Later this year someone is going to break into your house while you are sleeping. They are there to take things that do not belong to them; things you worked for, things you earned. Awakened by the noise they are making you confront them and are stunned to find that the thief is someone you had thought to be a friend. You toss him a loaded gun and scream, “Please don’t shoot me!” A few minutes later, as you lie bleeding on the floor, your precious possessions gone, you cry out, “I was always so nice to him. I can’t believe he shot me.” For reasons unknown it never computes that you put the gun in the thief’s hand. It was you that armed him with the weapon he used to wound you. Who did you vote for in the last congressional election? How about the last presidential election?
…and the things you’ll learn.
Way back in high school I took biology (we all did). We talked about Gregor Mendel and genetics. The girl who sat behind me was gorgeous. I spent most of my time talking to her rather than trying to learn about genetics. My eyes are not blue and discussing the fact that I am het for blue eyes was less interesting than her.
In college I took courses in biology, physiology, epidemiology, genetics, chemistry and biochemistry. None of it seemed like it would ever be relevant (to me) in the real world. I began with the mindset that I was there to ‘check a box’ (e.g. get a diploma). Pass the tests, move along; that was my initial perspective. By the time I graduated from college I knew I was wrong. I had become a reptile breeder (albeit a small one). The ball python jubilee was still almost a decade away so the more exciting genetics considerations at the time were the albino and anerythrystic genes (yes, I know there was other stuff going on, too). Much of the awesomeness we know today in the genetics of burmese pythons, reticulated pythons, ball pythons, blood pythons, boa constrictors, etc. was still a long way off.
After college I enrolled in graduate school courses. I wanted more information. I took graduate level courses in herpetology and genetics. By this time I had been breeding a variety of different snakes (colubrids, boas & pythons) for a few years. Technically, this makes me a herpetoculturist, not a herpetologist. While the difference in spelling is subtle, the meaning is not. So in my herpetology course I was an immediate outsider. My classmates were interested in counting differences in subcaudal scales on snakes obtained from the top and bottom of some far away mountain. I was interested in how to breed them. The course did not include a section on husbandry and breeding, which I understand but still missed. Strangely, herpetoculture and herpetology don’t mix like you might think. This particular group of herpetology students did not embrace the idea of breeding reptiles for profit. Capitalism and academia are often at odds with each other.
I am not suggesting that all my schooling made me a good reptile breeder. While it certainly didn’t hurt me I suggest it provided me slim to no advantage over most of my reptile breeding peers. Pretty much all of my friends who breed snakes arrived at this particular location (e.g. reptile breeder) via different paths. Some of us began as car mechanics while others were general contractors, stock brokers, longshoreman, pharmacologists and information technology professionals. And virtually all of them have as much usable knowledge about genetics as I do. That impresses me. It doesn’t take college or graduate courses to learn how to do any of this. It does, however, take motivation and a desire to learn. And it takes a lot of ‘doing’. The more I do this the better I get. Yeah, yeah, we all love reptiles but it’s the attachment of dollar signs that really gets a lot of us motivated to figure this stuff out. Visit any reptile forum and you will read everyday people talking about Punnett Squares, dihybrid crosses, genes, alleles and loci (locus) just as naturally as they talk about cooking with a microwave oven. It just goes to show the chinese proverb, “What I hear I forget, what I see I remember, what I do I understand” is as true today as it was 2,500 or so years ago when something like it was first written.
My whole point is this: We are a community that has become functional (if not proficient) in a field that until a few years ago was reserved for academics. The past 10-15 years in the reptile industry have been a whirlwind. We have become better at herpetoculture, breeding and genetics. Rather than having a bunch of snakes in glass aquariums we have applied science and capitalism to reptile husbandry. I’m glad to be part of that.
…And then there was H.R. 669. While not the first (or last) assault on our rights to own, breed, sell, trade and transport reptiles, I witnessed two things happen as a result of its introduction:
- We galvanized as a community in a way I honestly didn’t think possible. From the largest breeders to the guy with a single pet reptile I saw people get fired up and say, “What do you need me to do to help fight this?” People quickly became willing soldiers, ready to fight for their right to own reptiles. That impressed me. Using the Internet as our primary vehicle (forums, Twitter, email, web sites, etc.) we all worked to get the word out and get others motivated. The axe has not fallen on H.R. 669 but, to steal from a famous story, ‘Horton heard a Who’ by the time 4/23/09 came around.
- We got also got an unexpected education through this ordeal (not unlike the genetics education we have all received over the past 10 years). I met more than a few reptile people who got caught up on all the stuff they missed in high school about how our government runs. How many of you reptile fanatics out there now have a much better understanding of how things work in the House of Representatives? Maybe you didn’t put it all together but there are a lot of us who are much more acquainted with how the process works. And if H.R. 669 ever makes it out of the House we’re going to all get a lot smarter about how things work in the Senate. We’ve got to be educated, organized, and vigilant if we’re going to win this. People who used to say, “I don’t vote.”, are beginning to realize that their voice, when combined with others who share their beliefs, actually does count.
In one form or another, being in the reptile business is an education…
So today I get this email from a girl named Leigh Anne Serrano. This is how it reads:
Well, you’re email address says it all. Yes, this would absolutely impact you. But trying to mislead the public regarding this is absolute crap. OR maybe you haven’t actually read the whole document in it’s entirety, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. So, to help YOU become more informed, so that you don’t continue to misinform others, here is a section that I have cut and pasted directly from HR 669, just for you:
(f) Animals Owned Lawfully Prior to Prohibition of Importation- This Act and regulations issued under this Act shall not interfere with the ability of any person to possess an individual animal of any species if such individual animal was legally owned by the person before the risk assessment is begun pursuant to subsection (e)(3), even if such species is later prohibited from being imported under the regulations issued under this Act.
You know, you could look at it in a good way…..It could make the lives of the snakes already out there so much more valuable, and so much less likely to be dumped, abandoned, killed when no longer wanted. And if you really love those creatures, that will make you happy. All in all, what you or I or any of us want is irrelevant, the big guys do what they want (think bailout money, it was given….) I just hate propaganda filled with alarm tactics that are false. There are enough breeders, hobbiest, enthusiest out there that will side with you based on fact alone(this will shut you down) without resorting to circus ads. If you are proud of who you are and what you do, have some dignity.
Leigh Anne Serrano
So I’m thinking she’s one of the haters. I’m glad to have received her email because it illustrates a few important points. One, there are a lot of people out there who don’t want us to be able to own and breed our animals and two, they are confused. Here is my response to her:
Hi Leigh Anne,
I appreciate your email but I don’t like that you think that I’m misleading
people. I have read and re-read the proposed law and I am aware that I
will be allowed to continue to own the animals I have today. But it will
prohibit me from breeding them, selling them, trading them or transporting
them across state lines. This includes the animals I currently own; not
one’s I might import in the future. In fact, I don’t import at all. All
my animals are captive bred either by me or other breeders around the
country. This bill will eliminate the trade of captive bred animals, not
So no, the animals I have will not become more valuable. They will become
useless. The hundreds of thousands of dollars I have invested in my
business will be lost.
So, with respect, you do not have all the facts. It is you who are
confused. This is something that will devastate the pet trade but I am
suspecting that this is what you want.
If you would like to help Leigh Anne Serrano further understand what the passage of HR 669 will mean you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m sure she will appreciate the continued education that the reptile industry can drop on her.