever met are in this business and so are some of the most deceitful. If you decide to enter into a breeder loan be sure that your character judging skills are well polished.
I love being a ball python breeder. I find it personally fulfilling. Hatching a morph for the first time or, better still, hatching a morph that has never before been produced is such an incredibly rewarding experience. Those rewards come at a price, though. Animal husbandry is dirty, repetitive, expensive and monotonous. I spend multiple hours every day maintaining my ball python collection. By the time I finish it is time to begin again. The financial costs are impressive and money always seems to be flowing in the wrong direction. From feeder rodents to building supplies the annual costs of breeding are far from trivial. It takes multiple tens of thousands of dollars each year (each month for some breeders) just to break even. People don’t create money pits out of love. They do so with aspirations of a payday. For me, the breeder loan is the antithesis to my efforts to make a profit. Business is about balance, calculated risks and the rewards or failures that follow. The breeder loan is a case study in “risk versus reward”. Does it make sense to put so many things at risk? Friendship, other animals, your wallet; all are on the block when you decide to co-mingle collections. My analysis is that it is not worth it. My ball pythons will breed with my ball pythons and yours can breed with yours. Produce something cool and I’ll buy it from you.
East Coast Reptile Breeders
What a polarizing animal the python has become.
Within the portion of our country that is paying attention we are divided into two distinct groups. One one side we have reptile owners from every walk of life; blue collar, white collar, broke-as-a-joke and stinking rich. Some of these reptile owners have a single python while others have many and breed them for profit. And we have owners who fit everywhere in-between. Their levels of personal responsibility are as diverse as they are. I’m sure there are some who have no business owning a reptile. The overwhelming majority, however, are quite responsible. They respect their animals, take care of them and work to ensure that they don’t impose on the rights of others who are not as enthusiastic about snakes. And yes, many of them actually love their snakes in the way that the average person loves their dog or cat. No, pythons are not as affectionate and attentive as my Weimaraner (not by a long shot) but they do have personalities. Each snake is unique. And if you were to spend some time with them you would also come to realize that truth.
On the other side of this debate is a small, well-positioned group of misinformed individuals who are calling for a federal ban on pythons; not Burmese pythons …all pythons. Maybe. Nobody on this side seems to be python savvy enough to know that there are actually different kinds of pythons with the overwhelming majority of them being quite tiny compared to the sinister Burmese. I’m not entirely sure where they stand on other types of pythons and I don’t think they know either.
Eradicating the existence of pet pythons in America is such an easy thing to stand for, isn’t it? Pythons are huge, menacing, people-eating machines that are actively slithering north from Southern Florida toward the back yards of the Washington DC suburbs where they will stalk your pets and hunt your children! Well, that’s the way the media tells it, at least. The truth in this debate is not so newsworthy so the media (with the help of bad info from supposedly scientific organizations) is fabricating the truth to better their ratings. And why not? Ratings equal dollars. From what I gather chaos, revolution, murder, drug overdosing Kings of Pop, financial downturns, forest fires, celebrity clothing choices, car crashes and Burmese pythons are the things that sell newspapers and ad space. From the Discovery Channel and the History Channel to a few dozen newspaper columnists around the country and all the way up to Senator Bill Nelson, who is a living, breathing example of misinformation incarnate, people who know absolutely nothing about pythons are calling for their nationwide ban. Their numbers are small but, as I wrote earlier, they are well positioned in the media and are able amplify their noise. The original rallying cry was the establishment of a population of Burmese pythons in the Florida Everglades. An unfounded fear regarding their ability to migrate north has generated a small amount of hysteria and rather than taking the time to find the truth they have planted their flag and are trying to rally troops to support a ban. Senator Nelson has to support this ban in order to get money from the Humane Society of the United States so I can at least give him credit for being a true politician and supporting the voice with the fattest wallet. The newpaper boys and girls advocating a ban are just parroting things they heard someone else say. I seriously doubt they have any real opinion of their own. So I forgive them. They are puppets of the media juggernaut and know not what they do.
Two groups of people; one that understands pythons and is asking, “Really? Seriously?”, and one that seems to have gotten their undergrad degree in large constrictors by watching Ice Cube and Jennifer Lopez in 1997’s Anaconda. Their masters thesis was complete as the credits rolled on Samuel Jackson’s Snakes on a Plane. Armed with that level of education about the true nature of snakes they could have done themselves a favor by hiring Mr. Jackon as their spokesperson and could have used this as their slogan:
The call for a ban on pythons has no real merit. It is based on irrational fear and misinformation. And Senator Nelson embodied the desire to play on people’s fear when he unrolled a stretched out python skin during a Senate hearing in early July 2009. He wants to protect the Florida Everglades …or so he says. How does banning pythons in Seattle protect the Florida Everglades? The truth is that he wants special interest money from the HSUS and other organizations who want to ban the ownership of exotic animals. And the Burmese python is a great entry point; a way to get a better foothold on the banning process.
Just how many Burmese pythons are there in the Florida Everglades? I have heard numbers as low as a few thousand all the way up to multiple hundreds of thousands. People who don’t support a ban like the lower number while proponents of the ban like the big one. The real number: unknown.
How did Burmese pythons get into the Everglades? I do not doubt for a single second that at some point in the past some knucklehead released a snake into the wild that should not have been released. But it is not a verifiable fact that the current Everglades population comes from a released pet (as the media loves to suggest). Defenders of python freedom point to Hurricane Andrew as the culprit because it caused a massive release of non-native species into the Everglades. The truth is that nobody will ever know for sure. We would do a lot better pointing our attention at eliminating the Burmese python from the area rather than playing blame games. If you need volunteers to go down and collect them, call me. I’m in. I can also rally dozens, if not hundreds, of other snake enthusiasts who will agree that a mass collection effort will be a wonderful pastime.
I continue to be disappointed by the media’s propensity to hop on to the coat tails of the side of an argument that gets the most press. I understand why they do it but it still disappoints. It also diminishes my ability to trust everything else they say or print. If they so eloquently lie to the public about pythons how much truth is there in their reporting on fossil beds in Montana? And oh what a wonderful thing the Burmese pythons is shaping up to be. It’s a win-win for the media. They get to sell a lie that invokes fear and then clean up on the ad revenue sold because of increased readership/web traffic.