by Whit Gibbons

November 15, 2015

We were surrounded. Any direction would be toward a formidable foe. To our left were a dozen Gila monsters. We looked right to see a 4-foot monocled cobra staring at us, head held high and hood spread wide. Straight ahead? Maybe not. An enormous eastern diamondback rattlesnake gave a tail twitch, and we heard the buzzing begin. The only way out was to go back, right toward the Burmese python whose stretched-out body was 10 feet from nose to tail.

Oh, well. They were not going to let us pick up any of the others, so I said, "Come on, boys. Let's see if the lady will let you hold the python." I was with my three grandsons at a Repticon Reptile and Exotic Animal Convention.

According to its website at www.repticon.com: "Repticon has been bringing thousands of reptiles and exotic pets from the top breeders and educators to cities throughout the country" for more than a decade.

The driving force behind any animal show is commercial, the common theme for reptile events being "buy, sell and trade." And as with any profession, a few people are unscrupulous and greedy, viewing reptiles simply as a commodity. However, most individuals I know who have exhibits are involved for a more basic reason: they really like seeing, being around or keeping reptiles.

Some people love dogs; others can't live without cats or wonder what the world would be like if they didn't ride a horse every day. Well, some people are equally attracted to tricolored kingsnakes, tropical eyelash vipers or Mexican beaded lizards. Reptile enthusiasts should be accepted for their passion as much as dog, cat and horse owners should be for theirs.

But wait. Why should we be supportive of people raising and selling animals that can clearly harm you? Being constricted to death by an anaconda or envenomated by a Gaboon viper are all possible outcomes from purchases that could be made at the Repticon show we were at. All were there, ready for the taking if you had a credit card or a trade-worthy specimen.

True, some reptiles can be dangerous, even life-threatening, if you are careless, and of course accidents can happen. However, that's true for many endeavors. I have a friend who suffered a long illness from cat scratch fever, another who had rabies shots following a dog bite and still another who only recently put aside her crutches after a fall from a horse. Human injuries and deaths from mammal pets in the country each year far exceed those from pet reptiles.

Reptile shows can be highly educational. Opportunities exist for seeing various exotic, and even native, species up close. Every reptile show I have attended has been notably clean and odor free, a requirement imposed by the organizers and state health codes but also by the vendors themselves.

Any child or adult considering a pet snake, tortoise or lizard can learn how to keep and care for them at a reptile show.

The reptiles being sold as pets have been properly born and bred in captivity, which helps reduce the commercial collection of animals from the wild.

Like any amusement event, Repticons offer opportunities to temporarily disappoint children. By the time we left the exhibit, I had turned down requests from one grandson to take home a Nile monitor lizard that could reach a length of 6 feet. Another wanted a rear-fanged vine snake from Costa Rica.

I saw the other one looking wistfully at a baby Gila monster until my son spoiled all hope of having a fun pet when he said "call and ask your mom".

Fortunately, the three boys had been able to show off their weightlifting skills and have numerous photos taken while holding a very heavy python.

Disappointment at being unable to take it home was fleeting. Their memories of the unusual animals they were able to see and hold will last a lifetime.

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