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Reptile Breeders at Home at All Animal Expo

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The All Animal Expo

in DuPage County draws hundreds of visitors twice every month. True to its name, the show features a variety of animals… but the marquee pets are “reptiles, reptiles, and more reptiles!” Many are bred by hobbyists who live in a subculture of their own. For Chicago Public Radio, Jessy Bradish reports on the world of amateur snake breeding.

Mark Petros  is a regular vendor at DuPage County's All Animal Expo. He's giving me a tour of his snake-breeding facility – in his basement.

PETROS: We are going into the facility where we keep them, we have a couple different rooms – one room with all the babies and the sub-adults, and then there's a separate room with the adults and we can see the incubators with the eggs that are cooking.

He takes me downstairs into a hot, humid room, where hundreds of ball pythons and corn snakes are stacked in shoebox-sized containers in ‘freedom-breeder' racks.

Petros started breeding seriously a few years ago, and sells about a quarter of his animals at the Expo.

PETROS: Nothing venomous, nothing big, nothing dangerous. Just animals that make colorful, nice pets for people.

Petros got into breeding because he enjoyed it - bt the same time, snakes can be big money.

Rare morphs, or snakes that don't have a normal appearance, are worth thousands of dollars.

Petros shows me a ‘super-blast', which is actually a triple-morph.

PETROS: it's a super pastel mixed with a pinstripe, it's a bright lemon-color with a faded opalescent lavender head and faint pinstripe markings across the head and a clear white belly. So this is a designer snake.

"Designer" snakes come from animals with genetic abnormalities, like albinoism.

These visual pets are often bred by hobbyists, and sold at animal fairs like the one in DuPage County.

At the All Animal Expo a few days later, dozens of these mom and pop businesses are selling a variety of reptiles, mammals, and paraphernalia. Snakes, turtles, lizards, iguanas, crickets, mice and birds are on display in the expo's two rooms.

At Mark Petros' table, another A father-son pair, Eric and Eric Navarro, are admiring some designer ball pythons.

PETROS: He says I'm like the devil over here tempting him with stuff – so that's lovely.
NAVARRO: I'm like a kid in a candy store – I want it all.

Eric's son shares his enthusiasm – he's already bought leopard geckos to start a breeding colony.

NAVARRO: It's probably one of my few passions, that I really love and it's just real fun for me. I just love coming here, love hanging out. Know a lot of the people here, so...

Some attendees have brought pets with them – others are shopping for crickets and mice to feed their pets.

John Bettis has picked up a few ‘rat pup' feeders for his African bull frogs, and some geckos for his son. He says animals are his life.

BETTIS: When I pass away some day anyone one that knew me they'll say pretty much John he was all about the animals.

Bettis says he used to breed some pretty big reptiles.

BETTIS: I was the guy if you're looking for big gator, big crocodile, giant retics or anacondas – all captive bred, handleable, you come see John.

Large reptiles can be a problem for owners – especially when they get too big to handle. Beth Randall directs Critter Camp Exotic Pet Sanctuary – a nonprofit that takes in rare pets that have been rescued or given up for adoption.

She says iguanas are almost impossible to place in new homes, because they only bond to one person.

RANDALL: And even if they're bonded to one person they tend to be very possessive and if that person's spouse or family members are around they will attack them sometimes.

At the same time, Randall says there's no hard rules about what does and doesn't make a good pet.

RANDALL: We know people who have pet tigers that have actually been rescued tigers and those are really happy tigers. But we know people who shouldn't have a goldfish, they're just not responsible enough, so it basically just depends on the people.

At the Animal Expo, John Bettis agrees pet owners need to take responsibility.

BETTIS: Like ma told me when I was little, 'You keep it clean you take care of it you keep what you want.' Be responsible pet owners! We have laws restricting a lot because too many people want to get things just to impress somebody or for the wrong reasons.

And what are the right reasons?

BETTIS: Well, you gotta love the animal, that's number one, and respect what it is, definitely not as a showpiece.

For Chicago Public Radio, I'm Jessy Bradish.

The All Animal Expo takes place this Saturday from 10 a.m. -3 p.m. in Wheaton, Illinois.

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