PHOTOS BY SAM TAYLOR
Animal and reptile lovers alike had a haven to roam through this weekend.
The Florida International Reptile and Exotic Animal Show was held at the Florida State Fairgrounds and brought in breeders of rare animals from throughout the country.
An assortment of snakes, lizards, birds and small mammals were arranged for visitors, as well as other breeders, to admire. At each booth, representatives from each company provided an opportunity to educate others about their exotic animals. Most of the animals and supplies were for sale at wholesale prices, giving patrons a chance to purchase animals that may otherwise be too expensive.
The show also scheduled seminars to inform people of specialized reptiles and concerns. The seminars ranged in topic from venomous snakebites to the advantages of being involved in a reptile club to raising special snakes.
Although the bulk of the show was centered on reptiles, one organization brought animals such as wallabies, lemurs, a tiger, panthers and a sloth. The Vanishing Species Wildlife Organization provided a “Magic Vest Animal Show” with these animals and a chance to get a picture taken with an animal of choice.
When Camille and daughter Monica Bowers decided to get their picture taken with a baby leopard, neither was nervous being around the animal.
“It reminds me of a Siamese,” Camille Bowers said.
Vanishing Species is located on a 5-acre property in north Ft. Lauderdale and aids in the rescue and rehabilitation of wild animals. The group also attends functions such as birthday parties or charity meetings and puts on shows.
Lynn Franceschini, a volunteer for the organization, said transporting the animals to Tampa was a chore due to the amount of materials needed to accompany them, such as the trailers, food and special medication in case of an emergency. She also said it was important to make sure the animals weren?t stressed during the trip and at the show.
Vanishing Species also provided the animals for a petting zoo for children to feed and interact with mammals such as a pig, goats, llamas and ponies.
Franceschini said the animals that come into their care are often not wanted or cared for properly, or they have been confiscated.
“They don?t deserve to be in captivity,” she said. “They?ll always have a home with us unless we have a better home (for them).”
Although none of the animals from Vanishing Species were for sale, they were selling miniature stuffed animals for $2.
Many organizations focused on lizards and snakes and had an abundance of different colors and species of each.
Mikki Barr of B.A.R.R.S. traveled from Knoxville, Tenn., to sell and display her lizards, caging and gifts at the show. She said lizards, such as geckos, aren?t always as good of an idea for children as something like a dog would be.
“They?re usually not a good ?pet,?” Barr said. “They?re good to look at.”
Golden Gecko from Orlando had geckos of the same species ranging from $50 to more than $200. Mark Baldel, a breeder for the company, said the difference in price was due to breeding factors such as bright colors and the lack of spots in a lizard. He said the lower-priced geckos were similar to what would be found in the wild, while the more expensive ones were specially bred. All were born in captivity and none Golden Gecko was selling were an endangered species.
Baldel said he had sold close to 30 geckos by the end of Saturday.
“They?ve almost become like designer pets,” he said. “But you can handle them.”
But some breeders were displaying reptiles that couldn?t be handled or even purchased without a special permit. Jerry Motta from Exotic Reptiles and Cactus had alligators and crocodiles on sale for as little as $55. He said he had been breeding the reptiles for a living for 35 years and sells more than 2,000 alligator babies a year.
“They?re grown for their skin and meat,” Motta said.
Motta said alligators grow about three feet a year. After a certain length, they stop growing so rapidly, but they continue to grow for the rest of their lives. He said they normally live to be about 60 to 70 years old.
Motta also was selling the only Galapagos turtles in the building. Because they are so rare, one was priced at $3,750.Although many breeders came to sell their animals, others took advantage of the wholesale pricing. Mark and Carla Thomas of Angelic Animals Enterprises, Inc. in St. Petersburg bought an 11 1/2-foot, 65-pound Burmese Python for $275.
“She?s sweet,” Carla Thomas said. “She?s an absolutely beautiful color.”
Carla Thomas said they bought the snake both for a personal pet and to exhibit in educational programs they put on for children. The 4-year-old snake was not yet named, and Carla Thomas said the snake would probably be eating one 10-pound rabbit once a week.
Although most of the animals were for sale to the public, a few were limited to only those licensed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. All breeders are required to be licensed by this organization as well.