Through out the years I have been fortunate to meet and work with many aspiring individuals within the herpetoculture industry. Some have succeeded and become fabulous herpetoculturists. I would like to time from time introduce some of these people to you. If you have any questions or comments please forward them to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Many of you may all ready know Steve Marks. The bushy rusty harried guy at the expo that is always running around and speaking to anyone about herps. Be it a first time reptile owner or a long-term herper Steve has the ability and the knowledge to speak to them. Steve is a firm believer that working with young herpers will eventually benefit the hobby. Steve now residing north of Barrie is an avid outdoor herper. He is working diligently on a spotted turtle project in which he implemented and is personally along with some close colleagues following through with. With the hope of possibly saving a small population of these turtles. Steve now heads up the Ontario Herpetological Society as president and front man. Many a nights he is answering email and phone calls related to this club that is once again enjoying a growth spurt thanks to his efforts. Steve was one of the few people that were instrumental in the writing of the new Toronto By-law a few years back. Here is an interview I had with Steve not to long along. I hope you enjoy.
GC-How long have you been keeping and working with herps? What was your first introduction to herps?
SM-I actually used to be terrified of snakes. It took a teacher to instill in me the notion that my perceptions were unfounded. Then it took over a year of effort to get over my silly fear. Visits to the zoo, reading dozens of books, and then one day, finally getting the courage up to touch a live snake - a ball python in a pet shop, all lead me to become somewhat obsessed with herps. I bought my first herp, a young Columbian boa constrictor in 1985.
GC-As a newbie in herpetoculture what advice can you offer me that will help me in obtaining knowledge and experience with various species of reptiles?
SM-I was lucky. I met people through the Ontario Herp Society that shared information with me that they had learned from experience. They were the "elders" if you will... These wonderful people taught me a common sense approach to herps. Approach these people that have been in the hobby a while. Use their methods that have been proven to lead to good results, and you shall have good results. Don't try to re-invent things! Listen to those with experience.
GC-You are a great native herp watcher are there any Ontario species that has eluded you personally?
SM-Only the blue racer has eluded me thus far - and that was only for a weekend, as that was all I spent on Pelee Island, the only place they occur. Members of our party stayed an extra day and found three! The eastern hognose had eluded me for over 15 years, but this spring, I found one with David Smith, an excellent young herper. I had only found DOR animals before (and since I might add).
GC-Who were your mentors in herpetoculture and why?
SM-I had several. They each taught me different things. I guess the most important one to me was Tom Huff. He taught me to be passionate about teaching our youth to respect wildlife. He didn't really even have to teach me - his passion simply rubbed off on me. His passion for herps and herpers rubbed off too. Other mentors include (at the risk of forgetting someone, and in no particular order) Tom Mason, Karel Fortyn, Shaun Waite, Grant Ankenman, Rich Preston, Blue Enright, Mike Burger, Allen Hunter, Shaun Thompson, Carl McCleary, Fuzz Friend, Bry Loyst, and Theresa Morin.
GC-What was your most memorable memory/experience herp related?
SM-I couldn't possibly pick just one! Finding a dusky pygmy rattlesnake in northern Florida ranks right up there! Holding a tuatara does too! Breeding gray banded kingsnakes and actually getting the babies to eat! Breeding Cerastes cerastes (pretty proud of that one!) Finding my first massasauga in the wild, and the first neonate too. Watching a pair of ringneck snakes mate under a shingle!
GC-6.Where do you see herpetoculture in five years and fifteen years from now?
SM-It's definitely going through some growing pains, but nothing it hasn't been through before. Canadian herpetoculture continues to grow. History teaches us that when people realize they can't make a living from breeding herps, the money oriented breeders drop out. This leaves the real herpers behind to enjoy the hobby for what it is, a hobby. An avocation. A passion.
GC-What reptile related associations do you presently work with?
SM-I'm still President of the Ontario Herpetological Society (for better or worse!) I am also consulted on Municipal Laws a great deal, and that is done under the umbrella of the Ontario Exotic Pet Council in conjunction with the OHS. Also I work closely with the MNR and Ontario Parks on a number of projects, not the least of which is a spotted turtle census, which I run as a volunteer project.
GC-8.What is your favourite herp that you have kept in the past and what in general has been your Xmas wish list herp you have always wanted to encounter or work with?
SM-My favourite three herps (again - can't pick just one!) have always been the green tree python, African horned viper, and gila monster. I've had the privilege of working with all three. However there is one species that I have worked with on a temporary basis that I would love to have and breed -Osteolaemus tetraspis, the African Dwarf Crocodile - definitely a Christmas wish species! Right now, I just donít have the facility.
GC-What is your top five list of reptiles that could be kept as pets for the general public?
SM-1. Leopard gecko -- (ease of maintenance, tractability, fascinating little animals!)
2. Bearded dragon -- (see above, but with larger habitat requirements)
3. Corn snake -- I donít usually recommend snakes to kids, but for someone who is responsible enough to ensure it wonít escape, this is definitely the best choice. The joy of keeping corn snakes never leaves a real herper!
4. Box turtle -- (I canít wait to successfully breed mine!)
5. Tiger salamander -- I love amphibians too. These guys make great pets for someone who is willing to learn how to care for them (it doesnít take much!!)
GC-What would be your dream profession related to herps and why?
SM-Every herpers dream is to open a zoo. Bry Loyst is doing it and making it work. Many, many others have tried and failed. I would fail. I enjoy what Iím good at, and what Iím best at is teaching. I have taught hundreds of thousands of people over the years to tolerate our herps just a little more than they did before. Iíve helped hundreds of people get over the very same fears I had as a teen. That is what I enjoy the best, along with teaching young herpers how to look after their animals properly. I guess one might think Iím nuts Ė but Iíd rather not do these things for a living! If I ever started feeling these wonderful experiences were like work, Iíd have lost the enjoyment I get from them. I never want to get to that point, so I continue to earn my living at a regular job, and continue to be a herper for the reasons I should be doing it Ė because I love it!!!
GC-Your last word?
SM-Donít get hung up on breeding for money Ė Iíve watched that take too many people out of this hobby! Enjoy these wonderful animals for the love of them!!!