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I started keeping reptiles in 1990. The area I am from (Western NC), is not known for its large herping community, and there were far fewer 19 years ago.
I started with the standard fare, an adult Ball python, which I still have today. I quickly added other herps, not giving much thought to where I was going with it. A year later I hatched my first clutch of eggs, rough green snake eggs laid from a wild caught female. If I was not hooked prior to that event, I was now.
I developed a passion for breeding reptiles. Nothing I have done, short of witnessing the birth of my son, gives me the feeling of watching eggs pip. All this, properly focused, could possibly result in an enterprising breeding business, but I have grown to dislike the entire business end of the hobby. Money has been the single biggest negative influence on the herping community. At the same time however, the money has been the driving force responsible for giving us many of the species and morphs we have available today. It doesn’t make me like it any more though.
I have over the last few years found myself slipping into the realm of the commercial side of the hobby, a fact that has bothered me more the longer I have remained there, and a situation I am now beginning to correct. I'm not casting judgement on anyone else or their motovations, but playing the morph games, and breeding for the dollar just aren't for me.
My collection is my collection first, breeding is secondary and more of an added bonus. I have kept a great many species over the years, and bred many of them, but have failed to achieve the level of focus I have been trying to attain. For this reason, my collection remains widely varied, covering the spectrum from tortoises, to ackies, with a lot of snakes in between.
While I have been able to get out of amphibians and nearly all insectivores, and have managed to greatly reduce the number of colubrid species I have, I still have a fairly broad collection. I will continue to seek focus, and one day hope to be able to work with just a few species at a time.
My regular job is working in a mine. Some people, mostly teenagers whose life experiences and opinions are completely derived from television and popular media, and apparently live in a world where mining, oil drilling, and logging are nothing more than unnecessary exploitation of natural resources, feel it necessary to inform me that by my occupation I am raping the environment. For these people, let me interject at this point before you show your ignorance by means of threatening email. If I didn’t do what I do, you wouldn’t be reading this page in the first place, you wouldn’t have a computer, a TV, or any of the other microchipped gadgets you probably think you couldn’t live without. We have a saying, “If it can’t be grown, it has to be mined.” So think twice before firing off any self-righteous emails telling me I’m destroying the planet.
I’ve been married about 3 years shy of eternity haha, since 1991 to be specific, and have a 16 year old son, who was fairly impressed in his earlier years with the wonders of nature he was fortunate enough to grow up with. Being the only kid in school who had been snake bitten, watched lizards hatch, and had lived with more reptiles than you’d see at most zoos, made him quite popular. When he was younger, he also managed to keep show and tell fairly interesting.
His experiences have not always been appreciated however. For instance, when in kindergarten he corrected his teacher who made the statement that the anaconda was the longest snake in the world. He informed her that the retic was actually the longest, and she proceeded to argue the point. She conceded when he had her look it up, but still wasn’t thankful for the instruction from a 5 year old.
He kept snakes himself for a while and the 2002 breeding season brought his first successful breeding of his cornsnakes at 9 years old.
As he's grown up though, his interests have turned to many other things, and the snakes are just part of the household menagerie. The constantly hectic life of the modern teenager has mostly eclipsed his interest in reptiles for the time being.
My wife takes living in a zoo in stride, and tolerates my obsessions to great lengths. Earlier in our marriage, before the acquisition of a house that included a herp room, we lived in a single wide trailer and shared our bedroom with 50 snakes in addition to the other cold-blooded inhabitants of the rest of the house, bringing the total to around 80 at one point. While she is not an active participant in the day to day care of the herps, she helps when needed, and supports me fully. I do feel sorry for those unfortunate herpers that find themselves with a less understanding woman. When it comes down to it, the bulk of the female population is not willing to dig through the frozen rats in the freezer to get to the french fries.
I have many friends in this hobby, some of which have been keeping herps longer than I’ve been alive. Aside from the animals themselves, it’s these people who are the real reward in this hobby. Herpers are like no other group of people. The ones who truly love the animals and not the money, or the status of having the latest morph, are the people I enjoy being with. Unfortunatly, these people are becoming a rare commodity.
I was talking to a wise herper friend of mine once. We were discussing what we enjoyed about the hobby, and our aspirations. I made the statement I would like to reproduce blackheaded pythons one day, and said something to the effect of “that would be my ultimate achievement.” He responded by saying that would not be the ultimate achievement, but rather the reproduction of some obscure thread snake from the Bahamas would be.
That was the dawning of my perception, and that one statement forever changed the way I looked at herping. I understood what he was saying, and the revelation was nearly spiritual. It’s about the animals, the knowledge, and the understanding of the reptiles we are fortunate enough to share our existence with. It’s not about the status you hold with other herpers, or the money that can be made. It’s about appreciating these fascinating creatures on the most basic level. Once you reach the point that you can watch a green anole stalking a cricket with the same wonder and appreciation that you have when you look at a piebald ball python, a radiated tortoise, or a kimberly rock monitor, you have reached the pinnacle of herpetological achievement.
For those just entering the hobby, I encourage you to seek these qualities. Don’t get caught up in the reptile business, buying and selling, always trying to get the latest morph. Enjoy the animals. Sit and watch them, learn from them, and maybe you can one day give back to this hobby something which is much more important than a new burmese python morph….knowledge.
©2002 Clay Davenport
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