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.
The next best way to build a great ball python collection is to buy babies from other breeders and raise them. Other people always have something you don’t and there are tons of animals out there just dying to fit perfectly into your collection. Bring your wallet (or purse, as the case may be) and be prepared to spend. Building a nice, high-end ball python collection is not for the financially feint of heart. Buying a baby pastel genetic stripe is definitely faster than taking the six or so years it would take you to make them from scratch for yourself. The premium you pay on such an impressive animal is, in part, compensation for the fact that the person from whom you are buying the animal has already paid the six-year price to produce it. That investment of time and the risks associated with it are worth money. And we all must pay for it. Now that you have this wonderful animal in your collection you are still stuck waiting for it to grow up. If you’re lucky you can get your male up to breeding size in less than a year. Females are going to take no less than 18 months, most likely 24-36 months before you’ll be able to do anything with them. Once again you have to hurry up and wait for your collection get to the next level.
Being patient sure is hard sometimes…
Don’t want to raise babies? Want a shorter path to being a baller in the ball python business? Simple enough: buy adults or subabults from someone. That shaves the time down to less than a year in many cases. Or does it? Before you drop cash on an adult ball python you need to seriously ask yourself why the person is selling it. There are many legit reasons, of course. But a huge number of ball python adults that get sold are animals that have problems of some sort. I’m not suggesting that they are sick, though. The problems I’m speaking of are more subtle. When you buy these adults you may be unknowingly paying someone else for their problem.
What are some of the legitimate reasons that adult ball pythons get sold?:
- The breeder is decreasing the size of his/her collection. This is often done because large collections are very expensive and very time consuming to maintain. Scaling back from 1,000 breeder females to 750 means that there are going to be 250 perfectly good girls coming into the marketplace. It is, however, almost an industry standard that these girls get dumped into the marketplace shortly after laying eggs. This means their weight is down greatly from its norm and if you don’t get them early enough in the season you are going to be hard pressed to get them to lay eggs again the following season. If someone sells you a 2,100 gram het pied female you might be thinking, “Sweet!”. But what you don’t know is that she weighed 3,000 grams 5 months ago, laid eggs a month ago and has only had 2 meals since laying. Females that were 3,000 grams last year aren’t often going to lay eggs the following year when you only get them back to 2,700 grams. The seller of the animal is not obligated to tell you this, of course. It would be nice if they did rather than letting you have unrealistic expectations for the coming season.
- The seller is having some sort of financial crisis/hardship. They don’t want to sell the animal but they need money for some imminent need. You can often get some nice animals this way. But keep in mind that when the going gets tough breeders aren’t going to go through their collection and pull out the best animals to sell. They are going to pull those that were not quite as good as the others. Maybe they are often reluctant feeders or have laid eggs each year for the past three years. The chances of going (laying eggs) four years in a row are lower than they are for going three years in a row, aren’t they? The first adults someone is going to sell are going to be the least cool their collection has to offer. Don’t get me wrong, though. This won’t always be bad. Selling the worst animals in an awesome collection may still mean that you are getting some exceptional creatures.
- The animals have been upgraded. I have an outstanding male spider het albino that I raised from a baby. He is a fantastic feeder, a great breeder and doesn’t have even the slightest head wobble that many spiders often have. He aggressively courts and breeds multiple females each year and has produced several albino spiders for me. I held back the first albino spiders males I produced, of course. They are now adults. Why do I need a spider het albino when I have multiples of the real deal? I don’t. So it’s time to offer him for sale, let him go to work for someone else. I’m not getting rid of a problem animal. Quite the contrary. He is a rockstar but my collection has moved on. These are nice animals to find when they come along.
- Proven hets are being replaced with the homozygous form. A breeder may have 50 adult albino het females. It makes sense to replace them with albino females (at the very least). Once the breeder has raised up the replacement albinos he/she will often look to sell the hets. He is managing the size of his collection to a consistent and stable size while increasing its genetic quality. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the albino het females; they were good enough to be the breeders for several years but now its time for them to move on to make room for a new crop of albino females. While these are good animals to add to you collection be sure to keep in mind that they are likely to only hit the market just after laying eggs (as discussed earlier).
- A breeder bought an entire collection from another breeder who is getting out of the hobby and they are liquidating it to make money or they are getting rid of the animals that they don’t want to add to their own collection. This happens a lot. Like many business ventures, many wanna-be breeders just don’t make it. A large number of people get big into reptile husbandry with dreams of an easy and large payday. And they are frequently ready to get out of the business in less than two years. Because of this, entire collections get bought and sold on a regular basis. I have purchased entire collections more than once. When I do it I usually have my eye on a few choice animals in the collection and sell off everything else at a profit. Doing so helps to offset the cost of the animals I want to keep. In many circumstances you reclaim all (or more) of you investment and still have the animals you wanted to keep. Having it work out this way is not a slam dunk, though. Collection flipping requires a little bit of skill and is logistically a lot of work. Not everybody is good at it. I’ve seen people get completely burned doing it. I have made my share of mistakes, too.
What about the illegitimate and hidden reasons many adult ball pythons get sold?
- The snake is a poor feeder. Maybe it only eats once per month. Better still, maybe it only eats mice. A 2,500 gram female ball python will need to eat mice like Pez in order to get them to a good weight for breeding. One medium rat can easily weigh as much as 6-8 adult mice. Not only is it a chore to feed that many food items it is also comparatively expensive. Eight mice will cost you about $4 on the low end. A single medium rat is more in the $1.75 range (depending on how you get supplied). Mouse feeders will more than double your food cost in addition to the time and energy spent. Heaven help you if you are buying your food items from a pet store.
- It prefers gerbils or African soft-furred mice. Just what you need; a snake on a special diet. Not only do gerbils and ASF mice tend to be quite a bit more expensive they are both notoriously more aggressive than typical lab rats (and mice). There is a stronger need to chaperone the feeding event when the predator is at increased risk of becoming the prey.
- She’s a 3,000 gram girl, nice and big. She has laid eggs two out of the last three years. Sound good, right? Problem is she only laid 4 eggs each year. Big girls who don’t lay lot of eggs get farmed out quick. They are genetically weak and have a low return on investment. The best decision is to move them out and replace them with new animals that produce larger clutches. It’s simple math on behalf of the breeder.
- A beautiful adult male comes up for sale. He appears to be a great shortcut to breeding success. The only problem is that he’s a crappy breeder. He shows absolutely no interest in females. I know several breeders who have gone through multiple males before they found one that was a good breeder. What happened to the seemingly gay males? They disappeared into the collection of some other aspiring breeder, of course. I can guarantee you that the ad listing them for sale didn’t read, “Beautiful Adult Male Pastel Lesser – Crappy Breeder”. How can you tell the difference between this male and the great breeder who is being replaced by a better animal? You can’t. The only thing you can do is trust the seller.
- It’s stolen. I’m always amazed how many ball pythons get stolen. They get stolen at trade shows and they get stolen right out of people’s collections. It happens with some regularity. I suppose there may be nothing physically wrong with the animal; you’re just getting it at the expense of someone else. You have no way of knowing this, of course. At trade shows where I am a vendor I am often offered animals for oddly low prices. I know what the animals sold for two years ago and now they are offering me what appears to be a healthy animal for a price that is way below what they would have paid for it and certainly less than it is currently worth. How can I not wonder about its origins? Wouldn’t you? If I buy it and post if for sale on-line am I going to get an email from someone telling me that the snake was stolen from them? That has never happened to me but it has happened to others. In an industry that is largely based on personal reputations I’d like to avoid ever being wrapped up in a situation like that.
The moral of the story is that there is no substitute for starting with babies, investing the time and earning good results with quality animals. The temptation to take the short path and buy adults is too much for speculative breeders to avoid. Unless you personally know the seller and have detailed and accurate knowledge about the origins of the animal you are doing little more than buying a scratcher lottery ticket when you decide to buy and adult ball python. You might win big. You may also get screwed and come to realize that you actually paid someone to take their problem off their hands. Fortunately, I think it’s true that you won’t lose the majority of the time. Most ball pythons are perfectly good animals. All I suggest is that you take the time to question and prod. Does the story being offered with the sale make sense? Can you handle the result of the animal not being a producer for you? If so, speculate your heart out. If not …buy babies and invest the time.
“Liberty, once seized, is seldom reclaimed.” -Mark Levin
Many reptiles owners who are concerned about HR2811 and S373 may not realize it but these bills are positioned almost 100% along party lines. Democrats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate are in favor of it. Republicans oppose it. Republicans do not oppose these bills because they love pythons. They oppose the bills because they seek to bypass normal processes that have been in place for a long number of years, a point USARK has been trying to make.
The fundamental nature of the Democratic party is to seize the liberty of individuals in order to provide for the perceived benefit of the masses. According to Democrats, the impacts on individuals are secondary to the needs of the many. The way that state-minded Democrats (state as in “statism”) endeavor to do this by taking steps to give government more and more control over the lives of individuals. Easy examples include Social Security, the current health care debacle and the huge ownership stake government has recently taken in both the automotive and financial services industry. Bailouts were given and control was taken to protect the masses. The result: a larger government with reach yet further into the lives of individuals.
Fellow snake owner, you are now poised to be on the receiving end of that same seizure of liberty so often employed by the Democratic party. They want to take away your right to own the snake of your choosing for the betterment of the masses. It is a decidedly Democrat thing to do. What makes it worse is that all of you know that the reasons offered for why your rights are about to be seized are not even based on facts.
Remember this the next time you go to the polls and have to choose Republican or Democrat. Many people in this country are single-issue voters. In our last round of elections many chose to vote Democrat solely because it wasn’t “voting for Bush”. The result of those elections are that we now have a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, a Democrat-controlled Senate and a Socialist, er, Democrat President. The Humane Society of the United States swooped into action as soon as that criteria was met (Democrats all-around). The result to the reptile community is the pain we are all feeling today. Never forget that.
P.S. – Mid-term elections are about a year away. If we can survive this round we can fix our problems (the reptile problem, that is) at the ballot box next year.
Note: I opened this up to discussion on the ball-pythons.net forum but they moved it to their “Quarantine Room” that is not visible to the general public. I guess it was more direct and to the point than what they like on their site. It’s their site, their call. Someone on that site suggested that I was unfairly trying to make this into a partisan issue. Uh, I’m not trying to make it a partisan issue, IT IS A PARTISAN ISSUE. This isn’t a secret. Pretty much across the board Democrats appear to be lined up to vote in favor of it and Republicans will oppose it. That is a fact and not a politically motivated attack on the democratic party. It is what it is.
- In June 2008 HR6311 was introduced by a Democrat. This bill had the same aims as HR669. Despite being introduced in a democrat-controlled House, HR6311 never even made it out of committee. Nobody fought too hard for (or against) this bill because George Bush was in office and he would have vetoed it.
- On January 26th, 2009, less than a week after Obama was sworn into office and the Democrat hat-trick was complete, HR669 was introduced by a Democrat. The reptile community had its first unified and loud reaction. The House sub-committee backed off in response.
- On June 10, 2009, HR2811 was introduced by a Democrat. This bill seeks to perform an end-around on the legislative process by adding large constrictors to the Lacey Act.
- On February 3, 2009, barely 2 weeks after Obama’s inaguration, S373 was introduced by a Democrat. This is the Senate version of HR2811. This bill also seeks to perform the same end-around on the legislative process by adding large constrictors to the Lacey Act.
There are two themes at work in the timeline above: 1) There have been repeated efforts to take away the rights of pet owners and 2) they have always been introduced by HSUS-sympathetic Democrats.
Congress is saying the the Burmese Python is a danger to public safety. But just how dangerous are they? Here is a little perspective to give you an idea on how likely it is that your burm is going to take you out.
- Odds of falling off a ladder and dying: 1 in 2.3 million. That works out to about 132 people every year in the United States.
- I’m not sure which one to criminalize; being short or putting things high up in the air. Perhaps both. Being found guilty of one or the other should be a misdemeanor but being guilty of both (short people putting things high up in the air) has to be a felony. The risk is too great. People must be saved from themselves and only government can do that. I have heard rumors that Congress will consider legislation that requires all ceilings to be no higher than 6 feet.
- Odds of being killed by a shark: 1 in 300 million. That’s just under 1 American every year.
- Considering the mass of humanity I see at the ocean front during the summer months its a surprise the more aren’t getting munched.
- Odds of dying when you roll out of bed while sleeping: 1 in 2 million. That works out to about 152 people every year.
- The lobby for the “Mattress on the Ground Mandate” is gaining momentum. The National Association of Bedside Step Stool Manufacturers is having a fit right now.
- Odds of a left-handed person being killed while using a right-handed tool: 1 in 4.4 million. 69 Americans are killed this way every year.
- Right-handed people should be ashamed of themselves for being in the majority and senselessly putting the lives of left-handed people at risk. I, for one, am going left!!! Left-handed, that is. The other “left” is just silly.
- Odds of being killed by a falling coconut: 1 in 250 million. That works out just under two people every year in the United States.
- Even the vengeful coconut tree can exact its revenge for being exploited by dessert menus all over this country. I fully support the coconut ban. Saving one life each year is worth giving up Mounds candy bars, don’t you think?
- Odds of drowning in your bathtub: 1 in 650 thousand. Brace yourself and hold your breath: 469 people per year die in the tub around this country.
- Odds of being killed in a carnival accident: 1 in 300 million. About one person/year.
- It appears that carnies and sharks are equally malevolent.
- Odds of being killed by a lightning strike: 1 in 10 million. That’s a whopping 30 people per year in the United States!
- Despite tireless efforts by Democrats they have yet to successfully legislate the weather. The amazingly psychotic Nancy Pelosi is reportedly furious that the weather won’t respond to her back-room dealings.
- Odds of being killed by a large constrictor: 1 in 584 million. That works out to less than 1/2 a person every year.
- Dare I comment?
A ream of paper, a photograph, a young child and a tanned snake skin …this is the sum total of all arguments provided by advocates of a ban on pythons. In a purely technical sense they are wholly and completely inadequate. But the adequacy of arguments is not a prerequisite for buy-in from the misinformed masses. Sound bites and sensationalized overstatements are more than sufficient to convict in the mind of a Congressman or Senator. It is, of course, true (in a purely legal sense) that you are not guilty until convicted. As is often the case, things that exist on paper and in principal struggle to manifest themselves in reality. The practical result of our legal process is not ‘innocent until proven guilty’. It is actually this: You are guilty because you are charged. The verdict is irrelevant in the long-term. If you don’t believe me ask anyone who was ever legitimately acquitted on charges of rape, murder or child pornography; they never get their lives back. An innocent man set free after mistakenly being accused of doing something horrible to a child is never, ever, going to have a job in a daycare center. Why? Because truth and reality do not matter in the long-term. “Perception, ” as I was told in my younger years, “is reality.” The subtle irony of using a sound-bite to reinforce my perspective on sound-bites does not elude me. History is remembered by most people as snapshots, impressions and feelings. The stronger the feeling, the stronger the memory is; the longer it remains. Whether the feelings were created by information with a basis in truth is less important than the emotions they elicit. The horror we all felt to hear that a child was killed by a python left a scorch in the minds of most Americans. None of the facts in the case are going to distract people from the initial shock of the claim. All the media had to do was say it and it was forever true in the hearts and minds of our neighbors.
A photo of an alligator exploding out of the belly of a Burmese python…
The militant congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Shultz epitomized the overuse of this fantastical photo during her rude questioning of USARK’s Andrew Wyatt at a Congressional hearing on H.R. 2811. In Congress it is generally frowned upon to say things like, “Talk to the hand. I ain’t tryin’ to hear it.” Her position as a congresswoman is supposed to constrain her outbursts so the best she could do was to repeatedly hold up the infamous picture to punctuate her close-minded tirade. As a representative of the rational people of her district in Florida she is completely invalid; a danger to anybody who endeavors to participate in a careful contemplation of facts.
A tanned snake skin unfurled by Senator Bill Nelson during a session in the Senate…
In July of 2009 Senator Bill Nelson unrolled the skin of a 16ft Burmese python to a round of oooh’s, aaah’s and gasps from those in attendance. The Senator did not precede his dramatic presentation by saying, “This skin is almost twice as long as the animal that used to own it. Tanned skins are always significantly longer than the original animal.” Why would he need to say such things? Everybody know this, right? For him to diminish the dramatic effect of such a gesture would have been presumptuous about the intellect of his audience. Leave people to draw their own conclusions; it’s better that way. Now is a good time for me to point out that I am often being facetious when I write.
A child killed by a Burmese python…
The logistics of this tragedy have experienced Burmese python keepers around the country scratching their heads. People who keep large snakes are well aware of how they behave and the description of the wounds and the manner of the attack are so incredibly contrary to the actual behavior of these animals that every Burmese python keeper I know is saying, “It just dosen’t make sense. Burms don’t do that.” Maybe it’s wishful thinking on behalf of snake owners (myself included); we don’t want it to be true. But the confusion remains; the way this snakes is alleged to have killed this child is as unusual as the event itself. But guess what? None of my pondering matters. The Burmese python has been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion. Facts are not relevant. It won’t matter if the police come out tomorrow and say that the boyfriend accidentally killed the child and then staged the scene to make it look like the snake did it. The child is dead and the python has been assigned blame. The result is simple: large constrictors are now in the category of things that are a “threat to human safety”.
A ream of paper in the form of a report from the USGS…
Several men of science have come out in opposition of this piece of literature and it appears that they are being written off as reptile-loving quacks. This particular writing of mine is not the forum for me to offer a contradiction to the USGS’ slanted report. You know what matters about this report? It is thick. Very thick. 300 pages, give or take. I am confident it has been printed and placed in a 3-ring binder by many congressional staffers. How many have actually read it? Very few, I’m sure. How many have read it and then sought professional advice as to the validity of its content? Fewer still. It’s 300 pages, after all, and there are more pressing matters in the country. Heck, I haven’t even read every word of it. This is the reason for the so-called Executive Summary. Distill this content into something small, please. Twenty pages? No, still too big. Senators and Congressmen are busy people. Let’s get this down to something smaller. A few sound bites would be nice. Perhaps a picture or two. It’s odd, …I just read a similar distillation of Sleeping Beauty to my daughter tonight as she went to bed. In ten lavishly illustrated pages the entire story of Aurora was told and at no point was an admission made that many relevant facts were being omitted. I am left to wonder if members of the House and Senate are aware that they are being read bedtime stories …stories re-written by special interest groups (HSUS and Nature Conservancy) that are full of canned and baseless drama. But the best stories are the ones that have a villian and an innocent child, are they not? Fairy tales. But the python is not a beautiful princess. No prince is riding to its aid. This time Maleficent may actually win…
Am I a prone to making irrational statements and wild accusations? Maybe. Should I be accused of being clouded by bias, unable or unwilling to separate fact from fiction; the way the world is versus the way I want it to be? Perhaps. Are my words worthy of making you contemplate your perspectives? You probably don’t know me well enough to say for sure. I might be a loon or maybe I’m one of the most lucid people you’ll ever know.
After almost forty years on this planet I have long since learned that nobody likes a zealot. Zealots are tantamount to crazy people. People on the extreme end of any particular topic are typically discounted, written off. It’s not too different from the way some teachers grade papers in college. She grades on a curve and starts by throwing out the highest and lowest scores to determine the scale upon which everyone else will be measured. If you are on the fringe you don’t count. Too far right or too far left and your contribution is relegated to babble. In order to be taken seriously, to be listened to, you have to temper your passion. You cannot let emotion sway your judgment or the presentation of your ideas. Don’t get me wrong, it’s OK to be a zealot but you have to keep it a secret. If you don’t and you get outed and people detect that you have an extreme position they will turn you off, block you out and dismiss the things you say.
Because some organizations are heavily infested with zealots they have spent most of their political capital. Their ability to sway larger portions of the population are all but lost. They have who they have but who they have isn’t anyone they would not have had in the first place. Converts are few and opponents are many. Think about outfits like PETA, the ACLU, NORML, the NRA and GLAAD. Do you expect anybody from any of those groups to say anything that will surprise you? Probably not. There is nothing moderate about them. They are almost always too far to one extreme, unable and unwilling to listen, learn and perhaps most important, be modified. You see, zealots don’t want to be swayed. They like what they believe and taking the time to understand, truly understand, what the other side says means they will be open to a new idea. Being open to a new idea means you are open to changing the one’s you already have. That is too dangerous a proposition for a zealot.
I don’t want to be a zealot. I’d rather not be written off. I write these words because I want them to be pondered. I would like to sway your opinion to be more closely aligned with mine. My words may not ultimately convince but I need them to give you pause; a moment when you are open to ideas that may differ from your own. That’s my window, my opportunity.
Despite my conscious desire to want to avoid behaving like a zealot I sometimes get careless and say or write things that firmly plant me out on the edge, the place where crazy people hang out. I am, after all, a zealot in hiding. Sometimes I let my guard down and go rolling through crazy town, frothing at the mouth, wearing mascara, eating handfuls of dog food and screaming obscenities at nuns and small children. Well, maybe it’s not that bad …I hope. For example, a few days ago I was talking to my accountant about the proposed ban on pythons. As we talked I explained how animal rights groups were behind the legislation and how it was their aim to end the ownership of exotic animals in the United States. My accountant was with me, nodding. Seeing that I had an agreeable audience I began to rant. Like Sly Stallone in Over The Top I flipped my hat around, kicked it up a notch and drove straight into crazy land. My passion for the topic got the best of me and I stepped up on my proverbial soap-box and began to explain to my accountant how it wasn’t just exotics like pythons that the Humane Society of the United States wants to ban. I proclaimed, “The Humane Society of the United States wants to eliminate the rights of all Americans to be able to have a pet dog or cat, too! They want to completely end pet ownership of any kind and have a systematic, multi-year plan in play to make it happen!”
… Whoops! Wait! Hold up. Party foul! That, my friends, was the wrong thing to say. In the eyes of my accountant I could see very plainly that I had just crossed over into crazy-town (he actually rolled his eyes at me). By transforming into a zealot I had crapped out, spent my capital and completely lost my audience. Just moments before I had been a credible voice, full of insight, logic and reason. I was educating a fellow pet owner about the fear-based lies being spread by the HSUS about pythons in America. And just a sentence or two later, I was being discounted as a zealot. Damn, that was quick.
My failure to prove my larger point with my accountant sticks with me. I often reflect on the conversation and where I went wrong. My accountant has no interest in pythons and could ultimately care less what happens to them. He helps me add up how much money I lose breeding them year after year but that’s about it. He does, however, have a dog. The thought that an organization like the HSUS is actually plotting to take away his right to own a dog is just too far of a stretch. He would tell me that banning dogs and cats was impossible. I might as well have started talking about alien abduction, parallel universes where evil Captain Kirk is real (an celibate), and how the Girl Scouts killed Jimmy Hoffa. You know, stuff crazy people say. In his world I went there. Proposing that dogs and cats were on the chopping block was too far a stretch.
So rather than writing something as far-fetched as what I said to my accountant, let me instead offer an end-around. I cannot come right out and tell the average person that the HSUS wants to ban the ownership of all pets in the United States. The idea is …crazy; something only an irrational zealot would say. So, for the moment, let’s say that it is not true. I don’t think it and I don’t think you should either. All better now? Knowing that our dogs and cats are safe we are free to ponder the following interesting pieces of information.
- In our society it is generally accepted that things produced on a small scale are inherently better than things produced on a large scale. Homemade apple pie is always better than apple pie made in a large-scale baking facility. Despite the similarity in the ingredients the homemade apple pie is better because it is given personal attention and made with love. Large juggernaut operations, focused only on profit, can only make products inferior to those produced in Momma’s kitchen. The corollary to the point above is that things produced on a large scale are somehow intrinsically bad. They are not of the same quality as things made on a small scale. For instance, if you choose to buy a purebred dog you are going to get a better quality one if you buy from a smaller scale breeder. Their animals are better. Better cared for, better quality, better, better, better. Really? Maybe. Maybe not.
- The devil often masquerades as an angel. In the movie The Usual Suspects Kevin Spacey’s character says, “The greatest lie the devil ever told was to convince the world he didn’t exist.” During the masquerade the devil is kind, helpful, and gracious. He speaks in compelling half-truths that sound quite genuine. He gives you truth 90% of the time. With so much truth floating about it is effortless for you the buy into the other 10% (the lie). If you need additional perspective I recommend reading the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.
- There is a famous cautionary anecdote that suggests that a frog placed into hot water will immediately jump out but a frog placed in cool water will sit still as the temperature is gradually raised to a boil. Even though it is not true it can serve as a warning that if you are complacent you will find that your rights and freedoms can be taken away slowly, in seemingly painless pieces until the day you turn around and say, “Heeeyyyy?!?! What happened to all my rights?”
- In July 2009 the governor of Tennessee signed a “commercial breeder” bill for dogs and cats that requires any individual/business with more than 20 female animals to be licensed (and pay an annual fee) in the state. The real kicker is that the law also limits the total number of animals that any breeder can have to 75. Breeders who maintain larger populations are persecuted by the media (sometimes justifiably so) as being inhumane “puppy mills”. I have never seen the media report on a great breeding facility. They only report on the bad ones. Well-run, clean breeding facilities are not newsworthy and the media is happy to let us, the zombified public, infer that all large dog breeding operations are abusive and inhumane puppy mills (Juggernaut-brand apple pies). The reaction of Tennessee dog breeders to this new legislation has been to A) move out of the state, B) reduce the number of breeding females to under 20 so they can avoid having to the pay fees and endure inspections or C) limit the size of their business to 75 animals. It is worthy to note that the HSUS was behind this bill and that they “partnered” with kennel clubs in Tennessee to craft the legislation. The HSUS convinced them that legislation was imminent and that it would be better for them to draft legislation of their own rather than having it come from somewhere else. I can’t seem to get the image of harakiri out of my head right now. Not sure why I’m thinking about that…
I see a few things that will come true because of this “commercial breeder” law:
- Haters of so-called puppy mills will celebrate because facilities with fewer animals are more likely to receive better care. That’s true, isn’t it? Smaller is better, right? Homemade apple pie versus Juggernaut-brand pies…
- Fans of the idea that there is a pet overpopulation problem will cheer because breeders will not be able to produce as many dogs, meaning more people may choose to adopt from shelters.
- There will be fewer pure-bred dogs produced. Owning one will become more difficult as the supply within the state decreases.
- Purebred dogs will become more expensive as breeders pass the additional costs on to their customers. They will also increase their prices to compensate for the reduced production capacity (evil commercial dog breeders have mortgages, too).
With the law now in effect in Tennessee it appears that efforts are being made (backed by HSUS) to again lower the maximum number of animals a breeder can keep. HSUS’ top three skills are litigation, lobbying and legislation. With no real adversary on the battlefield it is likely they will be successful. When successful I can speculate that many breeders will get out of the dog breeding business. They will not be able to produce enough animals to make a living. This will further decrease the number of purebred dogs available which will cause animals rights activists to celebrate even more. And of course prices on purebred dogs will continue to rise as availability continues to decline.
The decrease in availability will be partially compensated for by individuals choosing to breed the family dog. The “backyard breeder” will breed his purebred dog and offer them into the marketplace. These dogs are [supposedly] better. They are produced by the smallest of the small breeders. What could be better than a breeding operation consisting of only two dogs? These puppies are homemade apple pie.
Enter mandatory spay/neuter laws. There are several areas around the United States that require you to spay/neuter your dogs and cats. If you choose not to you must pay an annual fine. Oops, I meant to write ‘annual fee’. Not wanting yet another recurring bill many people will choose to spay/neuter their pets. In many areas of the country this can even be done for free (or close to it). We spay our animals because we love them, because it saves us money and because we are sometimes told that it is better for the long-term health of the animal. All three of these things are true. We also spay them because the HSUS says there is a pet overpopulation problem in America. Let me take a moment to remind you about the level of truth the devils tells while masquerading. Did you just swallow some lie with all of that truth?
Here is the question I want to ask you: If Tennessee is stage one of a planned national assault on the size of commercial dog breeders and spay/neuter laws continue to gain momentum, where is your next pet dog going to come from? Legislation forcing dog breeders to be smaller in size will mean that there are fewer dog breeders and less production. Mandatory spay/neuter laws mean you and your neighbors will not be able to breed your dogs to make more. Fewer and fewer dogs will be available. Is it possible that owning a dog will become unusual, perhaps limited to the more financially affluent portions of the population? You see, the HSUS doesn’t have to introduce legislation that will ban the ownership of dogs in this country (we already established that doing so would be crazy); they can achieve the same result by gradually eliminating the ability produce them! The future inability to own a pet dog is the collateral damage. The HSUS is way too smart to go head-to-head with dog ownership. It will be far easier for them to take away little pieces here and there. Think about it. Thanks to the wonderful picture painted by the media most Americans applaud the idea of smaller commercial dog breeders. The truth we are being sold is that the animals will be treated more humanely. We are also buying mandatory spay/neuter laws for the reasons I mentioned earlier. Masquerade!!! By buying the supposed humane treatment of animals could you actually be buying the inability to own one in the future? Give it some thought.
I believe that the Humane Society of the United States is the single biggest threat to the rights of pet owners we will ever encounter. Their attacks on the outskirts of the the pet owning population are overt, brazen and direct. They want to flat out ban the ownership of pythons and boas. Such a seemingly small portion of the population is not worthy of tip-toeing around. We, the snake owners of America, are not large enough nor organized enough to have a voice that a Senator, who sits atop a pedestal constructed with HSUS money, can hear. Dog and cat owners, which number in the multiple millions are too large a voice to treat with such disregard. Dog and cat owners dwarf the HSUS many times over. They are wise not to wake a sleeping giant.
The only way the pet owning community in America is ever going to be safe against the cleverness and resilience of the Humane Society of the United States is to join together as a collective unit. Specialized associations are nice but cannot mount a fight that will equal that of the HSUS. We need (and have) an association of pet owners that are represented by one collective lobby; an organization that represents the millions of pet owners from one platform. That is an organization that can be powerful enough to take on the Humane Society. Divided, we fail. Reptile associations. Fail. Bird associations. Fail. Dog breeder associations. Fail. Fish keeper associations. Fail. Everybody joining a National Pet Association? That’s power!
Under the banner of humane treatment the HSUS is running amok all around this country. They have got to be laughing at how easy their job is.
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
A dog, a cat, a bird, a ferret, a fish, a snake, a frog or a spider. Each is a pet to someone. Each is loved in a way that is special to its owner. Some are not quite your fancy while another is perfect for you.
Across the United States more than 65 million of us choose to have a pet and I respect the rights of every single one of them to responsibly do so. I myself have never owned or wanted to own a spider but I completely understand the affection and awe that arachnid lovers have for their creatures. Nobody is likely to argue that they are as affectionate as a dog, but you know what? They don’t have to be in order to be a pet. Being a pet owner is not always about companionship. It is about many other things. Things like personal responsibility, a sense of wonder, a deeper understanding of and a connection with nature, and a sense of pride for the way you care for your animal. All of those are valid reasons for pet ownership.
Millions of Americans own spiders. Millions more own reptiles or birds. Multiple millions more have a dog or a cat. I have never questioned the choice of pet that an individual makes. Your choice to be a responsible pet owner is good enough for me. The family that chooses a dog as their family pet is just as correct as the couple who has a pet python or the little girl who has a pet hamster.
Being a pet owner is a common bond shared by multiple millions of responsible Americans. It is unlikely that I will ever own a spider or a ferret or a bird but I will absolutely defend the rights of other Americans to do so. For their own misguided reasons there are people out there who think they need to inflict their peronal preferences on you and me. They choose not to own pets of a particular persuasion and feel that nobody else should either. There is something inherintly audacious and conceited in that perspective and it disappoints me. They trumpet their cause under the banner of “humane treatment”, “protecting the environment” or “public safety” but the reality is that they want the world to be as they see it. They don’t accept that a diverse group of people make diverse choices in pets. Their desire to force-feed us their view of the world pushes me toward anger. What is even more disappointing is their saavy ability to abuse the political processes in our country to push closer to their desired end.
Around this country pet ownership is under attack. It is happening at the local, state and federal level. The rights of dog breeders have been crushed in Tennessee and the rights of reptile owners are in jeopardy in Florida and nationally. I’m sure that bird owners and breeders are under attack somewhere right now and I don’t even know about it. Pet owners, because of their diversity have had a historical lack of cohesion. Within small groups (usually by choice of animal) we fight against those who want to take away our rights. But the small size of each group diminishes our voice. The enemies of pet ownership know this and have been using it against us for a long time. When the day comes that we start to look at one another as “pet owners” and not bird owners, snake owners, dog owners or cat owners we will become a much more powerful voice against those who are working to limit or eliminate our pet owning rights. The combined voices of the Humane Society of the United States, PETA and all the other organizations seeking to limit or end the rights of pet owners are a mere whimper when compared to the power of a collective voice of all pet owners in America. Think about it.
If humans are the custodians of this planet then keeping pets is a link to that greater responsibility. Pet ownership is an attachment to nature and a doorway to a lifetime of learning for many young Americans. We (as in ALL pet owners) must all work collectively to protect that right.
The reptile community has been suckered. We are falling for a very clever ruse and it is happening at this very moment.
What trick, you say? S373 and HR2811, of course. The clever nature of the trickery behind these bills has caused the reptile community to lose its perspective and react in a most unexpected way. We are now working for the other side. We are unintentionally supporting a ban. Allow me to explain.
Both S373 and HR2811 propose to add the entire genus PYTHON to the injurious species list of the current Lacey Act. If passed this will ban the importation of AND interstate transport of all pythons. This will effectively end the trade in every species of python there is. This is, of course, a horrifying proposition to python lovers everywhere. At first I laughed at the silliness of it and shook my head at how uneducated the people were who penned such legislation. But as I continued to think about it I came to realise that it may actually be brilliant wording on their part. It’s brilliance lies their anticipation of our reaction. As a community we have played directly into the hands of those who wish ban the ownership of exotic animals. And leading the packed on being tricked is one of our most active voices, the United States Association of Reptile Keepers, USARK.
In my opinion USARK has officially thrown the Burmese Python under the proverbial bus. I have long feared it would one day happen but did not expect it to come so soon. On July 25th, 2009 USARK actively solicited the reptile community to contact members of the House Judiciary Committee to amend the wording of HR2811 to specifically address Burmese pythons rather than the entire python genera. In doing so they have become unintentional participants in the initiative to ban large constrictors in the United States. And I suggest that this is partially what the authors of S373 and HR2811 wanted to happen. I believe these bills are INTENTIONALLY vague (by using only the term ‘python’) in order to get us to say, “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Don’t ban all pythons! Just ban Burmse pythons! “ Wait. Did we, the reptile community, really just say that? Yeah, we did.
The last I heard USARK’s position was that they did not support legislation that was not based on a legitimate scientific analysis of the ability of the Burmese python to expand beyond the Florida Everglades. Has such evidence surfaced? No, it has not. But their position appears to have changed. USARK wants to be the voice of the reptile community and they appear to be suggesting that we offer up the Burmese python as a sacrifice to protect all the other pythons.
Please don’t take my words to think that I am coming down on USARK as a whole. I do not intend to do so. I firmly believe that USARK has, at its foundations, nothing but the absolute best intentions for the reptile community. They are a group of people who have stood up to fill a void; a voice to represent reptile owners throughout the United States. But I do not agree with their reaction to this particular issue. And part of me thinks that they, like the rest of us, have been tricked into a position that supports the desired result of those who wish to ban the ownership of exotic animals. We have played into their hands. Just a few short months ago we were all screaming, “No. You may not ban pythons without scientific evidence to support their ability to be invasive beyond the Florida Everglades.” Now, in a tiny amount of time, we seem to have changed our voice to say, “Please, please, please! Just ban Burmese pythons.” The only way we could have changed our tune so quickly is if we were tricked into doing so. And tricked we have been.
If you are going to make a call on Monday to a member of the House Judiciary Committee regarding the wording of HR2811 (as the USARK suggests) you need to make a choice about what you are going to say. Are you going to advocate a change in the wording that says it’s OK to ban the Burmese python or are you going to tell them that the Lacey Act should not be amended until proof can be found that pythons are a national problem rather than just an isolated problem in the south of Florida?
And by the way, there is already a bill floating around that will fund efforts to hunt Burmese pythons in the Everglades (as well as multiple dozens of other non-native creatures that get no publicity). If Burmese pythons cannot expand beyond the Everglades and we are going to hunt them down and remove them, why do we need a law banning them throughout the entire United States? In short, we don’t.
Once the exotic animal banning gates are open we cannot close them. More and more reptiles and other exotics will find themselves legally unavailable for ownership.
P.S. – Where are the big shipping companies? Delta (via Delta Dash), FedEx and UPS all stand to lose a considerable amount of money if these bans are actually put into effect. They should want to lobby on behalf of the responsible reptile owning community and ensure the future of a large revenue stream.
Final note: It is not lost on me that USARK’s position may be one of minimization. They may be taking a precautionary stance by seeking to amend the wording to minimize damage if the unthinkable should happen. But even if that is true it doesn’t change the fact that there has been a shift in tone toward a willingness to let Burmese python ownership become a thing of the past.
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.
Why do you do this? By ‘this’ I mean breed reptiles, of course. Is it a hobby? Do you do it for a living? Somewhere in-between? If you aren’t doing so already, do you aspire to one day breed snakes for a living?
Regardless of where you are in the reptile husbandry game, do you have a plan? Does it look a little like this?:
- Buy snakes
- Breed snakes
- Sell snakes
- Count crazy amounts of cash
What is the last snake you bought? Why did you buy it? Was it a smart buy or did you buy it on impulse? Did it fit into any current breeding project? How about the snake before that one? Did you buy it because of its price or because of what it was? How many times have you let your reptile purchases guide the direction of your reptile collection? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t your collection guide your purchases? Shouldn’t you have a plan; an honest-to-goodness business plan?
I’m not good at rationalizing things. I am flat-out awesome at it! In the game of rationalization, I’m a rockstar! When I set my mind to it I have yet to come across something I couldn’t talk myself into. My decisions are good. The are solid and they are just. I have rationalized my way into many, many snake purchases, each of them a brilliant, strategic and soon-to-be-profitable decision. With a punnet square, an Excel spreadsheet and available credit I can design a plan for world domination and financial nirvana within a matter of minutes. On paper I am well on my way to living the dream.
The reality? I have lived in the same house and driven the same truck for the past eleven years. Neither are impressive (but I’m not complaining). Year after year I’m a year away from making good money. More than once I have run up to the precipice of profitability, stared longingly and lovingly at it, and then turned and walked back down the trail. By my definitions I am not yet successful. Some people who know me would argue otherwise. If three years ago I had the reptile collection I have today I would have said that I am very successful. But today I want the collection I will have three years from now. I just can’t seem to get my reptile collection and my timeline to sync up. I wonder if it’s because I don’t really have a plan any better than the one above. Who am I kidding? Step #4 doesn’t exist for me. After step #3 I jump straight back to #1. That’s me: buy, breed, sell. Repeat. Snake rich, cash poor.
Because ball pythons are so diverse there is an underlying and [perhaps] unconscious drive to have all of them. Your collection must have pastels, spiders, pinstripes, black pastels, albinos, mojaves, clowns, piebalds, ghosts, lessers, butters, yellow bellys, fires, axanthics and cinnamons. Right? But that’s just to start. With all the ingedients you can make all of the magic! But is that really the most profitable way to go about it? Maybe for some. I’m not sure it’s right for all of us, though. I think you need to explore your motivations before you buy any more critters.
Why do you breed ball pythons? You probably fall into one or more of these categories:
- For the love. Making money isn’t that important to you. You just like to breed snakes. You love the whole process and derive joy from successful husbandry.
- If this is you, congratulations! Your desires are pure. Please collect your group of normal ball pythons and make your way to the back of the room. From there you can listen at a distance, safe from getting any of my capitalism on you.
- To be the first to produce a new morph, to be a recognizable name. A pioneer in the ever-emerging ball python genetics/morph game.
- Bring your wallet. You will need it. If your wallet is mighty and equipped with sufficient stamina, we will all one day know your name.
- Fame in the ball python world is real but small. While I know the names of the big breeders, my parents do not. Nor do my friends and neighbors. Being a big name breeder makes you look cool in only the smallest of circles. Keep your ego in check when you get there.
- To produce a diverse and eclectic array of ball python morphs while making a profit.
- While the profit part may be elusive these days I suspect that many of us fall into this category. As your collection expands it becomes more diverse.
- To produce the animals that will make you the most profit, regardless of how you feel about them.
- You are a pure capitalist. Whatever sells is what you are selling. Some may call you a heartless, money-hungry bastard. Me? I admire your motivations and envy your lack of personal attachment.
- Some other motivation. There may be some other category into which you fall so put yourself here if that’s true.
So who among this list is in the worst position? It’s the people who want to ‘produce a diverse and eclectic array of ball python morphs while making a profit’. Why? Your motivations are at odds with each other. A diverse ball python collection of 100 animals (or 50, or 25, whatever) will allow you to produce a good number of morphs. It’s exciting and cool when you open the cages and see all the colors and patterns. But stop for a moment and really think about what’s happening with your collection. For ease of discussion I will talk about Clown Ball Pythons. Clowns are not cheap but they are within reach of many breeders. The most common gateway into breeding clowns is to buy a male clown and some female het clowns. So let’s say you buy 1.2 (one male, two females). Chances are good that you buy them as babies. In about 2-3 years you will have raised your females and are now producing clown babies for the first time. What are you going to do when they come out of the egg? Sell them? Really? Don’t you remember what you just went through to produce these? You just spent almost 3 years of your life raising these things up and now, there they are: baby clown ball pythons produced by YOU!!! If you sell them you still only have your breeders. How are you going to grow AND refine your ball python collection if you sell them? You gotta’ keep some. And as soon as you decide to do that, you’re screwed. The cycle has you. But if you do sell them you’ll still only be producing a few clowns the following year (you are breeding het females after all). You will never get any bigger and your collection will never get any better than it is today. That’s the rub. Keep your production and you’re screwed. Sell your production and you’re screwed. Neither is the end of the world but neither is getting you to the world you worked up on your Excel spreadsheet a few years earlier, either. What to do?
I know it’s easy to write this and not have to talk about the money behind it but if you are going to breed clowns, BREED CLOWNS. Don’t buy 1.2 clowns and 1.2 albinos and 1.2 ghosts and 1.2 mojaves and 1.2 spiders. Buy 2.8 clowns instead. No, it’s not as exciting but when you do produce clowns you are more likely to produce a bunch of them. When you have 25 clown babies to sell it is A LOT easier to sell them without emotion AND keep a few back to raise up. When you are only producing a few clowns you often can’t bear to part with them. Because they are few they are precious to you; a cherished commodity. And they are the source of your problems.
So into your business plan you need to integrate VOLUME when it comes to a particular morph. Resist the desire to expand both size and diversity. If you are expanding the size of your collection do it with a morph you already have. Don’t add new morphs to the collection until you have a sufficiently large production capacity with one of your other morphs.
This philosophy holds true when you start producing multiple-gene animals. How are you ever going to bring yourself to sell that silver streak when you only produced one of them? If you want to produce silver streaks, go all in. Produce them by the dozens. Two black pewter males and a slew of pastel females is a very affordable project (relatively speaking, of course). Don’t even get me started on white snakes. I’m sick of hearing people refer to them as being “just another white snake”. You know the one thing that is always 100% true of white snakes? They sell like you wouldn’t believe.
If you continue to insist on building a diverse collection of animals without focusing on building a larger production capacity for specific morphs then you are acknowledging that making money is secondary to your love of ball python diversity. And that’s a tough thing to realize about yourself; what is more important?
In summary, if making money in this business is important to you: Have a plan. Produce any particluar morph in sufficient quantity that you can sell them and keep some without being conflicted. Focus less on diversity, more on quantity.