It’s early morning; I am standing in a parking structure above the city. There are colored concrete buildings festooned with their painted advertisements of bygone years surrounding me. The paint now faded and peeling away, falls silently into the vine like streets of Downtown San Diego California. There’s a secret below me, it’s a place where serpents and dragons carouse among giant millipedes, Basilisk, and Bird eating spiders. For some, this place might be a horror show.
There are names like Goliath Tarantulas, Ribbed Newts, Poison Frogs, and Sticky Tongue Farms. Fear not residents of San Diego, there is no need to call out the National Guard or the U.S. Army. We are not being invaded by irradiated monsters from a Ray Harryhausen movie. It’s a cold blooded paradise; the San Diego Reptile Show has once again come to the San Diego Concourse, the creatures mentioned above are all safely tucked away and packaged into cups and enclosures. Most of them; being offered for sale, to the thousand plus throng of people all trying to catch the first glimpse of their new favorite reptile, amphibian, or insect pet.
This mass of humans comes from all walks of life, business owners, CEO’s of major corporations, and even some that could potentially grace the pages of any Heavy Metal magazine on newsstands today. Each have their own reason(s) for coming to the show; some to pick up the newest color morph to enhance their personal breeding projects, while others are here to buy something new to add to their growing collection. One gentleman we met prior to the show, was there to further populate his current reptile room which was using more heat than necessary in a currently “85% empty reptile room.”
Contrary to the shows I’d become accustomed to over the years, this show had no special guest speakers to talk about their specific areas of expertise. The A-Listers of the reptile/herpetoculture industry were definitely in attendance, with the likes of Robert Applegate of Applegate Reptiles, Linda J Davison of Sticky Tongue Farms, Brittney Gougeon of Pacific Herpetoculture, and to my personal surprise and pleasure Philippe de Vosjoli of Advanced Visions, Inc. It would have been great to hear any of these folks speak on the topics currently concerning the reptile/herpetoculture industry as a whole, as there are plenty of issues and concerns that we are facing as a community.
Since none of them were speaking in an open forum setting, I took the opportunity to catch them between customers and made the initial contact necessary to schedule potential future interviews. Some vendors were willing to speak immediately about current events, expressing interest in answering questions about topics ranging from how the economy affected the industry from a breeders stand point, to the recent ban on some reptile species within the United States.
Matt Tsunoda of Rising Sun Reptiles said he might cut back on the number of breeding projects he was currently involved in after this year as a result of the failing economy. He would be following in the footsteps of Robert Applegate who has already streamlined his breeding projects which I saw the last time I had visited his breeding facility. Whether this took place due to economic decline or simply to concentrate on future projects I didn’t ask. The economy has definitely taken its toll on the reptile show, as there seemed to be fewer vendors in attendance than in past years. Some of the ones promised to be there on the shows website were not in attendance either.
While in attendance, Jim from Amazing Blue Reptiles reminded me it’s “the animal that suffers if you’re in this for the money.” This is of course echoed by any reputable breeder today. The sad fact is; even though this is a given in this type of industry there are still those who try. As for Jim he always liked reptiles as a kid, so when his son Victor wanted a reptile pet as a graduation gift in the 6th grade they decided on a Chameleon. 20 years later, Jim is still working a ‘regular’ job and somehow makes time to captive breed some of the most beautiful Chameleon species I saw at the show.
“My full time job allows me to spoil the animals.” Jim said.
He went on to say that the lure of money is always an issue when interested in breeding reptiles; people coming to the show see first hand, the amounts of money that can exchange hands, sometimes reaching into the thousands of dollars for a single reptile. Breeders who do this as a fulltime job tend to look for ways to cut corners and save money. On the subject of breeding, I asked Jim about the varying colors of the Chameleon species he was selling and how if they were all the same species still had such vivid differences in color.
He explained, the best way to think of Chameleon species is not so much as a locality difference but like a “different race” likening them to Humans which of course no matter where we come from in the world we are all Homo sapiens but there are a multitude of color differences. Jim also mentioned that they keep their “locality species pure” by only breeding the most intensely colored Chameleons, over time this leads to some truly amazing specimens of Chameleons. Amazing Blue Reptiles is a family operation based in the North County of San Diego, CA.
Elliot of SoCal Constrictors and I spoke of the recent ban on certain species of Boa in Florida. We agreed that the true issue of responsibility lies with the seller of the reptiles when it comes to providing the utmost information on the species. This is most likely what led to the abandonment of so many reptiles in the Southern state; now the topic of debate among reptile keepers and wildlife biologists. Dan Gorfain mentioned in an email exchange that there was a report of a group of volunteers being sent out to exterminate this new invasive species and they came up empty handed. Abandoning a reptile to the wild while in the short term may seem like a good idea, it isn’t by any means a solution to the animal becoming too large to handle or keep. Dan echoed this sentiment by saying “You’re not doing the snake or the business any good by releasing them.”
It is the duty of reptile breeders worldwide, to make sure that the customer is informed of exactly how to care for the species and how big it will eventually get. According to Elliot there are still those “Cash and Carry” breeders who are in this industry to make a quick buck that ruins the trade and the industry.
All in all, the show was a good one, there were many people in attendance both experts and novice alike and from all the smiling I saw I would recommend that if you have the chance you should attend the next one. There is also another reptile show put on by the same folks who did this one in August, the future show is in Pomona, CA. and in my experience is the larger of the two, I’m not sure as yet what to expect. If you have the time and the wallet allows for the gas to drive, I would recommend attending as there are not only a multitude of reptiles, amphibians, and insects to choose from, but there is a lot of information available from reputable breeders at the show who are more than willing to spend some time speaking about their specific species even if your not buying something.