Handle With Care.

•May 8, 2010 • Leave a Comment


Repetition is the mother of all skill, and handling reptiles skilfully is no exception.  All reptiles in captivity will require some degree of interaction for feeding, cleaning and other husbandry needs. Tony Jones explains how this can be done safely without harm to you or your animals.

Pet Species

We should aim to make every interaction with our reptiles as stress free as possible and there are various methods by which this can be achieved.  Whilst all interaction can be said to be stressful to the reptile to some degree, this article will outline ways to minimise this stress and ensure both you and your animal remain safe and unharmed.  Some reptiles are more tolerant of handling than others.  Common pet reptiles such as Corn Snakes, Bearded Dragons, Leopard Geckos and the like will tolerate handling easily without displaying any stress related behaviour.  Stress behaviour can manifest itself in several different ways; all aggressive behaviour such as biting, tail whipping and clawing is a sign of stress and should be understood as such.  Similarly, stressed reptiles will often defecate, wriggle out of your hand and/or make a getaway and are usually a sign of stress or fear.

Even the friendliest reptiles should be handled considerately.  A roughly handled lizard such as a Leopard Gecko can shake off its tail, leaving it wriggling on the ground for the (supposed) predator to feast on.  Whilst tail-dropping is a naturally occurring defence mechanism for many species of lizard, the process is not benign as regeneration is a metabolically costly process.  Whilst Leopard Geckos will tolerate direct handling, care should be taken to avoid restricting their movement or grasping them to avoid this problem.

Hints and Tips

Some species of lizard such as Day Geckos and Wonder Geckos have delicate skin which tears very easily.  Although it is not quite as fragile, the skin of these geckos is often likened to the delicacy of wet toilet tissue and so direct handling is not recommended unless absolutely necessary.  Species with a reputation as enthusiastic biters, such as Tokay Geckos and Cuban Anoles, are obviously difficult to handle too.  When capture is necessary, a cricket tub or large plastic sandwich box can be placed over the lizard before gently sliding the lid underneath, making moving the animal infinitely less stressful.  This is also a good technique to use when sexing any small lizard – viewing the ventral surface through the clear base of a tub is preferable to grasping and restricting the lizard upside down in your hand.

Larger lizards can be more of a problem should they take exception to being handled.  Whilst a Bosc Monitor will usually behave perfectly when their owner picks them up, other Monitor Lizards and even some Iguanas can take painful exception. Bites, tail whips and clawed hands and arms will soon indicate their displeasure and the method of handling you choose should be adopted on a case by case basis.

Lizards displaying mild or sporadic stress behaviour can be moved quickly and safely by an owner wearing gauntlets – swiftly grasping the lizard from above at shoulders and hip can neutralise the claws, allowing the keeper to hold their legs behind them.  My personal glove choice is the welding gauntlet as these are large enough and thick enough to deter most claws and bites.  Beware of leather gardening gloves as these often have flimsy fabric on the back of the hand which is no defence at all.  And always watch out for the tail whip!

A much better option for handling all stressed reptiles is to utilise a trap box, although this method is more time consuming.  The lizard can be persuaded to enter the box which is then locked shut, allowing the keeper to remove them with minimum stress and maximum safety.  This method is also effective with aggressive snakes of any size and is my preferred method if sufficient time is available.

Restrictive Handling

Although often necessary, restrictive handling should be the last option for any interaction.  In addition to skin tears, tail dropping and the obvious risk of harm to the handler, forcible restrictive handling can easily cause harm to the reptile.  Bruising caused when grasping a reptile too tightly can be harmful and sometimes fatal and only the most experienced handlers will judge the balance between their own safety and that of the animal.  Grasping aggressive snakes behind the head is another common handling technique that is considered a risky manoeuvre for novice keepers to try.  In addition to the near perfect timing required for the manoeuvre, the delicate joints of the vertebrae and skull are easily damaged should the snake’s thrashing attempts to escape not be managed effectively and considerately.  Restrictive handling requires much practice to master effectively and this is not easily (or safely) acquired – there is not usually any room for mistakes to be made during the learning process.  It is recommended that novice keepers refrain from restrictive handling and the supervision of an accomplished tutor should be sought by anyone wishing to master the technique.

It is usually preferable to adopt other, safer handling methods which negate the need to employ restrictive handling procedures.  Venomous snake handling equipment and techniques are enormously useful in achieving this aim and are employed by many professional herpers working with difficult species.  Hooks, grabs and trap-hide boxes are effective when simply moving the animal from one place to another, whilst tubes are enormously useful when inspection at close quarters is necessary.

Conditioned Feeding Response

Most reptile bites are inflicted by small pet species upon novice handlers.  Whilst these defensive, stress induced bites are unpleasant they rarely cause significant injuries given the fact that this type of bite is usually followed by an immediate release.  A greater risk is posed by feeding response bites, particularly when inflicted by a larger species snakes.   Feeding response bites represent a much greater risk and it is important to understand both how and why these occur and to employ husbandry processes to negate them.

Conditioned feeding responses occur when captive reptiles associate activity near their enclosure with subsequent feeding opportunities.  It is particularly common and particularly dangerous in large constricting snakes when handling is infrequent due to their size.  The pattern that is formed when feeding time is the most frequent activity the snake experiences and therefore begins to associate the opening of their tank with dinner time.  The instinctive strike-bite reflex that is conditioned by this pattern will make simple husbandry tasks (such as cleaning and water change) unduly risky and potentially dangerous.

Feeding response bites appear to involve a more habitual and mechanical behavioural process.  Once a snake has instigated the feeding process and a bite is secured, releasing the ‘prey’ is not part of the normal series of events.  The snake will usually throw several body coils around the ‘prey’ and any movement will encourage further constriction.  The inclination to release will require the snake to break the strong behavioural feeding pattern, realising that that this is not a feeding opportunity.  Feeding response bites are usually prolonged experiences with extra damage being caused by the constriction process.  Attempts to remove the bite body part (usually the hand or arm) from the mouth forcibly will inflict further damage due largely to the inward pointing teeth possessed by most boid species.   Tears inflicted by teeth as flesh is pulled out of the snake’s mouth can cause significant damage and the possibility of damage to blood vessels should not be underestimated.  Therefore, non-release feeding response bites, and particularly those involving constriction are difficult to disengage without further damage.  There are several supposedly effective methods for securing a quick release from a non-release bite, most usually that the snake should be held under cold water.  However, no single method has been proven to be universally effective and most python experts recommend that the bitten party awaits release patiently if at all possible, assuming the bite and constriction are not life threatening.

The best method for avoiding conditioned feeding response bites is to avoid the conditioning in the first place.  There are several means by which this can be achieved, most notably by never feeding the snake inside its vivarium and never entering the vivarium smelling like food.  Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling snake food, otherwise you hand will simply resemble a strange looking rat to your snake, and will be considered fair game.

Other tips include frequently handling the snake, ensuring that interaction is not associated solely with feeding opportunities.  Most boid keepers will also alert the snake to their presence with a hook or other implement, so as to assure the snake that it is not feeding time.  A shield, such as a dustbin lid is a useful tool with a dual purpose.  Not only can it be used to deflect strikes from startled or hungry bois, but more usually it is an effective means of alerting snakes to the keeper’s presence.   Shields are most useful when maintaining large collections of boids as it is not always possible to avoid installing conditioned feeding responses in these applications.


This article aims to promote safe and stress free handling for both the keeper and the kept, and whilst some of the advice addresses potentially dangerous situations it is important we appreciate the context.  Captive reptiles have been kept in the UK for around 200 years and there has never been a recorded case of death or serious injury.  Accidents can and do happen, but managing the variables outlined in this article will certainly help to preserve the flawless record of UK reptile keepers.

Box Outs

  • Snakes prefer to have their ventral surface in contact with the ground.  Supporting as much of the snake as possible will make them more comfortable and less likely to bite.
  • Most lizards will release their bite if you put their feet on the ground and allow them to run away.
  • Some snakes have saliva with anticoagulant properties.  This means you will bleed for a surprisingly long time if bitten.  Others, such as False Water Cobras and Hognose snakes have toxic saliva which can cause painful swellings and possible allergic anaphylactic shock.
  • When handling large boids, always ensure there is another person present in case of emergency.  Constriction and asphyxiation can occur within minutes.
  • Adult male Iguanas will sometimes attack their female keepers when the woman is menstruating.
  • Reptile training is a recent husbandry development, pioneered by zoo collections in the U.S.  Several species of crocodilian have been trained to obey simple commands to enhance the safety of keepers, motivated by small food rewards, crocs have been trained to come when called, retreat and even to stand behind a line given specific command cues.
  • Practical Reptile Keeper issue XXX features the Federation of British Herptoculturists guide to keeping large boids and contains information of safe and effective husbandry processes.  Back copies are available from XXXX

Published – Practical Reptile Keeping Feb 2010


The ‘Pearl Owls’ of Hungary.

•March 4, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Hungarian Pearl Owl - Tyto alba gutatta

When is a Barn Owl not a Barn Owl?  Tony Jones travelled to Hungary to find out.

Precariously balanced on an ancient oak beam, I steal a glance towards the ground, some 30 metres below. The nest box seems to be getting heavier by the second and the wind is whistling unnervingly around the bell tower, heightening my sense of vulnerability and exposure. All I can think is: “Don’t fall… don’t fall… don’t fall… for goodness sake… don’t fall!”

I’m half way through a six week placement with the Barn Owl Foundation of Hungary, working alongside three other conservation trainees and volunteers from Ambios, a Devon based organisation which places trainees and volunteers with conservation projects around the world. Under the watchful eye of Akos, the Foundation’s Director, our goal is to support his crusade to save the European Barn Owl.  Although my conservation experience is predominantly reptile orientated, I couldn’t resist this opportunity to broaden my horizons.

So, at the sharp end of this conservation crusade, you find me 30 metres above the ground, placing Barn Owl nesting boxes into church bell towers. I have never thought of conservation initiatives as such an adrenaline rush!

Barn Owls in Hungary are not the same as Barn Owls in Britain; in fact, they are not even called Barn Owls. European Barn Owls are a different sub species to the British variety and have a Hungarian common name that translates as Pearl Owl. Although closely related, the two sub species differ in several ways. Most obvious is the difference in plumage, as the European owls generally lack the striking white frontage displayed by their British cousins. There are several differences in their natural history, too.

The reason I’m in a bell tower is simple. For centuries church towers have been a haven for birds, usually pigeons, Jackdaws and Kestrels, but Barn Owls too will often choose a corner of a tower as a nesting site. Before the invention of barns and bell towers, Barn Owls would utilise the hollow chambers inside old dead trees as nest sites. Modern woodland management methods where old trees are routinely felled forced the owls to substitute with barns and towers.

The early 80s saw the Barn Owl population in Hungary fall sharply following the introduction of automated bell ringing systems to many churches. Unfortunately these automated systems were very delicate and broke down easily under a bombardment of pigeon droppings. In order to preserve the equipment, church caretakers took to sealing up the towers to prevent fouling by pigeons, which also unwittingly sealed up the access to the Barn Owls’ preferred nesting sites.

The Foundation is taking steps to get bell towers opened up again to allow access for the owls. Ideally, they would protect the bell and the equipment below with a platform barrier. However, as Akos told us on our first day at Barn Owl HQ: “Unfortunately this is an expensive and intrusive process and we simply don’t have the funds or the time to implement it. Instead we concentrate on plan B. This is to place nest boxes just inside a window so that the owls can get into the box, but have no access to the rest of the tower. This solves the problem of nest site availability, but it has its drawbacks.

“Fledgling owls will often need a few attempts before they master the art of flying. Inside the bell towers the youngsters could make short clumsy flights between beams and ledges until they learn to fly properly. Without access to these ‘practice perches’, fledglings will sometimes end up on the ground where they face danger from predators and road traffic.

“It’s an unavoidable hazard. Our goal is to install as many of these nest boxes as possible to increase the total of successes. We’re playing a numbers game.”

Barn Owls in Britain have suffered a similar decline in the number of available nesting sites due to the recent trend to convert barns into homes. New planning guidance from governmental advisory body, Natural England, suggests that all barn conversions in the UK should make provision to accommodate nesting Barn Owls, regardless of whether or not a survey finds Barn Owl activity. Such legislation in Hungary would have less of an effect as Hungarian owls utilise barns less frequently, preferring more elevated nest sites. This must be why the common name ‘Barn Owl’ never stuck in Hungary. Akos tells me that their choice of nest site is an attempt to avoid mammalian predators in the form of Beech Martins and Sand Martins that take chicks and eggs from nests at lower levels.

Despite their differences, both UK and Hungarian Barn Owls are finding 21st century life tough. Modern land management practices, new technologies and the change of use of many of the buildings traditionally used as nest sites, are all taking a toll on owl populations. There have been several studies in Hungary conducted in tandem with the UK Barn Owl Trust. Radio tracking is being conducted simultaneously in both Hungary and Britain to compare seasonal and environmental data in a quest to understand more about Barn Owl ecology.   Initial analysis suggests that UK Barn Owls appear to have a much wider hunting range than their Hungarian counterparts and researchers think this could be due to subtle dietary differences. Pellet analysis from British Barn Owls reveal a taste for the field vole (Microstus agrestis) which makes its home in small areas of habitat that are distributed across a wide area, whereas Hungarian owls can dine on the more abundant common vole (Microtus arvalis) that does not occur in the UK.

Modern agricultural and land management practices can often be detrimental to wildlife, and particularly to birds.  It is impossible to turn back the clock and revert to outdated methods, but the teams in Hungary and in Britain are working hard to find ways for today’s humans to live in harmony with today’s barn owls.  Re-establishing suitable nesting sites and campaigning to maintain suitable feeding habitats are key to achieving this balance, and, according to the results of the latest Hungarian survey, it appears that Akos is winning!



The Barn Owls we tracked in Hungary for our research were tagged in 2009 by Ambios volunteers and David Ramsden, Director of the UK Barn Owl Trust, and they were caught using a most ingenious method.

“We had previously set up a nest box with a sliding trap door suspended by a very long string that went all the way from the box entrance to the bottom of the church tower”, says David. “Having caught the nesting female in the afternoon, our next aim was to catch the male as he made his first delivery of food that evening. The plan required four volunteers, several torches, a pair of scissors and various lengths of string.”

The team knew that capturing the male would be difficult as he would be making his appearance during the hours of darkness and that anything unexpected would likely frighten him off.  “The plan was to drop the trap door by cutting the string at the bottom of the tower” said David, “Inside the church, standing in the darkness, the person springing the trap could see neither the nest box nor the bird flying in. We needed a way of signalling the precise moment to make the cut and so the silent string system was devised.

David and the volunteers were stationed at strategic points around the churchyard to watch for the male’s arrival, with one volunteer stationed at the base of tower to spring the trap. Unfortunately there wasn’t a clear line of sight from the watchers to the tower.   This problem was overcome by using yet another volunteer. From David, the signal string ran across the graveyard and was lashed to the ‘volunteer’ who in turn held another length of sting that ran past the church and into the tower where the trap tripper waited, armed with a pair of scissors. Should they spot the male arriving, a sharp tug on the line would alert the volunteer to pull the second line to alert the trapper who would cut the cord and spring the trap.

As darkness fell the volunteers waited poised stock still and silent as the tension mounted.  The stakes were high.  The team had just three days in which to trap and radio tag the pair before David had to return to the UK.  As the only person licenced to tag the owls David,s input was vital to the mission.

“We all knew that we probably had only one chance.” he says. “A spooked owl may avoid the nest for a while and should that have happened valuable funds, many man hours and everyone’s time and effort would have been wasted.  Waiting for the male to make an appearance was unbearably tense.  Suddenly we all heard a Barn Owl screech nearby and within moments the male was perched just outside the nestbox. After a pause he entered the box, we counted to ten, The volunteer felt a sharp tug on the line tied to his ankle, he quickly tugged on the second string to alert the trap man and the door dropped.  It was so dark we couldn’t be certain that we’d caught him until we climbed the church tower and peered in the nest box. Success! The female who’d been wearing her radio tag for six hours was sitting perfectly on her nest and the male was easily captured.

Both the male and female had been tagged, weighed measured and released in less than twenty minutes and each continued to go about their routines as normal.  In addition to providing valuable radio tracking data, the pair successfully fledged five young.

Thanks to

David Ramsden at The Barn Owl Trust


Akos Klein at the Hungarian Barn Owl Foundation


Simon Roper at Ambios


Published: Bird Watching Magazine. January 2010

Everlasting Job Stoppers.

•February 9, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Does a visible tattoo mean the end of a career as we know it?  Tony Jones speaks to three tattoo fans about getting ink above the collar and below the cuff.  The final frontier!


Joolz Denby has been a professional writer of poetry and fiction, a spoken-word artist, illustrative artist and photographer for around thirty years.  She’s been a matriarchal figure in the UK tattoo world since the early eighties and is now a tattooist herself.

TONY: When did you first get an Everlasting Job Stopper and how old were you?

JOOLZ: It was done in the early eighties and I was in my late twenties.   I had the star on my cheekbone.

Joolz Denby. Tattooed by hand by Jen at Lifetime Tattoo. Derby.

TONY: You were unusual in several ways as in the eighties it was less common for women to be tattooed, let alone on their face.  What were you thinking at the time?

JOOLZ: That I was absolutely unemployable in a conventional sense.  I never had any notion at all that I wanted to work in the so called real world. In fact it never occurred to me that I would ever have a “proper” job and so those things weren’t part of my reasoning at all.

TONY: Have your tattoos ever been an issue during your working life?

JOOLZ: Tattoos are almost inconsequential in the music industry whereas I found my career in literature was severely curtailed.  For example, my name came up at a Literature Festival meeting some years ago now and the head of the festival didn’t realise that one of the committee members was a friend of mine.  When my name came up he said “We have enough people like that on the streets, without having them at our festival.”  This is typical of my experiences with many in Literature.  I don’t fit their usual profile.

TONY: How then, did you manage to make a career of writing?

JOOLZ: I think the world of literature initially viewed me as a novelty in the same way that the industry is sometimes hot for Asian writers or Irish writers or whatever happens to be the current vogue.   Thankfully the people who read my work appreciate the prose rather than the novelty.  I was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Literature and much of the publicity was focussed on the fact that I was a “Tattooed Biker Chick”.

TONY: How do you deal with the people who react negatively to your tattoos?

JOOLZ: My advice to those who have a problem with visible tattoos is “Get over it!”  It’s just a tattoo and part of life’s great spectral tapestry.  There’s a whole heap of interesting and different experiences one can have and if your life is so straight that tattoos upset you then you need to get out a little.  Go shear a sheep or visit Africa or climb a mountain.  Anything!  Just broaden your horizons!

TONY: What advice would you give to those who are thinking of getting an Everlasting Job Stopper?

JOOLZ: (Laughs!) Make sure that you can work in Rock and Roll or as a Tattooist!  Whilst “straight” society is slowly and begrudgingly becoming more accepting of tattoos, I’m not sure they’re ready for an influx of Everlasting Job Stoppers just yet.    I fear that the latest batch of tattooed young people with visible ink will still have problems in the conventional employment market.  I hope I’m wrong, and I hope they make a career doing something they enjoy like I have.  I’d love that to be how it turns out, but I’m not confident of it.

TONY: You’ve been a tattooist for a few years now.  Do you counsel people who come to you for visible tattoos?

JOOLZ: I wouldn’t say counsel, but I do discuss their choices with them and I have refused to do some tattoos when I feel the client has not thought it through.  I believe tattooists have a responsibility to their clients, particularly young people.  I’m a 53 year old woman so perhaps I have an overdeveloped sense of maternal responsibility.  I know I was very changeable when I was young.  I was only as good as the last book I’d read! I’m sure that the present rebellious generation is no different.  If I think the implications of a particular tattoo are bigger than the client realises then we need to discuss that.   I can’t just send them on their merry way to find out the hard way. I don’t fancy the Karma.

TONY: Would you refuse to do an Everlasting Job Stopper on a “younger” client then?

JOOLZ: (Ponders for a while.)  I wouldn’t flatly refuse to do it, but I’d need convincing that they’d thought it through.

TONY: If you could go back in time, knowing what you know now, would you still get your Everlasting Job Stoppers?

JOOLZ: Yes, absolutely.  I’m extremely resilient to being told what I can and can’t do.  I’m happy with the life I’ve had, it’s been brilliant!  My tattoos have been an interesting sideshow to my life, neither a hindrance nor an asset, but that’s because of the world that I live in.  Rock and Roll has protected me from the worst of the prejudices and even my move into literature has been from a Rock and Roll base camp.  My tattoos didn’t really influence my life choices; I was going down this road anyhow.

I think if I’m honest I’d concede that my life may have been a little easier if I’d not had my Everlasting Job Stoppers, but it probably wouldn’t have been as much fun.  Who wants an easy life anyway?  The idea of not getting the visible ones done would have been a compromise of myself and that’s something I’m not prepared to do.

Dr C.

Dr C. is a Consultant Psychiatrist in a London hospital and has several coverable tattoos.  She’s currently considering an Everlasting Job Stopper on her hand.

Dr C. Tattoo by Joolz Denby @ Lifetime Tattoo - Derby.

TONY: I know from your job title and our conversations that you’re at quite a senior level in your profession.  Are there many tattooed folk in your professional peer group?

Dr. C: At my current workplace there are colleagues with tattoos, but none visible at work.  Within my specific doctor peer group of those mid 40s and above I would not expect to find many with tattoos, but I could be surprised! Interestingly, like most things, once there has been some disclosure then more people are happy to reveal their tattoos.

As a doctor I have a responsibility to my patients, colleagues and the general public. I have reached the top rung of my career ladder and could potentially remain in my current post, as a hospital Consultant Psychiatrist specialising in drug addiction, until I retire. This does mean that I don’t need to worry much about career progression, but I still worry about being viewed negatively.

TONY: What tattoos do you have at the moment and are they visible to the people you work with?

Dr. C: I have 4 tattoos currently. The two on my forearms are visible when I wear short sleeves but I choose not to display them to my colleagues and patients.  I have almost exclusively shown them to those who I know enjoy tattoos.

TONY: Having decided to have your hand tattooed, what are you getting and by whom?

Dr. C: I am awaiting a draft design and am very keen to see this before I make the journey to Barcelona.  Jondix is the artist and the studio LTW (Love the World). I visited the shop last year having being given his name and viewed his website. I was impressed by the portfolio and people who work there.

TONY: Given the amount of available skin you have, why are you so compelled to get such a visible piece?

Dr. C: I have been fascinated by hand and neck tattoos for some time. Jondix has an incredible portfolio, a spiritual angle and a history of tattooing on hands. They are symbolic tattoos, in black, with extraordinary designs and geometric patterns.

I have always had a mild ‘rebel without a cause’ desire to shock, but paradoxically would not want to upset anyone. The latter becomes more profound as I get older. Of course I want people to see and admire a tattoo on my hand, but at work I want to maintain some anonymity and be judged only on my clinical skills i.e. my ability to treat patients in a compassionate and helpful manner. My worry is that people invest too many values and negativity into tattoos.

TONY: How do you think your employers and colleagues will react and are you concerned at all?

Dr. C: The closer it gets to my tattoo the more real my concerns become. As a doctor I am here to listen to others and treat them well. I do not want to distract from that focus and my current thinking is that I will wear a tubigrip on my hand whilst at work. It may be that I just do that when working with patients and not in the management side of my role.

TONY: If you foresee any negative reactions, how do you think you will address them?

Dr. C: In my altruistic way of thinking I would like to get colleagues to challenge their own attitudes. What is so upsetting about a piece of inoffensive and potentially beautiful artwork on the body? Henna tattoos for cultural reasons do not raise such negative views to my knowledge. Is it the permanence? Is it the historical memory that tattoos are only held by those viewed negatively by society and seen to be of a lower social class?  Who knows?

TONY: How do you reconcile the risks with the rewards?

Dr. C: It is something that is personally very important to me. It will be the imagery I focus on when under pressure, when looking to relax and clear my head and something I would hope to be proud of.

TONY:  Do you think an EJS will be an issue should you ever apply for work elsewhere?

Dr. C: I think it would influence people, albeit unspoken. I have to admit I would probably cover up my hand for any interviews. I do currently hide the tattoos on my forearm. I would now never wear short sleeves at work. Thankfully I am not working in general medicine where short sleeves are viewed as a way of reducing the spread of infection.


Claire is an I.T Project manager at a University in the North of England and has tribal tattoo work on her neck and head.

TONY:  When did you get your Everlasting Job Stopper?

Claire: I’m thirty-five now and I had it done about 15 years ago so I’d have been twenty.

TONY:  Did you realise the implications of having a visible tattoo.

Claire:  In a way, yes I did because in those days I had long hair and so it was easy to cover.  Also I’m fond of oriental style suits with high necks which do a good job of hiding it too.  It’s easier to cover up than you’d expect and the small piece on my arm is often more visible.

TONY:  Your outfit and hairstyle today do nothing to cover it now though.

Claire:  That’s right; I don’t think I should have to cover it.  Admittedly I had them covered when I was interviewed and didn’t really start showing them at work until relatively recently.  By then I had my feet under the table and having proven I’m good at my job I expect to be appraised on that alone.   I think it is wise to play it safe in an interview but I’m at liberty to show my tattoos if I like now.

TONY:  How’s that working out for you?

Claire:  Just fine thanks, both my main job at the University and in my other job as a fitness professional it hasn’t caused me many problems at all.    In fact my tattoos have become a bit of a trademark. People know me and remember me by them.  I think they’re an asset.

TONY:  So, no problems at all then?

Claire:  I have found that some people are initially judgemental but they soon get over it.  It was sometimes an issue at my son’s school; some of the other mums were wary of me at first.  When word got out that I was a fitness professional some of the wary mums plucked up courage to ask me for advice.

TONY:  It’s good to know that an Everlasting Job Stopper hasn’t been anything of the sort for you.

Claire:  No, not in the slightest.  I think the design and the location help enormously in that respect. I don’t suppose a tattoo on the face would have been so easy to get away with.  I think the culture in the places I have worked has been excellent and there has been very little negativity.  Many of the people I work with at the university have tattoos too.

TONY:  As a mother, what advice would you give your son about tattoos.

Claire:  He’s only eleven at the moment but he has spoken to me about getting tattooed when he’s older.  He’s talked about getting work on his arms and I’m quite impressed with his choices!  If he decided to have work done on his hands or face I’d advise him to think very carefully about it as people will judge you whether you like it or not.  If he really wanted an Everlasting Job Stopper then I’d be supportive so long as he had considered the consequences.  It would probably be a good idea for him to speak to someone with tattoos on their face for a first hand account.

TONY:  Do you think that your tattoos have shaped your life or decisions at all?

Claire:  In some ways they have.  For example, my tattoos lead directly to me getting work as a model and as an extra in films.  I was in Hackers and Judge Dredd if you look really closely.  Catwalk and photographic modelling was great fun and I even worked with Jean Paul Gaultier at one point.  All of this was a direct result of having this tattoo.  It has opened up a whole new world of experiences.

Author’s note.

Whilst researching this article I came across a story about the ultimate Everlasting Job Stopper tattoo.  Apparently, a group of anarchist/anti capitalist protesters each has a thick black cross tattooed across their faces.  The tattoo represents their wish to un-subscribe from poplar capitalist culture as it renders them essentially unemployable.  Despite extensive research I have been unable to find any concrete evidence of such a tattoo and as yet the story retains the characteristics of an urban myth.

I’d be grateful if any readers can help with first hand information or contacts.  If you can help then please email editor@skindeep.co.uk

Published: Skin Deep Magazine 2009

In Support of Keeping Large Boids in the Public Sector – by Tony Jones

•January 22, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Albino Reticulated Python - Every home should have one!

PRK readers may have seen the recent news reports about a Bristol couple who are mourning the loss of their cat after it was eaten by a neighbour’s Burmese Python, sparking renewed calls for large boids to be included in the Dangerous Wild Animals act. Wilbur, the four year old tabby strayed into a nearby garden belonging to Darren Bishop where Squash, the 13 foot Burmese Python was basking.  The cat’s owners Martin and Helen Wadey heard “blood-chilling cries” but were unable to rescue Wilbur.  A microchip scanner was used to confirm Wilbur was inside the snake.

Mrs Wadey, 41, told a local reporter: “We do not want Wilbur’s death to be in vain. We want those sorts of snakes to be licensed and for owners to be prosecuted if they leave them unattended as well as having to inform people living nearby that they own one.”

The consumption of Wilbur is a sad and regrettable incident but it is unlikely to generate such an amendment to the act and there is little evidence to support new legislation.  The Wadley’s have started a petition to include pythons in the Dangerous Wild Animals act but Chris Newman from the Federation of British Herpetoculturists thinks such an amendment is unlikely.  “Pythons have been kept in Britain for almost 200 years and there has never been a recorded case of a human fatality or serious injury.  I think we need to keep a little perspective.”

Chris went on to say “The 2006 Animal Welfare Act outlines a duty of care responsibility for pet owners to ensure their animals are not subjected to pain or suffering.  Unfortunately cat owners often allow their pets to roam free despite the risks posed by roads or other animals. This is a sad and unfortunate incident, but responsibility lays with the cat owners, not Mr Bishop.”

Mr Bishop said he was sad that the Wadeys had lost their cat but that he had every right to take his snake into his garden.  “I also absolutely refuse to restrict my pet from my garden so that other people’s pets can use it.

It is estimated that there are 100,000 large constrictors in the UK.

Poor news reporting and bias usually accompany any incident involving a large snake but the facts are usually less sensational and this case is no exception.  Nevertheless, it is important that owners of large boids continue to act responsibly and manage risks, however remote.  Large pythons and boas certainly have the POTENTIAL to be dangerous, but statistically, reptiles are considered to be the second safest pet, after fish.


The government’s Home Accident Surveillance System (HASS) in 2002 recorded accidents that caused injuries serious enough to warrant a visit to hospital.  The report included several interesting accounts regarding injuries involving reptiles, including that of a gardener who trod on a rake that was initially thought to be a snake and another featuring a finger that had been cut with scissors being used to collect dandelion leaves for their pet iguana.  Both of these were recorded as ‘reptile related’ injuries.

Box Out

Home Accident Surveillance Scheme (2002)

Animal Home Accidents National est
Dog 3125 64,063
Cat 732 15,006
Equine 169 3,465
Reptile 16 328

The most common cause of bites and constrictions by large boids is the unintentionally conditioned feeding response.  This occurs when routine maintenance patterns encourage the snake to associate the opening of their tank with the receipt of food.  For example, a newly purchased baby python will be handled frequently by their enthusiastic new owner until, perhaps, the novelty wears off and the snake grows larger.  When handling becomes sporadic and encounters are more likely to be to offer food, the snake can sometimes presume every encounter to be a feeding opportunity and react accordingly.  If the keeper introduces their hand into the enclosure before the snake realises that it is not feeding time, a bite and constriction can occur.  Although these incidents are invariably painful and bloody, they rarely result in more than a minor injury.  The guidelines below outline safe handling practices for large boids and include tips on avoiding conditioned feeding responses.

Python breeder Gareth Baylis breeds several species of large boid and has bred all four giant species, namely The Burmese Python (Python molurus ), the African Rock Python  (P.  sebae),  the Reticulated Python (Python reticulatus), and the Green Anaconda (Eunectes marinus).

Gareth says “I’m very aware of how fast a hungry python can strike and take precautions to avoid getting bitten.  I never feed my snakes in their home vivarium and always make first contact with a long stick or snake hook.  I’ve also got a clear plastic shield that is shaped like a dustbin lid that I use to cover the snake before I put a hand into the vivarium.  This means I can deflect a strike and keep my hands out of the firing line.  Once the snake is aware that it is not feeding time they’re invariably fine, but I don’t take chances.”

Box Out

It is estimated (HASS) that 65,000 people seek hospital treatment for dog attacks each year

Of these a 1,000 will require surgery

100 will have serious permanent disfigurement

3-5 will die as a result of the attack

60%+ of these are likely to be children

Over the past 100 years there has not been a  single death from an attack by a pet reptile

Box Out

(MVA = Motor Vehicle Accident)

(1) Motor vehicle (MVA) 37.5%

(2) Poisoning 19.5%

(3) Falls 16.3%

(4) Drowning 3.0%

(5) Fires, Burns,Smoke 2.6%

(6) Medical/Surgical Complication 2.2%

(7) Forces of nature 1.8%

(8) Firearms discharge 0.7%

Other (transport) 2.6%

Other (non-transport) 13.9%


The loss of a pet is always distressing and particularly when the death is untimely or due to accident.  I think we can all sympathise with the cat owners outlined in the story above, but there is undoubtedly a need for perspective and a proportional response.  The risks involved in the keeping of large boids are minimal and no legislation is required to ensure the safety of keepers or the general public.  If we look to the risks involved in the keeping of animals, reptiles are a long way down the list of dangerous pets.  Similarly, if we look at the common causes of death and injury in our everyday lives we can see that there are many greater risks than keeping large snakes.  It could be argued that any legislation that aims to safeguard people against death or injury should be focussed on activities that are statistically more dangerous.  To legislate against a risk as negligible as herpetoculture is entirely unnecessary. The code of practice for keeping large boids has is printed below and is made public here for the first time.  Feedback and recommendations are welcomed and should be forwarded to Chris Newman at XXXXXXX.com

The author would like to thank Chris Newman and the Federation of British Herpetoculturists and would urge all reptile keepers to support the organisation.  The federation aims to protect the interests of UK herpers.  Their website can be found at www.f-b-h.co.uk.

Federation of British Herpetoculturists

Code of Practice for Keeping Large Boids –

Responsibility of the Keeper

Before Purchase

3.1     Before acquiring a large constrictor of any age prospective purchasers are encouraged to familiarise themselves with this code of practice.

3.2     Before acquiring a large constrictor of any age a prospective owner should ensure that they are able to meet basic husbandry requirements throughout a potential lifespan in excess of 20 years. This includes potential housing requirements as well as the cost of food, heating, veterinary care and other expenses.

3.3     The purchase of a large constrictor of any age for ownership by a minor is not recommended without the consent of a parent who is willing to assume all responsibility for proper housing, maintenance and supervision when handling.

3.4     As with any other animals such as dogs, owners of large constrictors should consider that they can be liable for the medical costs of treating injuries as well as additional financial damages for traumas or damage caused by their animals to themselves or the general public including personal and material costs.

Veterinary Care

3.5     A keeper should identify a suitable veterinary surgeon (with expertise in the treatment of large constrictors) at the earliest opportunity, to ensure there is no delay in obtaining treatment, should a medical condition arise.


3.6     Large constrictors should be housed in suitably sized secure accommodation that cannot be accidentally opened from the outside or by the occupants within.

3.7     Large room-sized enclosures should be modified to prevent snake escapes and with a door which should be kept shut or locked when not occupied by the owners with a sign to indicate what is contained in the room. We recommend ‘Large Snake Within’.


3.8     When handling a sub-adult or adult large constrictor it is recommended that another individual be at hand. The probability of any serious problem occurring when handling such snakes is very remote but it is recommended that herpetoculturists, out of responsibility to themselves, to family members and to other herpetoculturists, should handle large constrictors in a manner that significantly prevents the likelihood of any accident or incident or danger to the public.

3.9     A snake hook is useful for removing a large constrictor from an enclosure (such as to place it in another container whilst cleaning) and can be used to ‘stroke’ the snake before handling to help ensure that the snake knows food is not on offer, thereby avoiding a feeding response. (see section on feeding).

3.10   It is the right of the general public not to be exposed unexpectedly to snakes such as large constrictors and, it is recommended that snakes not be openly displayed in a public setting outside of proper and established forums for such practices such as herpetological shows, educational displays, pet stores and presentations, and other special displays whereby members of the public are forewarned that a snake(s) maybe displayed in the open.

3.11   As when handling any animal, proper hygiene should be observed. Anyone handling a large constrictor, or an item of food for the snake, should not eat, drink or smoke whilst doing so. Following a handling or enclosure maintenance session, hands should be cleaned with a suitable antiseptic agent. A keeper who has handled an item of food for the snake should wash their hands thoroughly before then handling a large constrictor. A suitable agent should also be used to bathe any minor cut or abrasion caused in the rare event of accidental bite.


3.12   It is recommended that large constrictors be transported in a manner that precludes escape. Whilst there are several methods for achieving this we recommend that they be transported in a cloth bag, free of holes or tears, sturdy enough to prevent escape but with a weave that allows adequate air flow. Care should be taken not to allow too much room in the bag; a snug fit is better and will stop the snake from becoming stressed and trying to escape. The bag should be sealed in a manner which prevents escape, placed inside a box or similar container which is marked as to its contents and sealed or locked shut. The box should have holes for aeration and be insulated from the elements (not too cold or too warm). An alternative is to ‘double bag’ the snake (place the original sealed bag into another bag, which is also then sealed). In this instance extra care must be taken to ensure adequate air flow.

3.13   Airlines should be consulted as to their requirements when shipping snakes by air (see IATA regulations). Additionally, this should be taken into consideration when transporting snakes by courier or other means of transport.


3.14   Keepers should avoid conditioning a large constrictor to expect food whenever it detects a human presence, whether when the keeper opens the enclosure or is simply present in the same room. Regular handling and cleaning in between feeds will alleviate a conditioned feeding response.

3.15 Where possible the keeper should not allow the snake to snatch prey items when offered, but place them in the enclosure where they will be found. In the event that a more direct approach is needed this should be done using long forceps, never by hand. This method should also be used when removing an uneaten food item.

4. Further Information

This code of practice is not intended to be a complete care guide. We recommend that further source of information should be acquired.

We recommend for further reading you ask your local Herp supplier for suitable books and internet information sources or contact your local Herp Group. For details of FBH Affiliated Reptile and Amphibian Societies and Groups check www.f-b-h.co.uk.

5. Conclusion

Captive large constrictors have an extremely low behavioural propensity to constrict humans.  There has never been a report of a serious incident in the UK, and of those that have been recorded (in the USA), the vast majority have involved irresponsible husbandry practices. Considering the tens of thousands of large constrictors kept in the UK, and considering the much more threatening dangers which are generally accepted as a normal part of every day life, the potential danger presented by large constrictors pales into insignificance.

Published – Practical Reptile Keeping Dec 2009

The Cost of Owning a Narrowboat.

•November 29, 2009 • 11 Comments

A paint job is just one of the costs you may need to budget for.

“A boat is a hole in the water into which you throw money.”

We all know that boating can be expensive, but where does it all go?  Tony Jones crunches the numbers.

Aspiring boaters often ask about the financial aspects of boating.   Despite my stock response being “An arm and a leg and your first born child!” it is a difficult question to answer given the enormous variety of boats and boaters and the various different types of waterways.  I asked a handful of boaters to keep track of their boating related spending for a whole year, listing everything from the mandatory licence fee, right down to the last fire-lighter, windlass and emergency repair bill.   Here is a summary.

The Big Three


Most canals and rivers in the UK are managed by either British Waterways or the Environment Agency and can be navigated upon purchasing a Gold Licence.  A handful of navigable waterways are managed by other organisations and so not covered by the Gold licence, a list of which can be found below.  A Standard Licence covers all of the canals and rivers specifically managed by BW, covering a choice of either England and Wales or Scottish waterways.  This licence is sufficient for vast majority of boaters, and any occasional forays outside its range can be covered by short term licences from the appropriate authority.  (See below for example costs.)  Boaters who are happy to restrict their cruises to just BW owned rivers can buy a Rivers Only Licence and these cost less than the others listed above.

The length of your boat is used to calculate the cost of the licence (the beam width is not a factor here) with discounts applying for prompt payment and a surcharge of £150 if payment is received late. For more information visit http://www.britishwaterways.co.uk/licence-it, but here are a few examples.

  • Nb The Watchman is 50 feet long and has a 12 month England and Wales Standard Licence.  This would cost £669.60, but was discounted for prompt payment to £602.64
  • Nb Aldebaran is 60 feet long and has a 12 month Gold Licence costing £1043.00 paid in full in advance.

Box Out: Visitors Licence fees (50 foot narrowboat)

  • 1 Day on the Thames – £26.00 (Note – Length & Beam are considered.)
  • 3 Days on the Basingstoke Canal – £27.15
  • 1 Week on the River Wey – £56.00 (Lock tolls included.)
  • Cruise the length of the Manchester Ship Canal – £128.00 (Conditions apply.  Call for details.)

Box Out – Other licensing agencies (Non BW/EA)

The Basingstoke CanalRiver WeyRiver AvonThe Norfolk & Suffolk Broads

Bridgewater Canal (Manchester)

Manchester Ship Canal

Basingstoke Canal Authority – Tel: 01252 370073The National Trust – Tel: 01483 561389Avon Navigation Trust – Tel: 01386 552517The Broads Authority – Tel: 01603 610734

Bridgwater Canal Company Ltd – 0161 629 8266 (For visits over 7 days)

Harbour Master’s  Department – Tel: 0151 327 1461

Boat Safety Certificate

Boats are tested for safety by qualified inspectors every four years and compliant craft are issued a boat safety certificate.  The test points are identical for all boats irrespective of size or type and so these variables will not affect the cost to any great degree.

David Tucker is the Membership Secretary for the Association of Boat Safety Examiners.  He said “The safety examination is a very black and white affair and so quite easy to budget for. Although the cost of the test is not fixed, most inspectors will charge around £150 which will cover the examination and the issue of the certificate.  Most fail points can be remedied with minimal financial cost and a couple of man hours, although non-compliant gas cookers are sometimes more easily replaced than repaired.  Some examiners may make an additional charge if a second visit is required following a fail, particularly if they have any distance to travel.”


Like all insurances the price is dependent on risk and the amount of cover required.   Rod Daniel of Craftinsure shed a little light on the dark art of boat insurance:  “The value and age of the boat are key premium factors rather than the length or beam width.  Others factors to consider include where the boat is based and any additional cover you might require for boat contents.  If you live aboard you can expect to pay more.  Although live-aboard boats are less likely to be left unattended for long periods, increased use and the value of items on board do tend to add to the risk. “

Avoiding tidal waterways and opting for a higher excess can reduce your insurance costs but price is not the only consideration.  The current financial climate may encourage boaters to cut costs, but it is important to ensure your insurance provides adequate cover.  Some insurers will ask for a survey if your boat is over 20 years old.  This can add £400 to your insurance expenditure once crane/dry dock costs are included, although this survey will usually be valid for insurance for five years.

Some insurance quotes examples (Courtesy of Craftinsure.com)

Boat 60’ x 12’           Wide-beam 57’ semi trad   Narrowboat 30’ cruiser stern Narrowboat 25’ GRP       River Cruiser
Value £130.000 £50,000 £15,000 10,000
Build 2008 1996 1971 1979
Approximate Quote £458.00 pa £175.00 pa £115.00 pa £110.00 pa
(All quotes assume no previous claims, zero no claims bonus and £150.00 excess.)


Moorings costs are dependent on geography, facilities and the size of your boat.  Moorings with facilities such as mains electricity, local pump-out/Elsan or laundry will cost more than a basic on-line mooring, as will moorings in picturesque or convenient locations.  Most marinas will also charge different fees if moored alone or abreast another boat and some also differentiate between frequent and infrequent usage.

Case Studies

  1. Airedale Boat Club near Bingley sits on the Leeds Liverpool canal.  A 50 foot narrowboat on a breasted narrow-beam mooring costs £14.00 per foot per annum. (£700.00 per year.)  ABC has electricity supply and water is available from a BW tap on the towpath opposite.  Pump-out and Elsan disposal are a short walk away.  The club is run as a not for profit organisation and boat owners meet regularly to do maintenance chores around the site to keep mooring fees low.  Membership costs £7.50 per year.
  2. Online moorings with limited facilities are a prolific and relatively cheap mooring option.  An offside mooring to accommodate a 40’ boat at Cowley South near Uxbridge on the Grand Union went at tender for £1271 per annum earlier this year.  Apart from the provision of mooring rings and gated access, this mooring site has no additional facilities although water and pump-out/Elsan are both within 15 minutes cruising time.
  3. Apsley Marina can be found on the Grand Union Canal near Hemel Hempstead and was opened in 2003.  Facilities include metered electricity, water points, showers, pump-out and Elsan and a laundry facility too.  Nestling amongst a modern apartment block complex, a residential mooring here will cost £5412.00 per annum.
  4. Part of the Ting Dene group, Pyrford is a fine example of a modern commercial marina with extensive facilities and an on-site engineer.  The River Wey is owned and maintained by the National Trust and boats moored here enjoy a stunningly beautiful setting, however the Trust does not allow residential moorings anywhere on the river.  Facilities include metered electricity, water point, pump-out and Elsan, toilets and shower block, dry docking and diesel.  At £66.94 per foot pet annum a 72 foot boat on a standard mooring would cost £4819.68, with an option to pay by monthly direct debit at additional cost.
  5. Engineers Wharf can be found on the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal in London on a 26 mile lock free section of the London canal network and is a good example of a top of the range premium mooring.  Matthew Bannister, BW’s West London moorings co-coordinator said “Whilst location is an important factor I believe the range of facilities at Engineers Wharf is an equally attractive feature.  The land required to build such extensive and attractive facilities is in short supply in the capital and so there is a high demand for moorings such as those at Engineers Wharf.”

Facilities at Engineers Wharf include:

• Secure serviced pontoon moorings.• Offline basin location offering 20 narrowboatBerths.• Private berth holders’ toilets and showers. • Five conveniently spaced pump-out facilities.• Up to 32amp electrical supply.• Dedicated undercover storage area.• Excellent access to London’s waterways.

A residential mooring here was recently won by tender at a price of £9250.00 per annum.  It is important to remember that residential moorings are subject to Council Tax charges.

For more information on the cost of boating, see The Liveaboard Guide, by Tony Jones


Reputation. Reputation. Reputation.

•October 24, 2009 • Leave a Comment
Albino Reticulated Python - Serious Stock!

Albino Reticulated Python - Serious Stock!

A good reputation can take years to build, but can be destroyed in seconds.  Reptile keepers are particularly enthusiastic about their hobby and quick to judge if their expectations are not met, but getting it right brings big rewards.  Good reptile retailers can recruit a loyal customer base that is eager to spread the word, and news travels fast in the reptile world.

Getting the basics right, day in and day out is the key to good reptile retailing.  It’s not rocket science, and it doesn’t even require much hard work.  It simply requires vigilance and consistency.  As with all businesses, good performance is about consistently getting the basics right, rather than focussing on the spectaculars or the extremes.

Here’s a checklist of Key Performance Indicators.  How does your herp store score?


  • Only grade A1 healthy animals are on display.

It is inevitable that occasionally an animal will become ill despite our best efforts.  These animals should be off display or, if this is not possible, at least an explanatory sign attached to their enclosure.  Regular checks should be made throughout the day to ensure that this remains the default standard and immediate action is taken when necessary.

  • The vast majority (if not all) livestock is captive bred.

As a rule captive bred reptiles make much better pets than wild caught animals for a multitude of reasons.  Sure, those cheap wild caught geckos can turn a quick buck, but they don’t make great pets and usually discourage those who buy them from purchasing anything else.

  • Wild caught stock is housed separately from captive bred specimens and is not overcrowded.

Wild caught reptiles carry a parasitic load that can de particularly detrimental to captive bred specimens.  These parasitic problems are exasperated by overcrowding and so avoid this at all costs.  (Otherwise it will end up costing you!) If you must stock wild caught reptiles, at least keep them away from the quality captive bred stuff.  And use separate tools for their maintenance too.


  • Faeces and other soiling are removed immediately.

On sight.  Without fail.  Every time.  Zero tolerance.

  • Glass is cleaned of smears and fingerprints.

Dirty glass is unsightly and will always affect the perception of your customers.  Again, it is a zero-tolerance KPI.  A good, cheap and easy way to clean glass is to use a slightly soapy scouring sponge to clean the surface of the glass before buffing with dry crumpled newspaper or kitchen towel.  No chemicals required.

  • Water-bowls are clear of any contaminants including faeces, substrate, live-food and lime scale stains.

Water bowls are the number one cause of infection transmission.  A regular disinfection protocol will help enormously, but only if you keep on top of the daily zero tolerance protocol.  See it – Sort it.

  • Enclosures are maintained in good repair and ensured escape proof with regular checks.

Check the ventilation gauze is fine enough to prevent escapes and that it is securely attached to the enclosure.  Check that the back panel of the enclosure is securely attached.  (These are often made of hardboard and frequently become detached.)  Check any holes where cables enter the enclosure afford no route for escape.  Check that glass runners are securely stuck down.  I would want to do these checks at least weekly.

  • Sliding glass doors are well fitting and of the correct thickness glass for the runner.

Ill fitting glass can easily fall out of the runner, or, if it is too tightly fitted you run the risk of breakage and cuts whilst trying to force it open.  I have seen snakes flatten themselves enough to enable them to slither between the overlapping panes when thin glass is affixed to wide groove runners.

  • Each enclosure is thermostatically controlled.

There’s no excuse not to do this considering the risks and benefits.  Besides, how can we promote thermostats to customers without actively following our own advice?

  • Each enclosure has sufficient hides, climbing opportunities, burrowing opportunities or bathing opportunities for the species it houses.

Make sure you offer the correct vivarium furniture for the species you are housing.  Animals should not need to choose between their heating and their security needs so be sure to supply a selection of hide options along the entire thermal gradient of the enclosure.  Hides will reduce or eliminate stress and so help to keep your stock in tip top condition.

  • Enclosures are correctly labelled with at least common name and scientific name.

As well as being the most fundamental piece of information a customer needs, stating the scientific name also demonstrates a level of knowledge and expertise.  The correct way to write scientific names is to capitalise the genus and use lower case letters thereafter.  Rhacodactylus ciliatus.  Python regius.  Heloderma suspectum. I also like to include feeding dates, the country of natural origin and the sex of the specimen on ID labels where these details are available.  Another tip is to include the contact details for your shop as hobbyists will often transfer feeding records with the animal if it changes hands again, thus acting as free advertising.


  • A minimum stock of essential equipment is available at all times.

If the customer can’t get what they need from you, right there, right then they are likely to spend their money elsewhere.  The abundance of cheap, expansively stocked internet suppliers means that just getting customers to visit your shop is an achievement.  Don’t blow it by not having the products they need; after all, getting the goods right there and then is one of the advantages real-world retailers have over internet stores.  The most important products to stock consistently are the food items that your customers return for week after week; keep them coming back by ensuring you consistently have what they need.  Of course it impossible to stock every herp product on the market but there’s a basic range you should have consistently available.  Your supplier will be able to advise on the most popular products.

  • An extensive collection of books are available to cover the most popular pet species, particularly if you currently stock these animals.

The reptile hobby has seen two recent revolutions.  One was the introduction of electronic thermostats and the other was the availability of species specific care manuals.  Sure, much of the information can be sourced online, but the internet is a virtual mine-field with plenty of duff and dangerous advice out there too.  Your supplier can recommend a range of affordable books written by experts, chock full of the important info your customers need.  If you sell a leopard gecko to a beginner, sell a book.  Sell a beardie, sell a book.  You know it makes sense!

One Step Beyond

Having mastered the art of consistency you may want to take the next step and offer a more specialist service.  It is important to gain expert tutoring under supervision before offering services such as claw clipping or snake probing, but once mastered, offering these services will do much to enhance your reputation as a specialist store.

Boarding services for reptiles whose owners are on holiday can be profitable for those stores with the space, facilities and expertise.  Such expertise can only be gathered through personal experience and it is important that you have sufficient knowledge of the species you will be caring for before taking responsibility for someone else’s pet.

Stocking more unusual animals will also attract more specialist customers, but again, only those confident enough should consider taking this next step as many species require slightly more specialist care.  Researching the husbandry requirements and consultation with a breeder will make for a smooth transition, once you have mastered the standard pet species.

“Of course leopard geckos and corn snakes are the most popular purchases, but the real herp lovers come to see the Blood Pythons and the Panther Chameleons.” says Richard from Predators in Shipley.  “We work hard to attract hardcore herpers as well as investing time in the nurturing the newcomers.  Our reputation depends on it.”

In order to specialise and cater for more advanced herpers you will need to invest time reading, researching and gathering advice from specialists.  Most experts are only too eager to share their knowledge and will enthusiastically nurture people who display a similar passion.  Reptile societies are a good starting point and an excellent place to meet with experts.  In my experience, one of the best defining features of a good reptile specialist is the active promotion of their local reptile society.  Make sure you have contact details and membership application forms for your local society.  It displays a level of enthusiasm and responsibility, and there can never be too much of that on display.

# # #

1470 words

Published PBW News October 2009

The Great Escape.

•October 16, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Albino Burmese 5

“If it can – It will.  If it probably can’t- it probably can!” (Dave Lester – Reptile breeding pioneer 1953- 1994)

Although reptile escapes are rare, when they do occur the consequences can be devastating.  Most times the offending escapee will be re-captured quickly without much fuss but even the smallest, most harmless escaped pet can attract negative media attention.  Houdini herps are certainly frustrating, but the blame for escapes always lies squarely with the keeper; so what can we do to avoid it?


An ounce of prevention is worth any amount of cure in the case of herp escapes and so we’ll begin by looking at how to avoid the problem.  The Dave Lester quote above is without doubt the best approach as your beloved pet will astound you with ingenuity in its bid for freedom.  Even the smallest hole, such as those made for electrical cabling will provide a means for escape and snakes are particularly adept at squeezing through the tiny gaps you originally thought were too small.  Ensure ventilation holes are fine enough to hamper a bid for freedom and that any gauze or vents are securely attached to the vivarium. Ill fitting sliding glass doors are another vivarium weak spot as they are easily dislodged from their runner.  I have even known snakes to flatten themselves between the overlapping sheets of glass when thin panes have been used in wide gauge runners.  Always use the correct glass thickness and add a plastic trim if in any doubt. (See Picture.)

Human Error.

The most common cause of escape is human error.  Failing to adequately secure the enclosure is an easy mistake to make and it happens to the best of us if we are distracted.  Substrate or other debris caught in the runners of sliding glass doors is another culprit; the glass slides no further and appears closed but leaves just enough gap for escape.  Hatchlings in plastic tubs will make short work of a poorly secured lid and some snakes are strong enough to open even a tightly secured lid.

One tool in the fight against human error is to utilise a locking mechanisms, preferably a locking mechanism that can only be deployed if the enclosure is properly closed.  Glass locks and rubber wedges are often used to secure sliding glass doors but I’m not a great fan of either for several reasons.  Both can easily be affixed to doors that have not been fully closed shut and so despite the lock being in place, the reptile may still be able to escape.  Also, I find neither locks nor wedges stay in place very well and I despair of having to continually re-fit them.  Unless you are locking your vivarium to guard against unwanted access, there are simpler and more effective means of avoiding escapes.

A length of wood cut to size and placed into the vacant sections of runner will make it impossible to slide open the glass, but my preferred method is to use a cleverly bent piece of wire as these are easier to fit and remove than the afore mentioned runner blocks.  The best feature of both of these is that they cannot be affixed if the glass doors are not fully closed, thus drawing your attention to any problems.


Ok, so we all make mistakes and your beloved reptile has flown the coop.  There are several tried and tested methods of retrieving them, but first you should check if they have definitely escaped.  It is not uncommon for herps to hide underneath water-bowls, amongst vivarium decor, bury themselves in the substrate or even stretch out on the ledge where the ventilation gauze is often affixed in their vivarium.  Unless the animal is of such a size it could not be hiding anywhere sneaky, I am inclined to strip the vivarium bare, piece by piece.  Often they can be found safe and sound in the viv and wondering what all of the fuss is about.

Once you are sure you have a free-range reptile on your hands it is worth knowing that most are found within a few metres of their vivarium.  Remember that many herps will climb and so it is worth looking up too, on curtain rails, wardrobes and cabinets and around door frames are the first places I look.  Beyond that it is a case of exploring every nook and cranny.  Warm nooks and crannies are certainly worth a look but in my experience the pesky critter could be just about anywhere.

Be sure to check bins before putting them out and consider using lidded bins to prevent your herp from hiding there.  Check laundry before loading the machine and check your shoes before putting them on.  Check book cases, CD racks and wardrobes, in bedding, the back of the sofa, behind the toilet and remember to look UP underneath everything.  It is worth using a torch and a mirror to look in those dark and inaccessible places too.

Most escapees are located during this initial search.  Make sure you know how it escaped before putting it back into the enclosure to avoid a repeat performance.


If the initial search proves fruitless you’ll need to be a little more creative.  There are several different types of trap worth considering depending on the size of your renegade reptile.  Smaller specimens such hatchling snakes can be caught using a tape trap.  This comprises a piece of glass (such as the sliding glass door from an empty vivarium for example) covered in parcel tape, sticky side up.  Leave these in strategic places; particularly near the door in the room the vivarium is kept.  Once caught, removal must be performed with the utmost delicacy, prising each scale carefully from the tape.  It may be beneficial to use oil to avoid the animal becoming re-stuck during the process.

Funnel traps have also proven successful.  Cut the neck from a plastic drinks bottle and invert it inside the belly before taping it in place to construct a type of sealed funnel.  Bait the trap with food or water, punch some small holes to allow the aroma to escape and position strategically.   Some people even like to use a mouse to rub a scent trail leading into the funnel, paying particular attention to the mouth of the trap.  The idea is that your herp will hunt out the bait and enter the trap but not be able to easily exit, particularly if they are too fat with food.

As snakes can go for some time without food it is likely that they will become thirsty first, so it’s always a good idea to bait some traps with water.  In addition to the funnel trap you can use plastic “Tupperware” type containers with a couple of millimetres of water in the bottom.  (No more as your trapped herp could drown.)  Cut a small hole in the lid of the tub and you may find your pet has taken the water bait and decided to hang around.

If you’re feeling particularly covert you can set a series of ambush traps.  These work particularly well at night as your herp is likely to hide during the day whilst it is noisy.  Wait until dark before placing crinkly paper and plastic bags along walls and in all other obvious places. Then lie in wait, with torch in hand ready to leap into action when you hear rustling.  It may take a while before your pet decides the coast is clear, so be patient.


Box Outs

Box-out (News Item): Woman almost crashes car as snake slithers across windscreen

Miss Dixon-Yeung, 27, was driving to the supermarket when the creature appeared from beneath the bonnet of her silver Audi TT.  She enlisted the help of Asda worker Joe Moore to remove the reptile which was later identified as a harmless North American corn snake.  (Telegraph.co.uk 14 Jul 2009)

Box-out (News Item): A FOUR-foot long SNAKE has been found in a Cliftonville park.

The huge kingsnake, more commonly found on the plains and canyons of America, was spotted by horrified dog walkers in Northdown Park this month.  They called in reptile experts from animal charity the RSPCA to catch the gigantic serpent, which is thought to be an escaped pet. (Thisiskent.co.uk/margate 22 Jul 2009)

Box Out – Flour Power. Although not strictly a trap, flour can be used to monitor a Houdini herp’s movements; sprinkle it liberally around a room, particularly near doors and check for trails later.  

Box out (Anecdote) –Homing snakes “I once lost a breeding pair of Great Plains Rat Snakes that lived together in a three foot vivarium.  They were lost for about three weeks before both turning up on the same day…inside their old vivarium.  Apparently there’s no place like home!” (Gareth Bayliss – Colubrid breeder.  Cannock. )

Box Out: Modified fish tanks make poor enclosures for reptiles, not least because they are quite impossible to secure.  Securing any lid with weights is rarely effective and reptiles frequently escape from this type of enclosure.

Box-out: I know that I am easily distracted and so there is always the chance I could inadvertently leave an enclosure susceptible to escape.  I have a golden rule where I check every enclosure in my reptile house for safety and escape risks before I leave.  When all the work is done I stop and re-check each vivarium, tub and enclosure as my final task, before switching off the light safe in the knowledge that nothing is going walkabout.

Reptile Thermostats Explained

•September 13, 2009 • Leave a Comment

By Tony Jones
9th June 2009.

Carpet Python 1
Temperature control is one of the most important aspects of reptile husbandry.   Before the introduction of solid state electronic thermostats in the late 1980’s, innovative herpers were forced to adopt and adapt technologies from other fields in an attempt to control the micro-climate inside their vivariums.  Thankfully there are now several different types of reliable and effective thermostats to do the job to in a variety of applications.

The On/Off Stat.

These stats are the most basic budget option available to the herper and are the minimum standard I would hope to see in any vivarium set up.

Approximate Retail Price: £35

How they work:
These basic stats control temperature by switching the heat source on and off.  If the unit senses a temperature in the vivarium that is too cool it switches the heater on.  When the temperature reaches the upper level of tolerance it switches the heater off.
•    They are the best value thermostat available and so there is no excuse to have an uncontrolled heater in your vivarium.
•    They can be used with any type of heater.
Whilst having any type of thermostatic control by far preferable to having none, the ON/OFF nature of these stats raises several issues.
•    As heat sources are either fully on or completely off, this can create a noticeable fluctuation of temperature between the two phases,
•    When the heater is fully on it will be generating a great deal of heat which therefore increases the risk of burns, particularly if the heater is unprotected.
•    As most vivariums are heated using spotlight bulbs, the intermittent switching on and off of the light can prove stressful to both the vivarium inhabitant and to humans trying to watch TV or sleep in the same room.
•    The constant switching on and off will mean that bulbs will blow more often and need to be replaced.

The Dimming Thermostat.

A much more effective thermostat option is the dimmer stat and it is no surprise that these are the most popular stat by far, despite costing a little more.

Approximate Retail Price: £55

How they work:
Dimmer stats control temperature by supplying power to the heater incrementally.  The easiest way to explain it would be to assume the heater source to be a spotlight bulb.  If the temperature in the vivarium is too warm it supplies less power to the bulb and so the light will dim.  Conversely, if the temperature is too cool it will supply more power, therefore brightening the bulb to provide more heat.  They work in exactly the same fashion with other heaters too, such as heat mats and ceramics.
•    Dimmer stats are much more accurate than on/off stats. The constant feedback and adjustment keeps the temperature stable and effectively eliminates fluctuations, making them the preferred option for most herpers.
•    In addition to eliminating temperature fluctuations the dimmer stat negates every one of the other negative points of on/off stats too, i.e. less burn risk from ferocious heat sources, less blown bulbs to replace and less flashing lights stress.
•    Dimmer stats are exceptionally versatile and can be used in any application with any animal and with any heating equipment.
•    None to speak of, although in some applications there is a marginally cheaper stat that will do an equally effective job.  See below.

Box Out:

When setting up a vivarium with a dimmer stat and spotlight bulb it is important to use the correct wattage heater.   If the spotlight bulb is very bright or very dim it could indicate a problem.  A constantly bright light indicates that the bulb and stat are working too hard to keep the temperature at the desired level.  A higher wattage bulb will more easily achieve the temperature and will function at a safer ‘half dimmed’ level.  A constantly dim bulb indicates the wattage is too high and is kicking out so much heat that the stat needs to keep it very dim to hold the temperature in check.  It is far better to choose a wattage that operates in the centre of its range, not too bright, not too dim.  This allows the thermostat enough scope to increase or decrease the heat if necessary and means the vivarium is lit for viewing without increasing the risk of burns from ferociously hot bulbs.

Unexpected and unusual changes in brightness should always be investigated too as this could also indicate a fault such as an inadvertently nudged temperature dial or unit breakdown.

Pulse Thermotats.

Despite being less versatile than dimmers, pulse stats are often used in more advanced vivarium set ups because of their specialism.  Being exceptionally good at the job they do at a cheaper price than a dimmer makes them a hit with the more discerning herper.

Approximate Retail Price: £45

How they work:
Pulse stats regulate power to the heater by pulsing at differing intensities.  If the temperature is too low it pulses quicker at a higher intensity; when too cool it pulses slower and less intensely.
•    As with the dimmer stat the feedback and power supply are on a constant loop giving immediate temperature adjustments and minimum temperature fluctuations.
•    They are slightly cheaper than a dimmer stat.
•    Because of the pulsing nature by which they supply power, these stats can only be used with non-light emitting heat sources such as heat mats and ceramic heaters and cannot be used with spotlight bulbs.

So why are Pulse Stats so popular?
Most hobbyists will justifiably content themselves with coloured bulbs to minimise the effects of heater spotlights remaining on at night.  However, accurate photoperiod management (or the amount of light and dark your reptile sees) is another important aspect of reptile husbandry, particularly for breeders.  In advanced and breeding vivarium set ups, spotlights are often replaced with non-light emitting ceramic heaters which enable keepers to regulate the photoperiods more effectively, utilizing only natural light or fluorescent tubes for viewing. Pulse stats can control ceramic heaters perfectly well and so these are a good choice for this type of set up.

Optional Extras.
The three units outlined above are the most popular thermostats in use today but there are a handful of different varieties, variations and enhancements available too.  Some manufacturers offer thermostats that sit inside the vivarium rather than mounted on the outside.  Whilst this feature disposes of the need for separate temperature sensor cables it does also increase the risk of the temperature dial being turned by the inhabitant. (Although some brands solve this problem with dials that require adjustment using a screw-driver.)  Another downside is that these types of internally housed thermostats are less easily cleaned with water if the animal craps on it.
Another optional feature is an automatic night-time temperature drop option.  This can be activated with a timer unit, but some stats even incorporate a light sensitive ‘magic eye’ that triggers the drop when ambient light drops below a certain level.  The most advanced thermostats have the ability to manage temperatures in several vivariums at once, some using computer link ups to monitor and adjust each temperature separately.

Belt and Braces.
When thermostats fail the results can be disastrous.  Reptiles can tolerate relatively low temperatures for quite extended periods of time but temperatures even a few degrees above optimum can kill if the reptile is not able to escape.  Some thermostat manufacturers use components that (in most cases) ensure that should the unit fail it will default to the OFF position thus helping to avoid deadly overheating should the heater be stuck ON.
Another way to avoid this rare but devastating problem is to utilize a trip switch device which will kill all power to the heater should an upper temperature level be reached.  Fan units are also available to extract excess heat and kick in at a pre-set temperature level.  Both of these items of equipment can be ordered from your reptile supplier.

Retention Tool-kit.

•June 29, 2009 • Leave a Comment


Inviting lapsed or cancelled members back for another go – member retrieval – can bring in a few extra bucks.  But if that member receives the same old service they were getting before they quit, you are likely to get the same result.  If you do what you’ve always done, you get what you’ve always got.

The same goes for members too.  If they return to the club with the same approach they had before, then they are likely to trip over the same old problems that caused them to lapse in the first place.  If they have the same workload, the same childcare problems, the same level of motivation then there is likely to be only one outcome.

Although the member is ultimately responsible for their lifestyle change it is important that we make the transition as smooth as possible.  The first three months are tough times for new exercisers but we, “the experts”, should already be wise to the problems that they face. We should already be doing everything we can to make their life easier.

Your retention toolkit could include some of the simple tips outlined below.

1. As they leave the gym, ask the member when you will be seeing them next.

Most people do not plan their workouts in advance and consequently rely on spare time becoming available.  Trouble is, for most of us there is no such thing as spare time.  In order to simplify our lives we tend to fill our days with the same habits and routines we always have done.  There is often no room for exercise unless it has become a habit (Great!  But rare.) or unless we plan it in advance.  Prompting members to think about their next visit helps to reinforce their commitment to a session, and each session helps to create an exercise habit.

2. Let members write their own programme.

Members don’t need any more reasons not to attend, so eliminating exercises that they don’t like can eliminate barriers and detonate excuses.  The member is much more likely to find a programme agreeable if they wrote it themselves.  So long as the instructor ensures that the programme is effective then everyone is happy, and happy members are less likely to quit.

3. Promote the 10-Minute rule.

We all have days when we just don’t feel like doing a workout.  Some of us go home; some of us go to the gym anyway.  Usually, within a few minutes we are enjoying our workout and we’re glad we showed up.  Advertise the 10-Minute Workout rule to help those who feel their motivation slipping.  Turn up, do a 10-minute warm up and see how you feel.  If after 10 minutes you’re still not up for it then call it a day and head off home.  Most of the time they’ll get into the swing of things, do a full workout and feel rather pleased with themselves for doing so.  Less missed workouts helps build a stronger exercise habit.

4. Make sure they carry their membership card.

Our lifestyles are so complicated and involved that it is no wonder that members forget to plan their exercise and activity sessions.  Our old routines take over and before we know it we have another week of poor gym attendance.  This is no way to build a habit.  If only our members could be prompted in some way.  Maybe something they can keep in their wallet for them to see every day.  If you use Tesco, you may have noticed how many people carry their loyalty card on their keyring – thousands!  Multiply that nationwide and you have millions.  I can think of worse business role models than Tesco, can’t you?

5. Set SMART goals.

How can we deliver a good service if the member is unsure of what they want to achieve?  The bog standard goal that every member recites is “get fit, tone up, lose weight” but these terms are ambiguous and often mean different things to different members.  Make sure your instructors set goals that are Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic,  and Time-framed. If a member can then measure their progress and see the results clearly then they are more likely to stick with it.

6. Use the One-Set-Max principle.

Although the jury is still out for seasoned exercisers, new exercisers can make great progress with just one set. Who cares if they could make little more progress if they did three?  We know that long arduous workouts lead to drop-out, so let’s avoid that.

7. Reward good attendance.

Stop spending money on incentives for new members and start rewarding the ones you have.  Run a league table of top attendees and reward the ones at the top.  T-shirts and water bottles should be for loyal members instead of bribes for Johnny-come-latelys.  Recognition and reward is a big part of building a habit.

Published: Fitpro Business.

Bog Standards – A Guide to Boat Toilets

•June 21, 2009 • Leave a Comment


Get any group of boaters together and it won’t be long until the conversation turns to toilets.  This is meant most literally as boaters discuss the myriad of toilet types available and their inherent maintenance issues.  Whether ordering a new boat or browsing for second hand vessels there are several choices to be made when considering a loo.

Pump-out or cassette?

Boat toilets are not like regular land toilets.  By their very nature boat toilets cannot be fed directly into the sewers and will need to store their contents for disposal at some later time.  This invariably means a second encounter with your bodily waste and so it is worth considering which toilet system you prefer. Your choice of toilet typically comes down to two options – Pump out or Cassette.   Cassette toilets have a small removable unit in the base where waste is collected and stored.  Pump-out toilets rely on a larger immovable storage (or “black water”) tank, often located beneath a bed or integrally in the bathroom.

Cassette Toilets

Cassette toilets are the most popular option for boaters and there are several reasons for this.  Firstly they are often the cheapest to install with basic models costing around £70.  These will usually be plastic construction with smaller volume cassettes and water reservoirs, and have lever or plunger pump flush systems.  Whilst units in this price range are entirely functional there are more luxurious models available with features such as electric flush and larger cassette options.  The purchase price is not the only saving to consider when you choose a cassette toilet.  Emptying the contents of your cassette into a sanitary disposal point is usually free whereas there is almost always a charge to pump out a black water tank.

Another important benefit of a cassette toilet lies in the ease with which they can be emptied.   A pump out toilet needs to be taken to a pump out facility in order that it may be emptied.  Sometimes this is not possible; for example if you have broken down or if the weather prevents you from moving your boat.  If your tank is full and you are nowhere near a pump out facility then you are in deep doo doo!  Thankfully, with a cassette toilet you can always take Mohammed to the mountain.  Removing the cassette for emptying at the nearest facility is much more convenient if your boat is immobile for any reason.  Many boaters also keep spare cassettes, just in case they are caught short.

On the downside, cassette toilets are sometimes considered a little uncivilised by the uninitiated.  The integral storage unit of cassette toilets means their appearance differs from conventional land loos, leaving guests puzzled and your pan full.   Emptying a cassette is an experience that many find objectionable too, and a full cassette is quite a weighty load to carry if the disposal point is any distance away.  Eroded seals in the unit can also cause problems, although all seals are relatively cheap and easy to replace.  Most cassettes have a ventilation pressure valve which can stick shut if the seal is worn.  This can cause a build up of gas pressure and a vapourous release when the toilet is next used and flushed.  Ageing seals in the cassette can also allow unpleasant leakage.

Pump out toilets.

Those desiring a more conventional looking toilet will often plump for a pump out system.  These look much more like the toilets you would find in a house and this is often reassuring for those new to boating.  Indeed, even some experienced boaters prefer pump out systems, not only for the aesthetic benefits, but because emptying them is much less of a “hands on” experience.  Emptying your black water storage tank means a visit to a pump out facility where there is almost always a charge.  (Usually around £10 – £20.)  Once paid, emptying involves simply affixing the hose to your storage tank outlet and switching on the machine; the contents are then simply sucked from the tank into either a large tanker unit or directly into the sewers.  Many boaters find this to be a much more agreeable process to endure than the emptying of cassettes.  Staff in private marinas will often perform the procedure for you whereas BW provides automated facilities (which are credited using a pre-payment smart card or token) and you perform the task yourself.

Pump out toilet installation costs vary depending on the type of tank and the type of toilet you choose, and there are many variations to choose from.  “Dump through” systems sit atop a black water holding tank which is usually made of steel.  Prices for toilet pans vary from £180 for the basics to £600 for the most regal model.  The pedal flushing systems of most brands are universal across the range and so paying more money for your toilet buys you a pretty pan rather than any increased reliability.

Vacuum and compressed air toilets are becoming increasingly popular as they seal off the waste from view once flushed.  This complete disassociation is an attractive benefit for those who prefer a “home from home” toilet experience.  As with all toilet system benefits there is a price to pay for convenience and these systems are expensive compared with the other available options.  A vacuum loo will cost between £1000 and £1400 for the vacuum generator and pan combined, whereas a compressed air system will knock you back £2000.

As some pump out toilets can be sited apart from their storage tank it is worth considering that the pipe-work has the potential to store up to four flushes worth of waste before it arrives at its destination.  Michael Punter, from Lee Sanitation, recommends a “rise and fall” method to routing waste plumbing.  “The waste hose should rise steeply as it leaves the pan before falling gradually into the top of your black water tank.  A vacuum or compressed air flush will easily push waste over the apex of the pipe. It can then travel downhill at its leisure into the waste tank, thus avoiding it being stored in the pipe-work for any period of time. It’s also a good idea to keep waste pipes away from hot water plumbing in order to avoid drying and blockages.”

Costs and convenience are not the only variables to consider when comparing pump outs with cassettes.  Pump outs are more prone to blocking than their cassette cousins and this can be a monumental problem.  All manner of items can disagree with your pump out toilet and visitors are often the unwitting culprits.  Disposable nappies, sanitary towels, tampons, condoms and moist toilet tissues are amongst the countless objet d’art removed from blocked pump out loos.  It is easier to say what you CAN put into a pump out than to list what you can’t, and the list is only two items long.  The first is anything that has passed through your digestive system, namely faeces and urine.  The second item is common or garden toilet tissue.  Boaters with delicate derrieres should be aware that luxury and quilted toilet tissue does not break down as readily as do the more “value” brands.  Vacuum toilets also have a reputation for being prone to blockages which are usually due to over-enthusiastic tissue usage or plumbing installation problems.

Blockages can also occur when the contents of your tank harden.  This can happen if your tank is left for a period of time or if you forego the use of decomposition fluids. This allows the contents of your tank to dry out, solidify and collect at the bottom.  Quality toilet tissues can exasperate the problem until the lumpy sediment collects and solidifies to such an extent that it cannot be sucked by the pump out machinery.  The tank outlet eventually becomes blocked and remedying the situation can be a truly unpleasant experience. Whilst blockages are rare and mostly avoidable, pump out owners invariably have a story to tell about their toilet tribulations.

There are several ways to address the blockage problem, none of which can be called a joy.  Those with a “dump through” facility can utilise a stick or a length of flexible cable with which to palpitate the blockage, the aim being to break it up to pieces small enough to pump out.  Another method by which to do this is to use a pressure washer, but be sure to take care to avoid any splash-back!  Caustic soda and sulphuric acid can be used as a last resort, but be sure to confer with an expert if you decide to go down this road, particularly if your tank is plastic or has no vent system.

Some pump out toilets have macerator units fitted which grind up any waste before it is stored with a view to negating blockage problems.  Whilst anything which helps avoid a blocked toilet must be applauded one must care to avoid blocking the macerator itself as foreign objects can cause the unit to seize.  Consider also that it is impossible to access black water tanks through a pan with a macerator unit.  Most experts consider a tank with a sealable inspection hatch to be a useful insurance in any pump out set up.

Finally, eroded seals can be a problem with pump out toilets too as water from the pan can leak through faulty seals into the storage tank.  This can quickly fill a black water tank if the flush water is pumped from the main water supply tank.  Again, replacement seals are cheap to buy and although replacing them on a pump out system is a little more work, it is entirely do-able by those with the nose and the inclination.


Storing any amount of bodily waste for any amount of time will generate some smell.  There are several ways of dealing with this problem with the most common remedy being chemical warfare.  There are several brands of chemical liquids available for use in both pump-out and cassette systems, most of which are blue in colour and/or name.  These formaldehyde based fluids can be mixed with the water used to flush or used as a solution added directly into the storage tank  but whether you actually like the resulting chemical smell is a matter of taste and tolerance levels.

Flushing dump through toilets can release the gasses that build up inside sealed black water tanks and the odour can be quite offensive.  This can be negated by fitting a breather hose from the top of your tank, venting directly outside your boat and most new boats are fitted with these as a matter of course.  Breather hoses allow methane to escape gradually from the tank and not build up in the first place. They should be at least equal the diameter of the inlet pipes as this allows equal displacement volumes of air and waste when flushing and pumping out.

Eco-Friendly Toilets

Boat life is often conducted in close synergy with nature and so it is not surprising that chemical free eco friendly toilet systems are becoming increasingly popular.  The simplest way to achieve this is by replacing formaldehyde solutions with the more environmentally friendly nitrate and oxygen based products which essentially speed up the natural de-composition process.     Brewers yeast tablets are also effective in the fight against smells but be aware that the residues left behind by conventional chemicals stop both yeast and nitrate fluid systems from working.  Boaters wishing to make the transition from formaldehyde to more eco friendly options usually purchase a replacement cassette, although a period of abstention from chemical usage and some vigorous rinsing may do the trick.     It is more difficult to rid black water tanks of formaldehyde as they tough to rinse and cleanse effectively.

Composting toilets are becoming more popular on boats too, with a variety of systems being available.  With some care they can be wonderfully effective in avoiding both smells disposal problems.  In a nutshell they work by allowing oxygen to do its job of drying and composting the waste and most utilise sawdust as a means of ensuring desiccation.  Obviously liquids (such as urine or less solid faeces) can cause problems for the drying process and if you don’t dispose of your wee separately then you’ll need to use much more sawdust to keep the compost dry and aerated.  Other systems include a heated or fan-dried composting compartment which helps to evaporate the urine more quickly.  In my view these systems miss the point entirely by using energy to power the units and doing a poor job of composting to boot.

In reality, most composting boaters don’t actually compost their waste on the boat, but transport it ashore to decompose there.  The toilet systems I have seen in use are simple bucket and chuck-it affairs, usually comprising of commode type throne which is emptied to a compost heap ashore.  But many people forget that by forgoing use of the mains sewerage system entirely, composters do not add to the environmental impact of sewerage farms. Along with the reduced chemical impact on the environment, composting toilet owners also save water (by not flushing) and seem to grow the most delicious strawberries.


Many thanks to Michael Punter from Lee Sanitation, Bob Mills from NB Elijah and Darren from NB Dunster for their advice and information.

Box Outs

Sea Toilets

Sea Toilets were popular on boats before it became illegal to dump sewerage directly into the waterways system.  These lever flushing toilets are still available but must now be pumped into a storage tank.  Although some older boats still have overboard pumping sea toilets fitted, the Boat Safety Scheme means that alternative toileting facilities must available.

Water Usage

Toilet Type Average Water per Flush
Dump Through 0.5 – 1.5 Litres
Macerator 2.5 Litres
Vacuum 0.5 – 1.5 Litres
Compressed Air 3 Litres
Lever op Sea Toilet 4 Litres

Top Toilet.

Top of the range vacuum cassette toilets closely resemble a conventional home toilet with a floor standing ceramic bowl, but can cost around £1100

Self pump out equipment

Self pump out kits do exactly what it says on the tin.  The kit is either operated manually using a lever or is powered electrically and pumps out the contents of a black water tank into the disposal points used by cassette owners.  This usually negates the cost of using traditional pump out facilities but is more a hands-on approach.  A few BW disposal facilities (usually septic tank based) are not free for self pump out users as the volumes being discharged are closely managed.

Toilet Tissue.

Recycled toilet tissue is becoming more robust as manufacturers are increasingly using bonding agents.  The guys at Lee Sanitation recommend a simple test to see how appropriate your brand of tissue is for boat loo use.

Put two sheets of toilet tissue into a pint glass of water and stir well.  If the tissue breaks up easily then it is boat approved.  If it stays in sheets then give it a miss!

Breather Hoses.

Most of us do not notice any smell from the breather hoses which vent outside our boats, but if you would like to spare the noses of delicate passers by then you may wish to fit an inline carbon filter.

Toilet Trouble 1. Bob – Leeds Liverpool Canal. West Yorks.

A friend of mine was carrying his full cassette to be emptied one summer afternoon when he slipped and fell on the towpath.  As the cassette hit the floor it burst open, covering him with the contents, which was unpleasant enough.  However, his sympathies lay with the guests on the restaurant boat moored directly next to the incident who were attempting to enjoy an al-fresco lunch.

Toilet Trouble 2. Ruben – Erewash Canal.  Derbyshire.

My parents enjoyed occasional days out on my boat in the summer but my mum was particularly wary of my dump through pump out loo.  They came to visit one weekend and on arrival my mum rushed to use the loo after the long journey from London.    I was a little worried when she called my dad for help and even more so when I found out why.  Somehow my mother had managed to drop her car keys into the pan and flush them into the poo tank.  I was left to retrieve them while they retired to a nearby pub for lunch.

Published Waterways World Magazine – June 2009

Tony’s Top 5 Reptile Care Tips.

•May 25, 2009 • Leave a Comment

For the past twenty years reptiles have been the fastest growing sector of the UK pet industry.  Whilst retailers may be familiar with the care and husbandry of more traditional pets, you may be surprised to hear that caring for reptiles is not as tricky as you first thought.  Tony Jones gives us his Top 5 Reptile Care Tips to help keep your herps in tip top condition.

1.    Water Bowls.
Providing clean water is an obvious part of caring for any animal and this is especially true for reptiles.  Clean water should be offered daily and soiled bowls should be replaced and disinfected on sight.  Many reptile diseases and infections are commonly transferred through shared water bowls so always disinfect bowls before using them for with another animal.

A weekly disinfection routine is recommended and most large collections have enough bowls to cover a “one to wash, one for water” rotation process. Your reptile wholesaler will be able to recommend a selection of suitable disinfection products.  It is common to see lime-scale rings around the inside of bowls where the local water supply is hard.  Whilst this is not considered to be problematic in itself it can indicate that the in house disinfection protocol is less than regular.

Drowned crickets can be a problem in vivariums housing insectivorous species so be sure to provide some type of escape ladder in the water bowl.  Filter wool or floating lollipop sticks do the job wonderfully and some manufacturers even offer aesthetically pleasing options that can be stocked and sold to discerning customers.

2.    Overcrowding.
Most reptiles and particularly wild caught specimens carry parasitic load.  In the wild and in ideal captive conditions these parasites are kept under control by the animals immune system but overcrowding can create an imbalance.  Overcrowding will not only cause a parasitic concentration, but the inherent stress will damage the reptiles’ immune systems too.  Parasites can then overwhelm the host causing illness and probable mortality.

It is advisable to house as few animals in each vivarium as possible with one to each viv being the ideal.  If you do need to house several animals together then providing plenty of hides will enable animals to retreat from stressful encounters with their cage mates.  Provide shelters across the entire temperature gradient in the enclosure to ensure the animals do not need to make a choice between their security and temperature needs.

3.    Escapes.
Escapes can be a death sentence for reptiles.  The microclimate inside their vivarium will differ greatly from the environment outside and so great care must be taken to prevent escapes.  One of the first things I was ever taught about reptiles is that “If they can, then they probably will” and I have lost count of the number of reptile pets I have met that are named Houdini.

The most common means of escape is the fault of the keeper.  Failure to secure the door of the vivarium is by far the most common cause of escapes and is entirely avoidable.  Another similar problem occurs when either the inhabitant or an unwitting observer manages to accidentally open the enclosure unnoticed.  Again, this can be easily avoided by fitting some kind of latch or locking mechanism.

Unsuitable enclosures are another common means of escape.  Ventilation holes and mesh should be fine enough to deter even the smallest captive and should be regularly checked to ensure it is still securely fitted.  Escapes between badly fitted sliding glass doors are another popular modus operandi for escapees so be sure that you fit the correct thickness of glass into the correct width runner.  Even then it is not unknown for slender snakes to flatten themselves enough to creep between the sheets of glass.  Garter and ribbon snakes are notoriously good at breaching the perimeter in this way and many keepers fill the gap with plastic runners or foam beading.

4.    Overheating.
Temperature is the most obvious factor in the care of reptiles but many are surprised to learn that excess heat is far more dangerous than excess cold. Reptiles can withstand cold conditions for quite considerable periods of time but excess heat can kill in minutes.  Uncontrolled heat sources in confined spaces can quickly cause a problem and so it is recommended that every vivarium is thermostatically controlled.

Summer temperatures can also cause problems if vivariums are exposed to direct sunlight.  A thermostat can only control the heat source within the enclosure and cannot cool a vivarium that is overheated by the sun.   Providing shelters or burrowing opportunities can be a great help and these should always be provided but keepers should take care to position their vivariums away from direct sunlight.  It is not unknown for keepers to be caught unawares when the temperature rises by just a few degrees in the spring and so regular monitoring is highly advisable at this time of year.

5.    Gut loading
Invertebrate live foods such as crickets, locusts and mealworms must be gut loaded to ensure their nutritional quality.  The exoskeletons of these live foods are of little dietary value and so it important to ensure that the digestive system is packed with goodness.

Live foods are fed a high nutrient diet prior to being dispatched from the breeder, but after just a few days on your shelf the bugs will have excreted the contents of their digestive systems, leaving the empty exoskeleton shell.  Gut loading formula foods for all bugs is available from your wholesaler and it is vitally important to feed your bugs before you feed your reptiles.  Although your insectivorous reptile stock would likely be sold before any problems arose from poor nutrition, gut loading is nevertheless a point of good practice, if not only to promote the necessary products to your customers.

It is also advisable to remove or kill any uneaten live-food left in vivariums at the end of each day as these bugs will likely have digested and excreted their gut loaded quality.  If left overnight these bugs will feast on the only moist substance available to them, ensuring they become gut loaded with reptile faeces.


1030 Words.    Published Pet Product Marketing 2009

Small Mammals

•April 11, 2009 • 2 Comments
Rats make suprisingly good pets.

Rats make suprisingly good pets.

“Go ask your uncle Tony!” was all I heard from across the kitchen as the excited 6 year old came rushing towards me.
“Sam’s mum bought her a rabbit and I want one too.”  said Emily. “Can you get me a rabbit Uncle Tony?”
I thought for a minute, sure I had owned rabbits in the past, but these had been mostly frozen ones to feed to my pythons.  I’d never kept a rabbit as a pet and I wasn’t sure I was the best person to ask about how to keep them.  I find it strange that I seem to be asked every wildlife, pet and animal query my circle of friends can dream up.
“Leave it with me,” I said “I’ll see what I can do.”

To be honest, I didn’t know where to start.  I don’t know much about rabbits and the only pet ones I had seen lived outdoors and had a hutch and a garden to play in.  As Emily lived in a second floor apartment with no garden I wasn’t sure a rabbit would be her best choice.  But hey!  What do I know?  I’m a reptile breeder.  I decided that the best course of action would be to consult some people who DID know.  First stop: Simon at Simon’s Rodents

“I see!” said Simon when he heard of my quest.
“So what do you suggest?” I said in desperation.
“Where do I start?” he responded, and took a deep breath.
“Rabbits can be kept indoors believe it or not, but not every family is happy to do so.  There are plenty of other options, but it depends who’s doing the maintenance what they like.”

Over the next half an hour Simon regaled me with a list of animals, highlighting their pro’s and cons.  The usual suspects were there such as Guinea Pigs, Mice, Rats, Rabbits and Hamsters which were apparently easy to keep and low maintenance.
“This is usually the starting point for kids who want a pet but aren’t old enough for a dog or cat. Russian Hamsters used to be popular, but nowadays they are a bit in-bred and are a little more nippy than they were.  A better option is the newly domesticated Winter White Dwarf Hamster which make great pets.”

I made a note.

Being a bit of an exotics fan myself it wasn’t long until the interesting species joined in the conversation.  I’d seen Sugar Gliders on exotics price lists but never really known what they were.
“They’re an Australian Marsupial Squirrel” said Simon with authority.  “There’s a few people breeding them and they’re not difficult to keep, but perhaps a little too involved for kids.  They’re more of a specialist’s project really.”
“What else is there like that then?” I asked, getting a taste for the extravagant.
“Well Gambian Pouch rats are fun and great to observe, as are Black Ship Rats, but these don’t particularly like being handled, they’re more of a display animal if you get my drift.”

I couldn’t imagine Emily being happy with something she couldn’t play with and so I crossed these off my list too.  By now however I was becoming interested in getting something like this as a project for myself.
“Duprasiis are a fun little animal and could be right up your street” he said, reeling me in.
“Du – what?” I said, thoroughly out of my depth.
“Duprasiis!” he laughed.  “It’s sometimes called a Fat Tailed Gerbil. They don’t burrow like your common or garden Gerbil and they eat crickets.   You can tell from the name that hey store fat in their tails and they get most of their liquid requirements from live-foods such as crickets.  You use crickets for your lizards don’t you?”
“Y, yeah!” I replied, realizing that I’d almost committed to a purchase!
“But getting back to the kids pet” I body-swerved “What else is available?”

From then it became a bit of a blur with the conversation hopping from Pygmy mice, (which are apparently the size of a £1 coin) to Dwarf Mice, neither of which are good for cuddling and so were discounted.  Chinchillas and Chip-monks got a mention too and were similarly disqualified for being un-cuddle-worthy.
“These are more suited to adults who like interesting pets.” said Simon, clearly enjoying the conversation.

“We’re back to square one then.” I remarked
I was admittedly a little disappointed.  I was quite looking forward to introducing a Fruit Bat or a Skunk into Emily’s home, just to see the look on her mum’s face.  Unfortunately neither if these was realistically a good idea and so we were back to discussing Hamsters and Guinea Pigs.
“I’ve got an image to uphold though Simon!” I said disappointedly.  “I’m well known for sending her mum squealing into the kitchen when I turn up with some weird and wonderful animal.  It’s not a reputation I’m willing to sacrifice.  I need something that Emily can easily maintain and handle regularly but will upset her mum sufficiently to keep us both happy.”

“I think I have just the thing!” said Simon with a grin.

The next week I turned up at Emily’s house to deliver her new secret pet.  She knew it wasn’t a rabbit (you have to leave them to settle in for a couple of days before you can handle them apparently and Emily agreed that his was far too much to ask!) and so she was excited to see what kind of cool pet Uncle Tony would arrive back with.

“Before I bring your new pet in you have to make me a promise!” I said as I sat down at the table
Emily nodded excitedly.
“You have to promise me that you will look after this pet yourself and not expect your mum to do it for you”
Mum nodded approvingly
“You have to promise me that you will read everything you can find about them and call me if you have any problems at all.”
Emily and Mum nodded together.

As we walked out to the car to collect the equipment Mum turned to me and gave me a hug.  “Thanks Tony, I knew we could rely on you.”
I said nothing and stifled a smirk.
We spent some time setting up the cage and providing food and water and bedding etc.  The tension was mounting as everyone gathered around the small vented cardboard box that had been sitting on the table waiting for the moment of truth.
Slowly I pulled open the flap and let the creature climb slowly and tentatively onto my hand.
“What is it?” said Emily, squinting her eyes.
“It’s….it’s…IT’S A BLOOMIN RAT!!!!” squealed Mum as she ran into the kitchen, slamming the door behind her.
“Oh it’s lovely!” said Emily as the bronze and white rodent crawled into its cage.  “I love it!”
“We have to have words Mr. Jones!” came a shout from the kitchen.

My work here is done!

Published PBW News – 2007

Tattoo Prejudice.

•April 10, 2009 • 4 Comments

Latina - Tattoo Jam Aug 2009

“Prejudice is a great time saver.
You can form opinions without having to get the facts.”

E.B. White.  1899 – 1985.

Judging people based on their appearance is a useful sociological tool, so much so that most of the process is conducted subconsciously and automatically.  It can be an accurate character-assessment short cut as people’s appearance choices are often reflections of their internally held beliefs and motivation.  From hair style to clothing, the car you drive and the colour of your lipstick; your choices say a lot about you.  Errors do occur however, when the interpretation of cues is affected by social or historical factors that are no longer relevant.  (For instance, the traditional skinhead style of dress is rarely affiliated with racist beliefs in today’s scene.)  The rapid rise in tattoo popularity observed over the last two decades has diluted the historical stereotype beyond recognition and a new tattoo culture has emerged.  Unfortunately, many people’s viewpoints and opinions have failed to keep pace with the changes we have seen and prejudices are still commonplace.

“O Lord, help me not to despise or oppose what I do not understand.”
William Penn.
(Champion of liberty and peace. 1644 – 1718)

The astonishingly rapid rise in popularity has undoubtedly led to some progress and social acceptance.  Media coverage of tattooed celebrities and sports personalities has increased to the point where even tattoos and tattooers themselves are enjoying primetime television exposure.  It seems that tattoos have become part of fashionable mainstream culture whether we like it or not.  Whilst some of us may lament the daring and rebellious exclusivity we previously relished, perhaps we should be thankful too, as familiarity can help to break down the associated stigmas.

But despite a meteoric rise in popularity, many still view tattoos and tattooed people with disdain and ink fans frequently face prejudices that affect their work, social life and relationships.  The people I spoke with whilst researching this article exhibited a range of opinions spanning a wide spectrum.  I was interested to find out if the ones who expressed a prejudice could substantiate their position with reasoning or fact.  Whilst some respondents hinted towards the historical criminal and working class stereotypes, most could not offer any basis for their opinion.  When pressed, the common response would be that they had been influenced by their parents, peers or by society’s opinion as a whole.  Most also conceded that they realised their views were not wholly accurate, but admitted that they continued to hold them anyway.

Some Tattoo Statistics.

•    Life magazine: estimated in 1936 that 10 million Americans (approximately 6% of the population) had at least one tattoo.
•    Harris Poll: A survey conducted in 2003, nearly tripled those numbers and estimates that 16% of Americans now had one or more tattoos.
•    National Geographic News: stated in April 2000 that 15% of Americans were tattooed (Approximately 40 million people.)
•    Esquire Magazine: estimated in March 2002 that 1 in 8 Americans was tattooed.
•    Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology: A 2006 a study done found that 24% of Americans between 18 and 50 are tattooed; that’s almost one in four. And the survey showed that about 36% of Americans age 18 to 29 have at least one tattoo.
•    Paw Research Centre: according to a 2006 survey, 36% of those ages 18 to 25, and 40% of those ages 26 to 40 have at least one tattoo.

Not only are tattoos becoming ever more popular but also they are transcending their traditional working class roots.  The osmosis of ink into the middle and upper classes is on the rise and every artist I spoke with said that their studio caters for people from all socio-economic and demographic groups. Indeed most considered this fact to be unremarkable and were puzzled that it could be thought noteworthy nowadays.  Theresa Gordon-Wade works out of Lifetime Tattoo in Derby. “It’s gotten to the point where I wouldn’t be surprised if Barak Obama came in for some work!” she laughs.  “We get all kinds of folk in here from every kind of background.  If you’re trying to find a pattern or a pigeon hole then you’re wasting your time.”

Given the volume and variety of people with tattoos today, the old fashioned stereotypes that society clings to cannot possibly be accurate. My own research unearthed some quite disturbing viewpoints, where respondents used words like violent, criminal, stupid, dirty and unprofessional to describe those with tattoos.  These opinions may be prejudiced and inaccurate in most cases, but we are still affected by them nonetheless.

Unlike those who face racial or sexual prejudice, tattoo enthusiasts do have choices.  One way to avoid the prejudices tattooed people face would be to not get a tattoo in the first place.  For many though, this is simply not acceptable as the right to make choices of personal taste should be fervently protected, so long as they do not affect anyone else’s happiness or lifestyle.  That said, in choosing to have a tattoo we must understand the choices we make may invoke negative reactions.  It would be foolish to expect everyone we encounter to have an open mind and a sensible attitude, and so perhaps we should consider how we can pro-actively deal with prejudice, rather than simply bemoan the fact that it happens.

For those who already have tattoos the simplest way to avoid negative reactions is to keep them hidden from view.  This is of course dependent on many variables, from the size and location of the ink to the type of clothes you wear, but it has proven to be a successful strategy for many, particularly where parents and employers are concerned.  Many feel that it is preferable and considerate to spare parents the upset of finding out about their ink if they are not of a generation or culture to understand.  Others feel that it is better to bite the bullet.  One respondent recently decided to tell her mother about her collection of tattoos after almost ten years of hiding them.  “I was sick of the stress involved in being constantly on my guard.  I had to be careful which clothes I wore in the summer and I was always worried that she would catch a glimpse of them somehow. I thought that a couple of hour’s worth of stress when she found out was preferable to another 10 years of secrecy and hiding.”

“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudice, and motivated by pride and vanity.”
Dale Carnegie.  1888 – 1955.
(Author & Lecturer.)

Those worried about the reaction of employers often choose to hide their ink as a means of avoiding prejudices in the workplace.  It is difficult to balance the desire to be treated fairly with the risk of losing one’s income or job prospects and so concealment is often the path of least resistance, especially when the consequences are so severe.  Thirty nine percent of Americans believe employers have the right to deny employment based on appearance factors such as weight, body art and hair style¹.  Neither is it illegal in UK employment law to discriminate against body art and it is worth knowing where your company stands on the issue. The difficulty occurs when covering tattoos is either impossible or unacceptable for the wearer, as employers could react unfavourably, either overtly or covertly.  It is a difficult choice for employers to make if there is conflict between avoiding unfair prejudice and the need to promote customer satisfaction and a supposed professional image.  In most cases though, employers will be tolerant of all but the most “objectionable” tattoos if the performance of the employee is good. I would be preferable if employers were able to encourage a more considerate company culture based on performance, rather than one that perpetuates prejudice.

A recent survey found that:

•    36% believe tattoos and piercings should be forbidden in the workplace.
•    41% would not hire someone with visible tattoos and piercings.
•    43% of companies had a policy concerning visible tattoos and piercings.

Source: Proceedings of the Academy for Economics and Economic Education, Volume 10, Number 2
N.B. Women’s ears were excluded from these surveys and statistics.

The Everlasting Job Stopper

Working in formal or corporate settings can prove tiresome if owning body art becomes a criterion when evaluating performance and some prefer to negate the problem entirely.  Bold tattoos on hands, face and neck are becoming increasingly commonplace and although things are changing slowly, choosing to have tattoos in these places can dictate employment options.  The desire for the Everlasting Job Stopper tattoo should be weighed against the desire to work in a specific industry or environment and an understanding that job plans can change much more quickly than a culture of prejudice.

At the other end of the scale there are those who have no desire to work 9 – 5 in a restrictive and prejudicial culture and prefer to work where their appearance is not an issue.  Apart from the obviously attractive self-employment option, there are many industries where tattoos are not part of the recruitment or appraisal process and a great many tattoo fans choose earn a living in this way.  These industries often exist on the outskirts of modern popular culture and can be amazingly diverse and interesting places to work.  One employer I spoke with confessed to actively favouring body art and “general free thinking” when evaluating employees and applicants.  “Conventional and normal just makes me think boring and in my line of work, boring doesn’t sell.  Conventional people are just the same as everyone else and you can’t expect an exceptional performance from an ordinary person.”

A pro-active approach to prejudice.

Prejudice against a person based purely on the ownership of a tattoo is unjust.  If a person’s behaviour is unacceptable then any remonstration should be directed towards the individual, and not infer all tattoo owners.  Those who have been unfairly treated simply for being tattooed may justifiably feel angry or saddened, but the response to prejudice should be carefully considered.  Aggressive or confrontational reactions serve only to perpetuate the prejudice and will not usually bring the desired (long term) result.  Equaling the score will not fix the prejudice problem.  We should perhaps look to the opposite end of the spectrum and ignore completely the behaviour of those who are prejudiced.  Instead we could look to influence those who have yet to form a solid opinion.

Appearance choices do not define a person; they act merely as an indicator of preference.  Whilst appearance can often be a reliable reference, a person is truly defined by their behaviour; the things that they say and do.  (Even the things one professes to believe are merely “good intentions” if not borne out by one’s actions.)    Children who have yet to form a viewpoint and adults who currently sit on the fence are influenced by their experiences and the role models they encounter.   If you own a tattoo then you are an ambassador for western tattoo culture whether you like it or not.  Actions and behaviour will influence the opinions of those who have yet to form a prejudice.

“A minority group has “arrived” only when it has the right to produce some fools and scoundrels without the entire group paying for it.”
Carl T. Rowan 1925 – 2000.
(Civil Rights journalist.)

It is understandable that people are comforted by the things they find familiar and many aspire to the conventional lifestyles and opinions depicted in the media.  Conventionality is an easy way to garner approval and a sense of belonging and so is not surprising that those immersed in a strictly conventional lifestyle will sometimes feel threatened by anything from outside their comfort zone.  Confidence and comfort are environmentally specific traits and tattoos are not usually part of the environments in which strictly conventional people are comfortable.

This magazine documents the fabulous diversity of tattoo culture.  The tattoos displayed here are wonderful examples of how tastes, fashions, compulsions and motivations differ, even within the world of tattoo ownership. Most would agree that diversity is to be welcomed and applauded and the fact that tattoos are not yet a familiar part of traditional conventional western culture does not excuse prejudice.  Just because body art is not comfortably appreciated by convention does not mean that its exponents should be treated unfairly.

Not everyone will LIKE tattoos, just as not everyone LIKES mullet haircuts, polyester shell suits or Westlife; and vive le difference! But to attack someone’s personality for their choices of taste is unjust and unacceptable.  The amount of energy you expend in addressing prejudice is a matter for you to decide; ignore it, or hide from it, or fight it.  Whichever you see fit.  But I think we should understand that our behaviour is the factor on which we should ideally be judged.  It is up to us to ensure that we conduct our lives in a way that we can be proud of, whether we are fans of body art or not.

References & Sources:
¹ Scripts Howard News Service. Ohio University. 2005.
Pew Research Centre for People and the Press.
Proceedings of the Academy for Economics and Economic Education, Volume 10, Number 2.
Department of Communicative Disorders. University of Louisiana. Is perception reality? Employers’ perspectives on tattoos and body piercing.

Anecdote  (Box Out.)

Samantha was gorgeous; I mean really stunning.  Not in a typically plastic Hollyoaks type way, but she just had something about her.  I couldn’t tell you what it was to this day but I thought she was sexy as hell.  The way she walked, her laugh, the way she told a story, all of these things just added to her appeal and I was smitten.  And she liked me too I could tell, after all I’m quite a catch myself!  (If you like that kind of thing!?)  We got on like a house on fire and even her friend had mentioned that she’d never seen Samantha look so happy with a guy.  It was going great.

It was a typically English November with the weather alternating between four different types of wind and rain.  Samantha and I had been on a few dates already and each time it had been fabulous.  The first was to a kooky little café bar on the outskirts of town where we sat talking for hours until closing time.  As she said goodnight and climbed into the taxi I found myself smiling and content, eager to see her again as soon as possible.  I didn’t have to wait long; as I walked towards home my phone bleeped with a text message inviting me to dinner the next night.   The horizontal rain and freezing cold winds did nothing to dampen my spirit.  The next two dates were a continuation of the first and I found myself dizzy with the beautiful aching one feels after spending the evening with a girl you realise you are falling for.  It would take more than dark clouds and thundery skies to wipe the smile from my face.

Apparently Samantha had reserved the right to do that herself.

It had been an unusually bright and dry day when we next met for dinner in town.  We enjoyed a feast of fabulous Thai food and once again talked the night away until closing time, not noticing the weather outside had become ferociously stormy.  As we stood outside the restaurant taking as much shelter as was available in the doorway, we considered our options for getting home and soon resigned ourselves to a walk back to my house, some half a mile away.  In the bright and dry early evening light Samantha had looked stunning in her shawl and headscarf, but as the wind and rain swirled around us she looked decidedly unprepared for the walk.  She didn’t take much persuading to accept my mac and I concluded that chivalry was a fair exchange for a cold and wet trek home.

Once there I disappeared into the bathroom to find a towel and pulled off my wet shirt.
“Oh my god!” came the exclamation from Samantha.
I honestly thought she was impressed with my physique.  I swear, that was truly my first thought, but when I looked round I could see that she was far from impressed.  She had a look of pure disgust on her face and was backing away.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, concerned.  My mind was swimming as I grappled for some reason she may be so taken aback.
“Those tattoos!” she replied, still with the stunned and horrified look on her face.  “You’ve got tattoos!”
“Well, yes.” I said, a little puzzled.  “What’s the problem?”
“I didn’t know you were like that. You don’t seem the type.”
“And what type would that be?” I asked.  To be honest, I was a little annoyed.  After all, they’re just tattoos, and quite good ones at that.
“I don’t know, but I didn’t think you’d have tattoos.  I just never thought about it, you have them all over you!”

The next few minutes really sealed the end of our relationship.  I was courteous enough to pull on a t-shirt as Samantha explained how she hated tattoos and everything they stood for. How she saw them as branding for low lives and criminals and how she couldn’t understand why anyone would want to scar their body in such a way.  She said they looked cheap, tacky and how people who had them must hate themselves and their bodies for them to deface it in such a way.

It seemed that our conversations over the last few weeks had told her less about who I was as a person than she could deduce from my tattoos.  All the stories, the deep and meaningful conversation, the shared viewpoints; all of this was washed away and meaningless as she whitewashed her opinions of me based on the fact that I had tattoos.

I was a little sad as the taxi arrived to take her home.  Not sad that she was leaving, or that we’d probably not see each other again; just sad that there are still people in the world who judge a person based on how they look rather than how they behave.  I wasn’t sorry to call time on Samantha.
It seems we had each made some terrible errors of judgement when we decided we liked each other.

Published – Skin Deep Magazine.   April 2009

Madagascar, Mauritius and Round Island – Part 1. (Nosy Hara.)

•March 17, 2009 • Leave a Comment
Nosy Hara - off Madagascar.

Nosy Hara - off Madagascar.

Back when I was a kid I used to dream of hunting for reptiles in far off exotic places.  I would let my fantasy run wild each time I fell in love with a new species, imagining trips to their country of origin and discovering them in their native habitat.  I’d read books about Carl Kauffield chasing reptiles in Florida or listen to Mark O’shea lecturing about being bitten by snakes in Papua New Guinea and be green with envy.  I wished more than anything in the world that I could do that.  I desperately wanted those experiences for myself.

My love of reptiles has only grown over the years, and so have my fantasy herping trips.  My list of places I want to go has grown too, Brazil, Australia, India… the list is endless.  Then sometime in 2005 I decided to stop dreaming and start doing.  It was time to live the dream.  I could not have known at the time, but the actual journey would surpass even my wildest fantasy.

Jim Pether and I have been friends for approximately 20 years and I blame him entirely for my fantasy field trip fetish.  I remember sitting listening to his stories about far-flung places and the animals he has seen and knew that I wanted to go with him someday.  Over the years we had often talked about going somewhere together but could never agree on a venue.  Eventually we decided on the place at the very top of my list.


I have wanted to go to Madagascar for as long as I can remember.  I remember seeing my first Day Gecko and sacrificing a weeks wages for a pair.  Panther Chameleons were something I only saw in books and when I saw my first Sanzinia I was hooked. Dumerills Boas, Mantella, Leaf Tail Geckos.  It sounded like herp heaven! To go there with Jim Pether would be a dream come true and I couldn’t wait!  I started researching, finding out which species I could expect to see and making sure I could identify anything we might find.  Of course, I knew that the godfather of Madagascar field trips was Bill Love, the big Yankee herp tour leader.  His company, Blue Chameleon Ventures takes herpers out to Madagascar every year and the photo travelogues on his website are testament to Bill’s efficiency.  So as you can imagine, I was over the moon when Jim called to tell me that Bill would be joining us on our trip.  I couldn’t believe my luck!

I was already bragging to my herp friends about the trip and all of them were very pleased for me.  (Actually they were jealous as hell!)  Bill, Jim and I bounced emails back and forth, finalizing the details.
“How do you fancy visiting my friend in Mauritius?” said Jim in one email.  “He has a reptile park with hundreds of Aldabra tortoises and crocs.  It’s only a short flight to there from Madagascar”
“Why not?” I thought.  “May as well while we are in that neck of the woods!”
“Gee, you know how close Mauritius is to Round Island!” replied Bill.  “Sure would be cool to go there!”
“Forget it!” I said. “We have no hope! It’s a closed project!”

Round Island is well known to conservationists and to herpers in particular.  Gerald Durrell first highlighted its plight as a conservation issue during his visit in 1976.  Since then Durrell and Jersey Zoo have been active in restoring the island, starting with the eradication of the goats and rabbits and subsequent re-planting of native vegetation.  As a protected area, the Mauritian government restricts visitors to the island to scientists and conservationists, but that didn’t stop us dreaming.  We knew that Round Island was home to super rare reptiles, such as the world’s largest Day Gecko and the Telfair Skink.  The Keel Scaled Boa (Casarea dussumieri) is almost legendary amongst reptile conservationists as is its close relative (Bolyeria multocarinata) that has not been seen there since 1975 and is feared extinct. Both of these primitive snakes are special, as unlike the South American boas, they lay eggs.  An opportunity to see these snakes in the wild would be fantastic but there was little probability of us achieving it.  This was one fantasy too far!

Two weeks later I found an email from Bill in my in box.  “Hey guys, how do you fancy going to a small, uninhabited island off the north coast of Madagascar for a few days while we are there?  There’s a lizard I have heard of that may be un-described, it would be great to catch it, and if we don’t then hey!  It’s still a great side trip!”
“Too right” replied Jim “Count me in!”
This trip was getting out of control!

As the day of departure approached I was becoming more and more nervous.  Did I have all of the kit I would need?  Had I packed too much?  Did I know enough about the places we were going and the animals we might see?  It was daunting to think that these guys were seasoned herp hunters with big reputations!  By comparison, I was just the apprentice!  Having checked, double checked and triple checked my kit; I was dropped off at London Heathrow Airport to meet Jim.

We arrived in the capital Tana, tired and aching, Bill (who had already been in the country for six weeks) was there to meet us.  It was 11 pm and so after a quick beer and introductions it was time for bed.  We had another flight in the morning to take us to Diego Suarez, our destination in the north of the island.

Early next morning we boarded the plane for Diego Suarez, which was to include a brief stop in Nosy Be.  I mentioned to Bill that it was a shame we could not get off on this small island to look for the beautiful Nosy Be variety of Panther Chameleons.  “Don’t worry about it Tony!” said Bill nonchalantly, you’ll see Panthers that make these ones look ugly once we get to Ambanja.”  I thought about this for the rest of the flight, not sure if I could believe such a bold claim.  Nosy Be panthers are pretty stunning after all!

Not counting the taxi ride to the hotel, we had been on the ground for no more that 15 minutes before Jim found our first Panther Chameleon (Furcifer pardalis).  The green and red male was of course the most fantastic specimen I had ever seen.  As it walked slowly up my arm I almost missed Bill walking towards me with a branch, perched on which was a male Ostalets Chameleon! (Furcifer oustaleti)  This was too much!  I snapped more than 50 digital pictures of these two animals, whilst Jim and Bill laughed at my excitement.   After a few more minutes of searching we reluctantly made our way to reception to be met by Zack who would be our guide and driver for the next few days and would accompany us to Nosy Hara.

The boat journey to Nosy Hara would take approximately 3 hours so we made sure we had enough beer for the journey and set off as soon as the tide allowed.  Soaked by the waves and half drunk on strong Malagasy beer, we moored on a beach in a small bay. Supplies were unloaded, tents were pitched and firewood collected before we settled down with yet another beer whilst Zack prepared dinner.  Our plans for a night hike after sundown were discussed over a meal of Zebu steak and rice, which for me, a vegetarian of some 20 years was something of an experience!

That night equipped with cameras, head-torch and snake bags we set off across the island, following a small, bubbling freshwater stream steep uphill towards the centre.  It wasn’t long before we were rewarded with our first herp, which we heard long before we saw.  On the edge of the stream on a small log was a Green Mantella Frog (Mantella viridis) which we had heard calling from some distance away.  After firing off a few shots it leapt away across the mulch and rocks and out of reach.  It was then that we noticed there were two more frogs within a few feet of where we stood, and that more than one individual made the calls.  Giant Day Geckos were so common that we were tempted, even then, to walk past without taking more pictures; but we had not yet reached Day Gecko saturation point and so temptation inevitably got the better of us as I used up more memory on my digital camera.

As we battled our way to the summit we were all exhausted and our rest breaks were becoming increasingly frequent.  After 2 hours of steep uphill, we came to our final stop. We switched off our head-torches and the conversation died as we were overwhelmed by the darkness and the sounds of the forest at night.  The peaceful beauty of the mountain forest left a lump in my throat and I could not have been more contented than I was right there and then.  With some reluctance we prepared for the hike home.  Trekking back to camp in near silence even searching for reptiles became secondary to soaking up the experience and appreciating exactly how lucky we were.

The next day, over breakfast, we planned our first day trek on the island.  Top of the list was the Girdled Lizard Zonosaurus sp which Bill had been keen to find.  Apparently Bill had been shown a photograph of one from Nosy Hara that was very different from those found on the mainland.  Instead of being the dull brown grey colour, the photograph showed a beautiful blue and red animal.  Unfortunately it turned out that the animal had been described as Zonosaurus tzingy only a couple of years ago, but Bill was still eager to add this animal to his tick list.

As we made our way across the island we joked at how looking for one specific animal seemed to ensure you found everything else but!  Although we found many dull females of the species, we found only one brightly coloured male.  Bill seemed very happy though and so the day’s work had all been worth the effort.

By the time I had acquired three days worth of sunburn on the island I was ready for a proper bed and a shower.  My only regret was that I had been accompanied on this beautifully romantic island paradise by two hairy arsed herpers, rather than my girlfriend.  Next stop, North Madagascar.

Published: Reptile Care Magazine

Madagascar, Mauritius and Round Island – Part 2. (Windsor Castle and French Mountain.)

•March 17, 2009 • 1 Comment
Red Mantella - Mantella betsilio

Red Mantella - Mantella betsilio

Having conferred with Bill and Zack whilst on the island, our next few days of herping were already planned.  With only one good night’s sleep behind me, we set out the next morning for Windsor Castle (which is in fact an old look-out post at the top of a mountain) three hours hike away.  Bill decided he needed more recovery time and so stayed behind.  Within the hour I began to wish that I had done the same.  As the morning wore on the temperature rose, and continued to rise until our skin screamed for mercy.  The hill was aggressively steep, offered little shade and there had been no sign of a reptile all morning.  As we crossed a grassy flat stretch of land we stopped for water.  Then came a shout from Zack.


Finding energy from who knows where I ran across to where Zack was pointing.  There on the grass in the blazing sun, stretched out along its entire length was a Madagascar Ground Boa (Acrantophis madagascarensis).  Our first snake!  And it was a monster!  I didn’t really know what to expect when we picked it up for photos.  Of course, in captivity these snakes are not at all aggressive, but wild snakes are often very different (and I have the scars to prove it!).  This one, however, was as tame as could be and indeed seemed to pose for us quite spectacularly.
The trip to the summit and back was littered with smaller herp species, more Green Mantella (Mantella viridis), and a selection of small brown Geckos and Skinks which Jim simply called LBJ’s.  “What’s an LBJ?” I asked eventually.  “Little Brown Jobbie!” Jim replied with a smile.  Anywhere else in the world I would be thrilled to photograph these animals, but here we were spoilt for choice by the big hitters such as Madagascan Ground Boas and Panther Chameleons.  Chasing LBJ’s seemed a waste of time by comparison.

One highlight was the snake that Zack told us had a reputation as a Zebu Killer.  Having been told that here were no dangerous venomous snakes in Madagascar, I was a little worried to hear this, as the Zebu Killer was, at that moment, wrapped around my hand!  In fact, Ithycyphus miniatus gets its name from the way it hangs, head down from overhead branches giving the impression of a spear, with its sharp triangular head.  Legend has it that these snakes impale zebu from a great height and then eat the carcass, bit by bit.  However, as we did not experience this phenomenon first hand I cannot confirm it to be true.
That night, we ate and drank and talked rubbish until the early hours, knowing that we did not need to set alarms or rise early.  Tomorrow, we had decided would be a great day for another night hike!

As the sun began to drop out of the sky the next evening, the mood of our group began to change quite noticeably.  The banter and beer drinking was replaced by serious planning the evening grew darker.  Over dinner we discussed the impending night hike and what we would like to see.  Listening to the species list, as we all threw our personal favourites into the conversation, made me realize how surreal the whole experience was.  This was not a fantasy conversation, like those I had with friends on their sofa back in England.  This was a real, quite probable account of what the next few hours would hold for us.  Jim and I were understandably raring to go at the prospect of finding Leaf Tail Geckos and Dwarf Chameleons.  8pm arrived, we switched on our head torches and off we went.

Again the terrain ensured that we made slow progress up the hill and we were walking silently, eyes peeled for the first herp of the trek.  As we followed the clay mud path that marked the route uphill I was wondering why we always went looking for herps up mountains and hills.  Do they not occur on flat ground?  Why did looking for herps always involve me being exhausted, covered in mud and gashed by the foliage?  I knew, however that I would not want it any other way.  Clay mud stuck to my boots making me walk as if they were made of lead and mosquitoes bit with malice as I slipped and scrambled up the mountain behind Zack (who seemed completely unfazed by the whole terrain).

Suddenly Zack set off at a running pace across the hill, zig zagging comically.  It took us a few seconds to catch up as he came to a stop, holding something in his hands.  It was a Tenrec, which looks much like a hedgehog but with slightly longer legs.  I held my hands out to receive it, as Zack said “Watch it, they bite!” and dropped it into my hands.

Unimpressed by the mammal, Bill and Jim were lifting rocks and logs looking for herps.  After taking some very poor shots of the Tenrec, I went to join them.  Zack was at least 2 meters behind me when he noticed the glistening silver grey Gecko on the log directly in front of me.  Having practiced the maneuver many times I shot my hand out to catch it.  Gently holding the Gecko, I opened my hand slowly, just enough to see the lizard wriggling free of my fingers leaving its skin in my palm.   I was mortified!  Bill arrived and saw the look on my face and the skin in my hand.  “Geckolepis!” he said with a sympathetic smile. “Fish Scale Geckos have skin like wet tissue.”  He wasn’t wrong and I didn’t make that mistake again.

Not much further we found our first sleeping Panther Chameleon (Furcifer pardalis), balanced on the end of a thin branch.  Having been led to believe that chameleons glow in the dark I was a little disappointed, but the pigmentation certainly stood out against the dark leaves and branches of the tree.  I thought it was very considerate of them to perch right on the edge of the foliage instead of hiding in the dense centre of the tree. This does of course make perfect sense when you consider that any predator would approach from along the branch, ensuring the thin bough gave plenty of warning of impending danger.

Our first snake appeared as we left the punishing uphill cave system that deposited us near the top of French Mountain.  As usual it was our guide Zack who spotted it and quickly caught the beast for us to photograph. It was pretty obvious that the glossy terracotta Cat-eye Snake (Madagascarophis colubrine) had eaten a large meal recently. (This was confirmed when the snake regurgitated a Ground Gecko (Parodoera sp.)  We were just finishing with that specimen when Zack turned up with another very different species that Bill thought was (Stenophis inopinae).   We were all agreed that this species was one of the unsung heroes of Madagascar and wondered how well it would do in captivity.  With its “python style” head and bright colours it was certainly pretty enough to catch the eye.

On the trek back the old guys Jim and Bill dropped behind a little as Zack and I strode ahead chatting.  I had long since retired from looking for animals if Zack was within 10 meters of me.  Repetition is the mother of all skill, and his trained eye would spot the animal long before I could hope to. This was demonstrated in spectacular style as we neared the bottom of the mountain, when Zack stopped still and pointed towards a low bush.
“Look” he said “Brookesia!”
“Where? I said, scrambling the 3 meters or so to kneel by the bush to search for it.
“There!”  He said coming closer “Three of them.”
By this point my nose was almost in the bush and my eyes were scanning for a two-centimeter Dwarf Chameleon.  Three of them?  I couldn’t see one!
“WHERE!” I exclaimed!  Becoming a little frustrated with myself.
“THERE!” said Zack laughing, now with his finger almost touching the creature.
“And there, and there!”
Now I saw it.  Right in front of my nose was a tiny Dwarf Chameleon (Brookesia minima) and on the same bush were another pair.  I was amazed at the skill of this guide who not only knew every plant, bird, reptile and mammal by their scientific name but could also spot our quarry at a thousand paces.  I was truly amazed.

Believe it or not, the highlight of the hike was still to come. It was Bill who spotted it first and nonchalantly called out “Lizard!”  Knowing that Bill would not allow it to get far, and considering how exhausted we were, Jim and I sauntered over to where Bill was already snapping away with his camera.  From the speed at which Bill was shooting film I guessed that we were in for a treat!  Sitting there on the branch, textbook pose and textbook cryptic was a beautiful Henkels Leaf-tailed Gecko (Uroplatus henkeli).  And my, was it beautiful.  In my imagination I saw Leaf-tailed Gecko’s doing exactly this.

As we were snapping away, Zack told us of a Malagasy legend about the Leaf-tail Gecko which is told to young boys.  According to the story if a Leaf-tail Gecko lands on a man, they are so sticky that the man will not be able to remove it.  In fact, the only person who will be able to free him is his mother in law!  So to be safe it is important that all men treat their mother in law with love and respect, just in case they may be needed one day!  Thankfully Zack didn’t wholly believe the legend and so was relatively happy for us to put the gecko on his face and take a picture.  I must say though, there was a quiver in his voice as we pretended that the lizard was stuck!

Dirty, tired and wet through from sweat we arrived back at Kings Lodge to the luxury of a real bed.  As I lay there, too wound up to sleep I looked through some of the photographs I had taken and pinched myself to see that it was all real.  I couldn’t believe I was this lucky and this privileged.

Published -Reptile Care Magazine

Madagascar, Mauritius and Round Island – Part 3. (Ambanja)

•March 17, 2009 • Leave a Comment
Blue Nose Chameleon (Calumma boettgeri).

Blue Nose Chameleon (Calumma boettgeri)

I was beginning to think that Bill worked for the Ambanja Panther Chameleon Society, if indeed there is one.  Throughout the trip, Bill had waxed lyrical about how beautiful the Panthers in this area were, how they were so blue it made your eyes water, about how they only occurred in a very small area formed by a very slight valley only a few kilometers long, and how we just had to go see them.  It was of course a foregone conclusion that we would; however, by the time we were ready to take the trip I was all chameloned out to be perfectly honest.

I never thought I would hear myself say this but by day three, I had seen all of the Panthers I needed to see.  Jim and I had begun calling them “Tree Rats” they were so prolific.  We could easily find a minimum of a dozen in any given rural kilometer stretch of trees.  It wasn’t difficult.  These Ambanja Panthers had better be worth the four hour journey!

On the way to Ambanja we stopped only twice, once for lunch and once for a road-kill Madagascan Hognose Snake (Liohetrodon madagascarensis).   On both occasions, the reptiles we found would have made the journey worthwhile, regardless of whether we found a blue Panther Chameleon or not.  Whilst Jim paid for the food Bill and I made a quick search of the surrounding foliage for animals.  Almost immediately we found a beautiful pair of Giant Day Geckos (Phelsuma grandis madagascarensis) on a hut near the road.  Again they seemed to be posing for us as we took some fabulous shots.  By the time Jim had joined us we had found a live Hognose snake, which promptly proceeded to empty its scent glands over us.  The 4×4 smelt decidedly pungent for the rest of the journey!

Eventually we approached Ambanja and Bill asked Zack to slow the 4×4 down to a more leisurely speed.  “I’m not sure how far up this road they start, but you’ll see stunners within the next couple of miles.”  I was surprised he could be so specific, but sure enough, the first Panther we saw was by far the most beautiful to date.  And boy was it blue!  Darwin himself would have been hard pushed to explain why these animals were so spectacularly blue, and why they occurred only in this one small area.  Again, our camera shutters were white hot for some time until one by one we retired from the area like spent runners at the finish of a race.  Bill however was not finished.

“That one was nice, but they get better!” he said.
Now I thought he was having us on for sure!  We split up and began searching for the prime specimen Bill had assured us would be out there.  Male Panthers were indeed prolific here and each one seemed to be vying with the last for blue supremacy. As we searched we seemed to trip over other herps such as the countless Lined Plated Lizards (Zonosaurus quadrilineatus) which Jim was particularly taken with, as well as several female Panthers which were beautiful in their own right.  Hognose Snakes, Giant Day Geckos and an interesting selection of bugs were all uncovered and somehow seemed unimpressive against the search for the best blue Panther.  At the end of a couple of hours searching, opinion was split as to which had been the best animal we had seen.  In truth, there were so many stunning animals that it would have been difficult to pick just one.  We contented ourselves in the knowledge that instead of finding just one great animal, we had found a dozen which had each been stunning in their own right.

After spending a night in a fabulous sea side hotel we set off for home the next morning, stopping only occasionally to eat or to take tourist photographs.  It was indeed a long trip home and we were all exhausted as we neared Kings Lodge Base Camp.  Despite the journey, despite our exhaustion and despite the fact that Bill has been to the country countless times, it was he who suggested a slight detour to look for some different animals.  Unsurprisingly it was another trip up a mountain, (this time it was Amber Mountain) but thankfully, this time we could go by car.  By this time it was dark and so our headlights were needed to scan the roadside greenery for animals.  Crawling slowly up the slope in first gear we stopped occasionally to check out sleeping Panther and Ostalet’s chameleons.  However, after a day in Ambanja they seemed unremarkable by comparison and we didn’t even get out of the car.  Sitting here at my desk in England it seems almost perverse to say that I was unimpressed by a wild chameleon of any variety, but Madagascar had so spoiled us. Quite predictably Zack pointed out the two notable finds of the evening.  The first was a fabulously extravagant Blue Nose Chameleon (Calumma boettgeri).  Equipped with an impressive blue spotted nasal appendage this male was sporting his best mating colours.  Once again, we were too busy photographing this animal to notice Zack collecting not one, but a pair of Wills Chameleons (Furcifer willsii).  Not bad for fifteen minutes work!

When we finally put our cameras away we were all ready for sleep.  Tomorrow would be another long day of traveling and we had a ridiculously early start.  Having packed my bag and paid my bills I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.  Sad as I was to be leaving Madagascar, I was also excitedly looking forward to landing in Mauritius.  If the stories Jim told us were anything to go by, then we were in for yet more adventure.  Considering how much we had managed to fit into our trip already it seemed almost greedy to start the adventures all over again on another island, but I wasn’t complaining!

Madagascar, Mauritius & Round Island – Part 4 (Mauritius)

•March 17, 2009 • Leave a Comment


I didn’t know what to expect from our time in Mauritius. Apart from visiting Vanilla Reptile Park and attempting to get to Round Island, we had no other plans. I considered that we had only three days to fill and there was plenty of fun on the menu already.

Like many of the islands of the Indian Ocean Mauritius was relatively unknown to tourism for a while. But now, like most of them it is considered the place to go for a bargain tropical paradise holiday. Much of the land there is given to sugar cane crops, as it has been since the 1700’s when French brought slaves from Africa to work in the cane fields. When slavery was abolished the gap was filled by imported Indian labourers whose descendants now comprise over two thirds of the population. (This is especially evident in the market places and by the food available from street vendors in any town there.)

The Mauritian ecology and environment are scrutinized closely by conservationists the world over since the infamous demise of the Dodo. Soon after humans landed on the island they had destroyed the bird’s forest home, introduced livestock and wiped out the Dodo population entirely. Mauritius was always going to be an interesting location, Round Island visit or not.

As the plane touched down and we stepped off into the heat I prepared myself for round two. First stop, Vanilla Reptile Park.

The first thing which struck me about Vanilla Park was its beauty. To say that it was stunning is an understatement. Even without the animals, the park is a fabulous natural spectacle of forests, palms, flowers, streams and mini waterfalls. The park was beautifully and densely planted in an almost textbook jungle fashion and I’m sure that any botanist would have been as enthralled as we herpers were. The short but heavy downpours of the rainy season only made to enhance the atmosphere as we walked through the dripping foliage. The rain had made the park lush and green and the streams and waterfalls were in full flow. We loved it.

Owen Griffiths, our host was to arrive on site within the hour, but we simply couldn’t wait to see what was inside. We set off through the park nodding appreciatively as we soaked up the ambiance. The park is essentially a collection of the reptiles past and present which occur on the Mascarene Islands, of which Mauritius is one. Owen later told us that he has included a few introduced species simply for the sake of variety, which would account for the iguanas and Panther Chameleons we found in the first bank of enclosures. One unexpected surprise was the Round Island Telfair Skink (Leiolopisma telfairi) we found in an enclosure near the entrance of the park. These are an highly endangered species found only on Round Island so as this was potentially the closest we would get, we made sure we took enough pictures, just in case. Although these skinks once had a much wider distribution (including the main island of Mauritius) they are now restricted to Round Island alone. Jersey Zoo is (again) very active in the conservation of these lizards and the collection of Telfairs is one of the highlights for herpers who go there. We felt very lucky to have seen one of these rare lizards in the flesh.

Nile crocs (Crocodylus niloticus) have always been a favourite of mine ever since I pushed my luck a little far with the ones Jim owned in Reptilandia. Here at Vanilla Park, Owen’s Niles breed like rabbits. We saw hundreds of them, all size graded and split into different enclosures. You can even buy Nile Crocodile Curry in the Park restaurant, although I personally opted to revert back to a vegetarian diet.

By the time we had finished with the crocs, Owen had arrived and took over as tour guide. After some introductions we were taken to see his collection of stunningly beautiful Radiated Tortoises (Geochelone radiate) which are also bred on site.

It did not take long for the conversation to get round to the subject of our Round Island visit. “I haven’t had a response to the emails I sent” said Owen, “and tomorrow is a public holiday so things aren’t looking good.”

Of course we were disappointed. We had been realistically skeptical of our chances, but had relished the idea of getting to the island since we set off. This was indeed a bad omen as we were only in Mauritius for three days and so there would be little time to chase the application.

“I can make a phone call when the offices are open again but I don’t fancy your chances. There haven’t been any non-scientists allowed onto the island for years” Owen explained. This concurred with what we had already found out; apparently the American Ambassador had been refused entry only recently. It seemed our chances were slimmer than we had originally thought.

Eager to boost our spirits, Owen took us to see what we had all been waiting for; his herd of Giant Aldabra Tortoises. (Geochelone gigantea) I didn’t really know what to expect as the only giant tortoises I had seen previously had yet to reach full size. I knew these were going to be big, but I had no idea of the size and number of animals I was about to see. As we entered the paddock where the herd was grazing, I had a really tough time getting a sense of perspective. Although the enclosure was enormous it was simply crawling with giant tortoises. There were dozens of them! All over the place! There were over a dozen of them drinking from a pool of water that had gathered around a tree. Underneath the raised timber walkway there were dozens more. Dotted around the paddock were more, and everywhere I looked there were more giant tortoises!

I couldn’t believe my eyes. Seeing one would have been fantastic, but this was just ridiculous. It turns out that Vanilla Park is home to over 170 Adult Giant Aldabra Tortoises and over 1000 tortoises in total making it the largest captive herd of tortoises in the world. With male Aldabras weighing in at around 250kg, that’s a lot of tortoise! The biggest, a large male called Domino was enormous, weighing in at over 273kg. Of course, I attempted to get a good photograph of the beast but try as we might we could not tempt him into a photogenic spot.

Owen’s Aldabra breeding is another seriously prolific project, turning out hundreds of babies each year. We were lucky enough to be able to peek behind the scenes where the young Aldabras are graded for size and housed off exhibit. It was mind boggling to see so many baby tortoises, particularly when those babies were as big as the adult Hermans tortoises I kept at home! I would have loved to have added a pair of these beauties to my collection but eventually resigned myself to the fact that I blatantly did not have the room.

That evening we planned our last two days in Mauritius. If we were to be denied access to Round Island we resigned ourselves to visiting Ile Aux Aigrettes, another Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust conservation project off the south east corner of Mauritius. Here we could meet some more giant Aldabra Tortoises and check out the famous Pink Pigeon. This island runs tourist tours from the mainland and employs guides who lead groups around the sights. Although we would have been happier if left to our own devices, it was a very interesting tour. It turns out that the aims of the project are very similar to that of Round Island and there are even plans to re-introduce the Telfair Skink and Ground Boa (Casarea dussumieri) to Ile Aux Aigrettes when they have succeeded in banishing the introduced rodent population. One of the success stories is that of the Pink Pigeon which has recovered from an all time population low of just 12 birds in1986 but is now approaching the 400 mark. On our tour around the greenhouse we saw Ornate Day Geckos (Phelsuma ornata) and stopped to take the obligatory photos of the Giant Aldabra Tortoise which blocked our path. The temperature was a ridiculously hot 38 degrees and some of our older tour members were starting to wilt! We made our way back to the visitor centre for a (warm) cola, not knowing that we would soon be frying in even hotter temperatures.

The rest of our day was spent exploring the exuberant Indian markets back on the mainland and eating the fabulous street food from the vendor carts. There was just time for a quick spot of snorkeling off the bay before we headed back to Owen’s house for dinner. As he opened the door he had a huge smile on his face. “You are very lucky people!” he grinned! “Round Island is on!”

Published: Reptile Care Magazine

Madagascar, Mauritius and Round Island – Part 5 (Round Island.)

•March 17, 2009 • 2 Comments
Round Island Keel Scaled Boa - Casarea dussumieri

Round Island Keel Scaled Boa - Casarea dussumieri

To say that we were lucky is an understatement.  Being allowed onto Round Island was one thing, but it seems our timing was perfect too.  It turned out that we were to be airlifted to the island by the Mauritius Government helicopter, which visited every few weeks to drop off supplies and swap scientists.  The next shift change was the very next day and there would not be another one for weeks.  Not only were we amazed at our timing, but astounded that we had been approved to visit.  We seemed to have rolled a six yet again and I resolved to buy a lottery ticket as soon as I reached home!

The helipad turned out to be a playing field on the northern tip of the island where we were to meet the helicopter for an early start.  Having never been in a one before, I didn’t know what to expect.  I wasn’t reassured by Jim’s stories about losing the contents of his stomach when he last flew in one and so waited nervously for it to arrive.  As the clock ticked on our arranged meeting time came and went.  Half an hour passed; then an hour and we were beginning to think about leaving for home when we heard the whirr of the helicopter coming towards us.  As it landed on the field a crowd of children appeared (as if from nowhere) and stood looking excitedly on as we donned life jackets and headsets and climbed into the bird.  Before we had settled into our seats we were off and climbing, with only the sea below us.  My heart was pumping real fast and I couldn’t help grinning as we banked sharply away from the coast.

15 minutes later we approached the barren landscape of Round Island which looked totally inhospitable and seemed to offer nowhere to land.  Of course, I was wrong about there being no-where to land but as far as the island seeming inhospitable, I was right on the mark.  This place was bleak to say the least.  Although there is an extensive re-planting project underway, there is still little greenery on the island, the legacy of the former goat and rabbit populations.  These have now been eradicated and the team there is now working hard to redress the problem.  Alighting from the chopper we were met by the surprised scientists who had no idea who we were or why we were there.  After a few minutes explanation we entered the modest shack which made the living quarters and checked for seeds, nuts and any hitch hiking animals which could become non native pests.  (We later wondered why this search had not been conducted on the mainland as by the time we had reached Round Island, any contamination had potentially already happened.  We never did ask why this was though and suppose there is valid reasoning at work.)

The first thing that struck me about the island was how bleak it was.  The second thing I noticed was the heat. It was far hotter than anywhere we had experienced thus far on our trip and we had been seriously hot at times!  (We later measured the heat on the lava rocks and recorded a temperature of 134.9 degrees Fahrenheit which is over 57 degrees in Centigrade!)  However, the most astonishing thing about Round Island is the rare Telfair Skink.  To say they are rare is a relative statement.  Compared to Green Iguanas, yeah, they are rare as you can only find Telfair Skinks on this one tiny piece of real estate.  However, when you see an Iguana in the wild, you don’t normally see a dozen of them sitting on a porch.  They don’t normally raid the bag under your chair and steal your biscuits and they don’t normally pull your sandwiches out of your rucksack and share them with their gang of friends.  These were high density animals to say the least and it was the same story all over the island.  As we walked on the paths we had to avoid stepping on skinks, if we went into the undergrowth we had to watch out for skinks, if we were taking photographs of other animals, we had to keep clearing the skinks from the frame.  These lizards had no fear!

The scientists on the island were indeed surprised to see us as they had never before received visitors unannounced.   Over tea, the conversation soon turned to reptiles as we began to pick their brains about which animals we would likely find.  With our wish list in place we set off with a couple of scientists as guides.  At 57 degrees it was hard going, particularly for Bill.  Weighed down with a heavy camera bag he soon gave up the climb, leaving Jim and I to soldier on up the mountain with Steve, our scientist babysitter.  Steve knew his stuff and pointed out the rare plants he had been working on in his nursery, some of which were the only individuals known in existence.  “You’ll probably see Guenther’s Day Gecko and the Ornate Day Gecko (Phelsuma ornata)” he said as we marched uphill, “But don’t hold out your hopes for the Ground Boa.  They’re nocturnal and we have only seen them on night hikes.”  Although a little disappointed I was still hopeful.  After all, given our luck on this trip I wouldn’t be surprised if we were to re-discover the extinct burrowing boa Bolyeria multocarinata! You never know!

We didn’t have to go far before we found our first of three Guenther’s Day Gecko’s.  Having seen lots of supposedly giant day geckos on this trip already, this one really put those in the shade.  Guentheri is the largest of the day geckos, with a total length reaching 30 centimeters with a thick set body which makes grandis look decidedly weedy.  Their marbled grey colour blended well on the palm trunks where we discovered them and made getting good photographs difficult.

After about an hour we had found three guntheri and a selection of phelsuma ornata, as well as hundreds of increasingly annoying Telfair Skinks.  (Annoyed at seeing too many Telfair skinks?  Who did I think I was?!!)  We had now dedicated our search to finding the snakes and so we were lifting palm fronds and turning rocks.  Steve was patiently waiting for us as we rummaged in the undergrowth, clearly skeptical of us having any success.  I had found plenty of Shearwaters and Tropics Birds sheltering from the scorching sun underneath palm leaves and in rocky hides, but no sign of a snake anywhere.  I was just stepping past Steve to another likely site when he tapped me on the shoulder.  There at my feet emerging from the rocks was an orange snake, which I immediately recognized as our quarry.  “Got one!” shouted Steve and Jim soon appeared through the palms to find us.

Our Keel Scaled Boa was about 40 centimeters long, female, very slender with a sharp angular head and it squirmed in my hands trying to get away.   I was surprised that it never attempted to bite (as many skittish animals do) as we set about posing it for photographs.  “Hope Bill finds one too.” I said as we released the snake back into the rocks where we had found it.  It was unlikely that Bill would have made it to where we were and it was too far to transport it there and back given the heat.  “If I know Bill, he will have!” said Jim.  We would have to wait to find out.

By now I was in a daze of daydream, thinking about telling my friends where I had been and what I had been up to.  I couldn’t wait to brag about going to Round Island and finding the Boa, but I wasn’t sure anyone would believe me! Good job we had pictures to back up our story.  Daydreaming was distracting me from my serious reptile search as I lifted the greenery looking for more Boas.  I had to do a double take as I saw a grey slender shape slither away from me but my instincts kicked in quickly as I realized it was another Boa.  This one was slightly larger and had lost the orange colouration making it slate grey, but it still retain the slender physique and angular head of the earlier youngster.  It had not lost its skittish behaviour either.  “I can’t believe you’ve found two!” said Steve “You’re very lucky!”
“Yeah, the harder we work, the luckier we get!” I said, winking at Jim.

Once we had finished with the boas we decided that it was important we saw the summit of this volcanic island mound.  We had yet to miss reaching a peak and were not about to start now.  Each step in the openly blazing sun was torturous and drained our energy so; gasping for breath we would stop frequently, making the sun feel even hotter.  Reaching the summit seemed to take for ever and I have never been hotter or more exhausted.  Jim and I sat on a rock and had a bit of a quiet moment at the summit of Round Island.  Draining the last of our water, I was glad that the walk back would be quicker and easier than the outward leg.  As we neared the shack we could see Bill sat on the porch drinking a tall glass of water.  He was grinning and waving and we guessed that he had also found a Boa.  “I didn’t move three meters from where you left me!” he said as we recounted the arduous journey across the island.  The chopper ride back was a mixture of excitement and sadness as I realized that this really was the final installment of our adventure.  Not in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine an adventure like this one.  It’s not often you can say “beyond my wildest dreams” and really mean it.

Published: Reptile Care Magazine.

The Tuataras of New Zealand

•March 10, 2009 • 1 Comment

The Tuataras Of New Zealand
Tony Jones

Tuatara pic to follow

Tuatara pic to follow

In September 2000 I flew to Christchurch on the South Island of New Zealand.  This was to be a bit of a first for me as I had promised my girlfriend that this trip was to be a real holiday instead of spending two weeks trekking around the undergrowth looking for animals.  I did not pack a field guide, did not call any zoos, did not make contact with any local herpers and did not even look to see what herps were to be found in New Zealand.  However, despite all of my non-preparations, I knew in the back of my mind that no trip to this unique habitat would be complete without an encounter with one of the real enigmas of the reptile world….. the tuatara.

New Zealand must indeed be unique for it is only here that the single representative of an ancient order of reptiles has survived.  Its nearest relatives died out at least 60 million years ago leaving only the tuatara to remain isolated to New Zealand and its nearby islands.   Often described as a “living fossil”, the tuatara is now restricted to a handful of islands off the coast of New Zealand, having been eradicated from its habitats on the mainland.  This is mainly due to the introduction of Pacific rats (which out-compete the tuatara for food) and pigs which had been introduced by Europeans.

Tuataras were originally thought to be related to Agamid lizards and were classified here by John Gray of the British Museum in 1831.  Gray had been in receipt of a single tuatara skull and had noted the chisel like marks made by the upper mandible, leading to the use of the Latin  Sphenodon, meaning “Wedge Tooth”  Incidentally Gray later received a whole tuatara skeleton and, not realising this was from the same animal as Sphenodon, named it Hatteria punctuata and still grouped it with the Agamids.

Although subsequent scientists soon realised that the tuatara was certainly not a lizard it has been the responsibility of recent DNA work by Dr Charles Daugherty at Victoria University that has (almost) settled the arguments surrounding the tuatara.  There are now two recognised species of tuatara; Sphenodon punctuatus, and the much less common, Sphenodon guntheri. (Gunther 1867)

It is understandable that Gray thought the tuatara to be an Agamid lizard.  The similarities are astonishing.  Even when armed with knowledge to the contrary, as I held a tuatara in my hand it was difficult to conceive that this animal is not a lizard.  It has many typically saurian features; its back sports a row of spines and their diet is typically lizard like.  Even upon close scrutiny, it looks more like a lizard than some lizards do!  At least the tuatara has legs!  So what’s the difference?  There are many but here are some of the major differences.

•    Tuataras have no copulatory organs.
Male tuataras have no penis.  Copulation is similar to that of lizards with the male subduing the female by grasping the back of her neck with his jaws and twisting his tail around hers until the cloacas are aligned.  From here things change slightly. As the tuatara has no penis, fertilisation is achieved by sperm flowing directly from the male’s vent into the female.
•    Tuataras have a parietal eye.
Ok so your iguana has one too.  However, in tuataras, the degeneration of this organ is less complete.  It has a rudimentary retina and lens and has a chemical connection to the brain.  It is thought to be associated with the pineal gland and appears to help in the early development of tuataras and have some role as a general biological clock!
•    Tuataras have a stronger skull.
The skull is more robust and is more like that of a crocodile than a lizard.  There are also more holes in a tuatara skull than in those of a lizard.
•    Tuataras have skeletal similarities they share with birds.
Their vertebrae and ribs have features that they share with birds and a few extinct fossil reptiles, namely the hook like structures that attach the muscles and ribs.
•    Tuataras have a beak.
This feature is less pronounced in tuataras but is more noticeable in the skulls of extinct relatives.  (The sphenodontida were at one time thought to be the dominant reptile group during the age of the dinosaur.)

The specimens that I had the opportunity to handle were on display at Orana Park in Christchurch, New Zealand.  The animals were housed in a simple enclosure within the small reptile house at the park.  All told there were around a dozen or so enclosures of various sizes, most of which housed native species such as common gecko, common skink and green gecko.  There were two non-native species, an Australian lace monitor and a pair of Australian shingle back skinks.  Two of the larger enclosures housed tuataras.  The décor and set up were quite basic with a dirt/mulch substrate and a large ceramic water-bowl.  In addition to the various bark hides that littered the floor of the enclosure, there was also a short length of corrugated tubing which was buried at a 45 degree angle.  This led to a shelter beneath the floor of the enclosure which was accessible from above through a trap door.  This underground lair seemed to be a favourite spot for the tuataras as this was the first place the keeper looked when trying to find the animals.  In the wild tuataras often co-habit, sharing burrows with birds such as prions and other nesting sea birds.

Although tuataras are essentially nocturnal, they often emerge from their burrows to bask when necessary. (As do many other species of nocturnal reptile.)  In the wild their diet consists of many insects along with worms, snails, spiders, beetles and the like.  Tuataras will also eat small seabird chicks and eggs, particularly those with which they share their burrows.  The tuataras at Orana are fed a typical variety of commercial live-foods including mealworms, wax worms and wax moths and are treated with an occasional pink mouse.  I was surprised to hear that crickets do not feature in the diet although I could not ascertain if this was by design or because they were not available.

Tuataras are tolerant of much cooler temperatures than many lizards or snakes would prefer.  Indeed, tuataras are active at temperatures below 7 degrees C.  This is reflected in the design of the enclosure which is almost completely glass apart from a large wire mesh section which vented directly outdoors.  On the day we visited the park during New Zealand’s mid spring, the weather was particularly cold and we were wearing coats and hats.  Even during the winter months, the tuataras at Orana Park are not provided with any supplemental heat. When I held the animal I could feel that it’s body temperature was very cool, even though my hands were not particularly warm anyway.  If this had been a lizard in my collection I would have been quite concerned.  Fortunately, this was no lizard.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t in my collection either!

Tuataras have not been bred at Orana Park, but at the most southerly tip of New Zealand’s South Island is the world’s leading tuatara breeding project.  Invercargill is home to the Southland Museum, which houses the “Tuatarium”.  I managed to contact Lindsay Hazely, a leading authority on tuatara husbandry and breeding having worked with these animals at Southland Museum for thirty years.

The entire collection is housed on display in the 200 square metre enclosure, which is divided into several separate areas to house the different sizes and age groups.  Here are housed four adult tuatara (Sp. punctuatus) from which Lindsay has produced over 60 living offspring, the oldest of these being 16 years old.  In addition to this the Tuatarium has also raised 7 Brothers Island tuatara (Sp guntheri) which are now 10 years old.

To the un-initiated, thirty years to produce 60 offspring may not seem like much of an accomplishment.  However, when you consider that tuataras may not reach sexual maturity until between 18 and 22 years of age, the picture becomes a little clearer.  In the indoor enclosure at the Tuatarium, both heat and food are provided at optimum levels.  This allows the developmental process to proceed a little more quickly, with breeding success being achieved at around 14 years.  Accelerated sexual maturity is not the only benefit of the artificial environment.  The tuataras at Southland are the first to achieve annual breeding, a feat that was never thought to be possible.  Wild tuataras have a biennial breeding cycle (at the most) which is certainly one of the major reasons there are declining wild populations. (Think on that for a while!)

Tuataras were first bred at the Tuatarium in 1984, and since then the centre has become the worlds most successful tuatara breeding project.  Of the sixty or so young the centre has produced,  Southland has supplied 32 tuatara to other institutions, with a re-introduction programme as the ultimate goal.  And the project goes from strength to strength.  No captive hatched tuatara has itself produced young, but in 1998 a 14 year old captive raised female at the Tuatarium produced eggs. Although the eggs were not viable, this event was the first of its kind in captivity and helps to confirm that tuataras can be sexually mature at 14 years of age.

Lindsay attributes the success of the tuatara breeding project at Southland Museum to a number of contributing factors.  The first and most important being temperature.  Although the arrival of humans and non native predators has accelerated the demise of the tuatara; (They are now only represented in 0.1% of their former range!) Lindsay also cites a dramatic climate change.  Having looked at historic weather patterns and comparing them with the present day it appears that the current climate in New Zealand may have the tuatara struggling.  Indeed Newman & Cree (1991) observed that 25% of females gravid in the wild lay once every four years.  The prime conditions in the artificial environment at Southland have seen the average female gravidity rate soar well above the wild rate of 21%.  Moreover, such conditions seem to allow juvenile tuatara to reach sexual maturity within its physiological possibility.

Secondly and related to the provision of optimum temperatures is the abundance of food.  By maintaining the mean air temperatures at 16-17 Degrees Celsius the females at Southland are able to consume an average of 100-150 grams of food each year.  The longer, warmer “summer” allows for a more active metabolism and an increase in food consumption.  These extra calories and nutrients are then made available for egg production.  This is thought to be a major contributing factor in the annual production of eggs.

Lastly but interestingly is the provision of UV light.  Lizard producers have long known of the importance of UV and its role in vitamin D3 and calcium metabolism.  The provision of UV for these purposes seems consistent with the breeding and rearing of tuatara.  However, experiments with captive hatched tuatara have led Lindsay to explore the influence of UV on the pineal gland.  As we know the degeneration of the parietal eye in tuatara is less complete and is thought to have a relationship with the pineal gland. (The body’s time clock)  In newborn tuatara the parietal eye is visible under the skin but becomes covered with less transparent scales over a period of 6-12 months.  After experiencing a 50-80% mortality rate in newborn tuatara, in 1992 Lindsay started to experiment with UV and tuatara hatchlings. The primary cause of death had been a chronic calcium deficiency, which had not responded to dietary supplementation.  He now achieves 100% rearing success!  This can only be good news for the survival of this fascinating and biologically important reptile.

Although the North Island has a greater diversity of wild species than the rest of New Zealand, the South Island has its own attractions.  Apart from the obvious attraction of collections such as that at Orana Park and Southland Museum, the Island itself is exceptionally beautiful.  It was impossible to discipline myself and not come home with enough landscape photos to fill an entire album!  The scenery, fauna and flora make a trip to New Zealand one that I would highly recommend.

Thanks to Korina Ferguson at Orana Park Christchurch, New Zealand for allowing access to their Tuataras.

Huge thanks to Lindsay Hazely at The Tuatarium, Southlands Museum Invercargill. New Zealand, for all the info, advice and corrections, not to mention the photos.

Literature Cited.
Gill B &Whitaker T: New Zealand Frogs & Reptiles.
Parkinson B : The Tuatara
Hazley L : UV and Life
Hazely L : Annual Breeding of Tuatara (abstract)

Published: REPTILES magazine.

Transporting Reptiles

•February 23, 2009 • 4 Comments


Introduction:  There is very little information available for people who need to move their livestock from one place to another.  Although most herpers are responsible, many make mistakes, which can lead to problems.  Of the countless shipments we have received over the years there have been a few real howlers, such as the Royal Python owner who turned up at the old Serpentarium in Walsall with his snake wrapped around his wrist, having travelled there by bus!!!  Obviously this would be stressful for the Python, but also very distressing for many members of the public. Also noteworthy was the package we received with a selection of dead hatchlings that were packed on top of a consignment of frozen foods. Hopefully this article will help get our animals from A to B with a little less fuss.

Transportation containers:  It is always best to pack all livestock individually in their own container, be that a bag or a tub.  Transportation is always stressful to some degree; therefore the less crowded the journey the better.  If this is not possible, for example if you are transporting a number of specimens, then try to pack only animals of the same species and size in any one container. A good tip if you have to pack multiple specimens in one tub is to cut a small “V” in the lid.  You can then deposit the animals in through the cut and avoid them climbing out as often happens if you remove the entire lid.

Small lizards (up to the size of an adult Leopard Gecko) and small snakes (hatchlings to medium sized Garters) are best packed in Cricket tubs.  This should be furnished simply with a piece of kitchen roll or shredded newspaper for the animal to either hide in or hold onto.  The tub can then be secured at both ends with tape, making sure not to cover any air holes.  Similarly, any other container that you chose to use instead must also have air holes.
The above method is also good for transporting Spiders, small Turtles and also Amphibians, although these animals will obviously have some humidity or moisture requirements.  This can be achieved by simply dampening the kitchen roll, although in the case of Turtles and Amphibs I prefer to use wet, shredded newspaper.

Larger Snakes and Lizards are best housed in appropriately sized cloth bags, such as a pillowcase or similar.  (Large Pythons are often transported in quilt covers!).  The bags should contain just a few sheets of crumpled newspaper, again for the animal to hold onto.  To secure the open end, twist the top of the bag (as if wringing it out), fold the twist in two and then tape round the twist tightly.  Please make sure that the inhabitant does not have its head/leg/tail in the neck of the bag before you twist.  This may sound like common sense, but I have seen it done many times.  This “twist and tape” method is a very effective way of sealing Snake bags.  Draw string bags are ridiculously easy for Snakes to escape from. It is advisable that when moving large boids that the animal should be not only bagged but also put inside a large wooden box in order that the snake cannot effect an escape by simply ‘flexing’ and splitting it’s bag and poly box.

The best thing to do with your tub or bag is to put it inside a polystyrene box (the same used to transport Tropical Fish).  This will help prevent any crushing in transit.  Pack any space inside the poly box with crumpled newspaper to stop the animal bumping around inside.  Again, make sure the poly box has air holes and then secure the lid with tape.

If you intend to deliver or collect your animals personally you may wish to invest in one of the commercially produced heated transportation boxes that are available from some Herpetological suppliers.  These usually consist of an attractive plastic lined poly box with a thermostatically controlled heater, which can be plugged into your car cigarette lighter.  These are probably useful for long journeys in cold weather.

Reptiles in public:  When taking your Reptile out of doors it is not a good idea for them to be visible to the general public.  Many people have genuine phobias about Reptiles and Spiders and will certainly be distressed at the sight of your beloved pet.

Recent television programmes have set out to give Herpers a bad image, portraying us as irresponsible and our hobby as dangerous. Incidents of public distress simply add to the problem and fuels the argument of those who would like to ban us all from pursuing our hobby.  This is a very real threat to Herpetoculture today.  Taking your dog to the pub is accepted by most of society; meeting your Iguana in the park may be some people’s nightmare, so please be responsible.  DO  NOT TERRORISE THE PUBLIC WITH YOUR PET.

Escapes:  Another issue to raise along similar lines is that of escapes in transit.  The media love to hype up stories of “Thirty Foot Pythons” that escape in their owner’s cars only to be found wrapped around the engine.  Again, the “antis” are bursting for an opportunity to point out how irresponsible Reptile keepers are, and again, incidents of escape simply fan the fire.  More to the point, these types of escapes can be extremely bad (possibly fatal) for your animal.

Always ensure that all containers, particularly stitched cloth bags are free of escape holes.  Any air holes should be very small.  Holes that seem “just small enough” to you or I, are invariably just big enough for a Snake to squeeze through.  Lastly, make sure any tape, ties and the like are very secure.  These types of cock-ups are largely avoidable but could prove extremely costly, both in terms of financial costs and the freedom to pursue our hobby.  Avoid unnecessary over-legislation.  Be careful. This is not an over reaction.

Health prior to transportation:  It is wise to ensure that your Herps are in A1 condition before moving them.  (Obviously, trips to the Vet are an exception).  If not, then you should ask yourself why you are buying or selling a sick animal and realise that the resulting stress of the journey will likely debilitate it further.  You should check for good body weight and that it is free of ticks and mites, so as not to introduce the little buggers into another collection.

Many imported specimens also harbour internal parasites, which take advantage of stressed animals in transit.  When stress reduces the Reptiles immune system, parasites can multiply and overwhelm the host.  Although this scenario is mostly true of the long journeys from country of origin, as I have mentioned previously, all journeys are a source of stress.

As far as feeding goes, be aware that many Snakes are willing to regurgitate their last meal several days after being fed, and it is not wise to feed a Lizard in the 24 hours prior to transportation.  As long as the Reptile is generally well nourished, then food and water should not be necessary for most trips.  Any water bowl will certainly be spilt in transit.

Weather:  Probably the most obvious consideration of Reptile husbandry is temperature.  This is still true when moving Herps.  The weather is not usually much of a problem when making short trips, but some precautions are advisable.  In particularly cold weather, ensure that the animal is well insulated, (i.e., use a poly box).
As a guide, it should not be necessary to provide any heat for journeys of two or three hours.  I think I should mention here the woman who bought her Iguana into our facility on a red hot water bottle.  Unfortunately the Iguana was cooked to death, much to the distress of the owners.

On the other hand, very hot weather can bring it’s own problems.  Containers left in direct sunlight, such as in a car, can quickly over-heat the inhabitants.  I personally had a problem keeping a tub of Tree Frogs cool whilst stuck in traffic on a particularly hot day.  Be aware that cold will take some time to kill a reptile but excess heat can kill in minutes!

Longer journeys and when sending Reptiles by courier need careful consideration again.  When accompanying your Herps on their journey, it is advisable to check on them every few hours, possibly at service stops.  Take thermometers with you and check temperatures.  It may be of benefit to make journeys on cold days, wearing short sleeves.  It is possible that you will then be more aware of the temperature.  Although I have never used the heated transport boxes myself, I suspect it is on journeys such as these that they would be of the most benefit.

Courier delivery:  It is always preferable to deliver or collect Reptiles personally.  However careful livestock couriers try to be, one must remember the huge volume of packages the drivers handle every day.  Shipments DO get left for days in cold warehouses and boxes DO get bounced around in the back of delivery vans, albeit accidentally.  Make sure the shipment box is sturdy enough to take a battering and that the inhabitants are well cushioned.
A useful hint when shipping on cold days is to use “hand warmers” taped to the inside of the poly box.  These are like small bean bags a chemical powder, which, when exposed to air, will give off a gentle heat for several hours.  These can be bought from fishing tackle and outdoor pursuits shops.  The final word about weather must be “if in doubt, do not ship!”
NB  It is never acceptable to send Herps by post.

Medium and large-scale transportation:  Shipping becomes almost an art form when sending large numbers of specimens.  There are many corners that can be cut, which are unfortunately often at the expense of the animals health.  It is often the large-scale importers and exporters who have more regard for the financial worth and profit of the animal than its health.  Obviously, the intricacies of large-scale shipping are difficult to explain on paper without practical examples, but I can offer a few hints and tips to the hobbyist.

Firstly, beware of crushing.  Packing Pythons on top of Anolis Lizards is plain dumb!  Many shippers overcome this problem by hanging bags from dowel rods secured across the box, whereas others partition the box into sections with wood.  It is still more advisable to pack specimens individually, but you can usually get away with packing numerous specimens into one bag if they have enough shredded paper to hide in.  Still, try not to over-crowd the bags and remember the stress problem.  Be aware that some species will fight to the death if packaged together and some simply will not tolerate communal shipping.  Again, pay regard to the oxygen needs of a large shipment.  The more specimens the box contains, the greater the oxygen needs, so be sure to take this into consideration when providing ventilation. Lastly, here’s a quick tip for anyone who has ever tried to pack several animals into a bag only to have them keep climbing out.  Hold the neck of the bag around a smooth sided tube, (see photo,) and drop the animals down the tube into the bag.  It works a treat!

Labelling:  Correct labelling of transportation containers is essential.  This is particularly true when sending Herps by courier.  The receiver’s address should be the most prominent notice on the box.  It should be clear and easy to read, preferably pasted on two or three sides.  Also clearly visible should be a notice reading “HARMLESS      NON-VENOMOUS       REPTILES”
(The transportation of  D.W.A. and venomous animals warrants a separate article and will not be covered here).
Also noted on the box should be the exact contents (species and head counts etc), the senders’ address and contact telephone numbers in case of emergency.  It may be worthwhile to put a “safe temperature” range on the box, although it is only an outstanding courier that will pay any attention to it.
It is also useful to the receiver if individual bags and boxes within the package are labelled too. It is always nice to know if the box you are opening contains Cobras or  Kingsnakes!!

Conclusion:   Obviously there will be details and variables that have not been included in this article   e.g., the species-specific requirements that would need to be taken into consideration.
Turtles like to be wet.  King Snakes eat each other and Horned Frogs do both.  The list is endless.  Ultimately, you are responsible for the well being of your animals whilst in transit.  However, with the help of this article and maybe a little fore thought (and luck) it may be possible to avoid the transportation nightmare.

Published: International Herpetological Journal.

Reduce Your Biological Age

•February 19, 2009 • 1 Comment
Live hard and don't die young.

Live hard and don't die young.

Have you ever questioned your sanity after a particularly gruelling workout?  Have you ever looked around the gym or studio and thought “Why oh why do I put myself through this?”  Do you ever question the benefits, wondering if life as a couch potato is more your thing?  Yes I think we all have!

I recently did a mini survey in my gym, asking why people exercise.  As expected there were many varied responses given as the initial primary motivator, as the main reason these people give their valuable time over to exercise.  But the questions I asked didn’t stop there.

As you would guess, the primary reasons people exercise were to look good or to perform better, but most also cited their health as one of the secondary reasons for them being health club members.  Predictably the older the member, the more important the health issue was.

We all know that as we get older our ability to perform as we did in our youth diminishes.  As this problem becomes more acute the impact on our lifestyles increases until we can no longer perform our day-to-day tasks.  We may not be able to stop the clock from ticking, but we can make sure we are better equipped to have fun while it ticks.

Lifestyle Impact

Accelerated ageing is a fact of modern life.  We eat more and eat more unhealthily.  We are less active in our work and more sedate in our recreation than at any other time in history.  The way much of our food is processed and cooked is a catalyst for illness and we have known this for some time.

Many diseases and illnesses are more prevalent in modern society than they have ever been despite fantastic advances in science and medicine.  Chronic conditions such as arthritis, cancer, diabetes and heart disease can all be manifestations of accelerated ageing.  The reduction in physical ability and functional fitness of our older generations is something many of us wish to avoid.

Luckily there are steps we can take to slow down this process so that our health-span matches our life span more closely.  There are things that we can identify, measure and work on that will improve our vitality and reduce our biological age.

The Eleven Biomarkers of Ageing

Thanks to initial work done by William Evans, Ph.D. and Irwin H. Rosenberg, M.D. at Tufts University Human Nutrition Research Centre on Ageing, a number of key biomarkers of ageing have been identified.  By monitoring these influential factors we can work towards shifting our metabolism away from catabolism and towards anabolism.

The dictionary definition of anabolism is ‘constructive metabolism in which simple molecules synthesise into more complex ones’, with catabolism saying the opposite.  More simply put, anabolism pertains to regeneration, re-growth, and repair whilst catabolism is degeneration and breakdown.

It is easy to see then how by looking after ourselves we can slow down the catabolic degeneration we know as ageing.  By considering these eleven biomarkers we can do just that, giving our later years a rosier outlook.

1. Body Cell Mass (Particularly Muscle Mass)

We typically lose an average of 3kg of lean mass each decade of our adulthood, with this rate increasing notably after the age of 45.

As the saying goes, if you don’t use it…you lose it!  This is particularly true of your muscles.

We can of course choose not to allow this to happen and avoid the muscular atrophy which poor diet and sedentary lifestyles unavoidably bring.  Remember the statistics are true of the population average and by exercising we have chosen not to be typically average.

We know of course that resistance training (usually with weights in a gym environment) coupled with good nutrition can increase our lean mass.  Resistance training has been shown to reverse muscular atrophy in people of all ages therefore reversing the negative results.  It is never too late it seems!

So significant is body cell mass that its loss is a catalyst for a number of other age related degenerations including:

Decreased blood sugar tolerance.
Declining metabolism.
Increase in body fat.
Decreased aerobic capacity.
Decreased bone mineral density.

(These conditions will be discussed further later in this article.)

2. Strength

The average population loses around 20% of its motor units between the ages of 30 and 70.

This of course goes hand in hand with increasing our body cell mass.  It is usually the case that the more lean mass we have the stronger we are, although this is not a hard and fast rule.

Our brain sends messages to our muscles through motor nerves, which are part of our central nervous system.  Sets of motor nerves and the muscle fibres they supply are called ‘motor units’

We know that resistance training can improve muscle cell size and strength.  The encouraging news however is that studies have shown this to be true for people right through into their nineties.  Older people can expect similar improvements in strength and cell size as younger people doing the same amount of exercise.  It seems once again that it is never too late!

3. Phase Angle

Women generally have a lower phase angle reading than men due to their typically lower muscle mass.

The phase angle is a measure of cellular health and the total amount of metabolically active tissue; in other words muscle!  Phase angle is measured using bio-impedance electrical analysis, which measures resistance and reactance.  A clip is placed on the finger and the toe and a small current is passed between the two. (You can’t feel it by the way!)  This gives us our reading.

Again this reading will decline with age if care is not taken to reverse the trend.  Resistance training, quality protein and essential fatty acids are important in improving our phase angle measurement.  The benefits of resistance training then are undeniable it seems!

4. Body Fat Percentage

At the age of 65, the average person has a body fat percentage that is twice that of when they were young.

Whereas the first three biomarkers decrease with age this is not true of body-fat as we know!  As we get older we get fatter, however, because we also tend to lose muscle our actual weight may not increase.

Although the ladies were worse off in the lean mass stakes, when it comes to body fat they have the upper hand.  Women typically store body fat on the hips and bottom whereas men store it around the abdomen.  Because the abdomen is home for our internal organs this is bad news for the boys as storing body fat here can be a factor in our susceptibility to heart disease.

While we are on the subject of body fat, did you know that resistance training can also help to reduce body fat percentage?  Muscle as an organ in the body uses energy to survive.  The more muscle you have, the more calories you use just to keep it alive.  Muscle is a large part of our body’s metabolic load; raise your muscle, raise your metabolism, burn more fat!

5. Fluid Levels

External environmental pollutants are also an influence on extra-cellular fluid levels, although these are more difficult to control

We know that our bodies are made primarily of water and that a loss of fluid can impair our performance.  But it is not just a matter of drinking more.  It is in particular the potassium rich fluid found within cells that gives us the sensitive indicator of our cellular function.

About 60% of our total body fluids are made up of this potassium rich intra-cellular fluid with the other 40% being sodium rich extra-cellular fluid.  It is the increase in this extra-cellular fluid that is associated with the build up various toxic substances.
We can work things in our favour, increasing intra-cellular fluid levels by looking at our diet, aerobic and resistance training and embarking on an effective detoxification programme.  By simply reducing the amount of dietary pollutants (E numbers, additives, colours, added sugars and salts and saturated fats etc) we can influence the amount of extra-cellular fluid in our body.

6. Aerobic Efficiency

By 65 our ability to utilise oxygen has decreased by 30 – 40%…. although this can be avoided by aerobic conditioning.

Once again, in this department our typical member of the population has a tough time too.  Men hit the peak of their aerobic efficiency at around 20 years of age and women at around 30.

Oxygen utilisation is measured by assessing the amount of oxygen we can use over a set period of time.  This is known as VO² max.  Predictably this can be improved by aerobic exercise; however it is not simply increased heart function that does the trick.  The significant changes in VO² max are primarily due to adaptations in how your muscles work.

Contrary to popular belief you do not need to run until you fall in a heap.  Magnus Bowden, Gym Development Manager with Cannons Health Clubs says “Those new to exercise or those returning after a long break should not and indeed need not thrash themselves.  Once a week for 20 minutes at a moderate level is great to start the ball rolling.  60% of your maximum heart rate (which you can calculate by subtracting your age from 220) is a good estimate of what would be moderate.  If you go at this intensity then 20 minutes should be OK, if it feels difficult or uncomfortable then you are probably working too hard!  Increase the frequency before you increase the intensity.  Aim to hit three or four times a week for 20 – 30 minutes before you increase the intensity at all.”

7. Blood Sugar Tolerance

Adult onset diabetes is on the increase.  The changes in activity levels and diet we endure as part of our modern lifestyle has paved the way for most of us to experience an increase in blood sugar levels.  It is easy to test and monitor blood sugar and there is plenty we can do to right the wrongs we may unearth.

Once again, exercise, along with good nutrition (and sometimes supplementation) can halt the accelerated ageing that accompanies increased blood sugar.  By following the right nutritional advice we can make the changes that balance the influential regulating hormones.

Nutritionist Deborah McGovern says, “It may be stating the obvious but caffeine, alcohol and refined sugars increase our susceptibility to this condition.  We all know we should be going for complex carbohydrates like rice and legumes coupled with some quality proteins and water rich foods like fruit and veg.”

8. Cholesterol

Firstly, let’s make sure we have the facts on cholesterol.  The word has become an all-encompassing term for increased risk of heart disease, furry arteries and the result of too much animal fat.  While this is half true we need to better understand the other side of the coin.

Cholesterol in general is a necessary part of our bodies’ chemistry.  It plays a part in sex hormone metabolism for one thing, being manufactured in our liver when necessary.  The fatty substance that is cholesterol attaches to proteins and circulates in our bloodstream as ‘lipoproteins’.  Some of these cholesterol bound lipoproteins have been found to protect us from heart disease and are known as high-density lipoproteins. (HDL’s) The other lipoproteins, low density lipoproteins (LDL’s) and very low density lipoproteins (VLDL’s) are the ones associated with circulatory problems and heart disease.

As the LDL’s and VLDL’s build up over age we become susceptible heart disease as the artery walls fur up and restrict blood flow.  The key to reducing LDL’s (the bad stuff) and increasing HDL’s (the good stuff) is exercise, dietary management and sometimes supplementation.  More specifically, by changing our diet we can lower LDL’s but to raise HDL’s we must lower our body fat percentage and also exercise.

Once again there are simple tests that can be done to work out our individual cholesterol status and appropriate course of action.  Dr John Reynolds of Citisport Clinic says “Surprisingly, for some people that action may include actually raising their intake of ‘healthy’ fats and oils!  It is important to seek individual assessment and individual recommendations to ascertain our nutritional needs.”

9. Blood Pressure

There are cultures and societies around the world that do not develop high blood pressure as they age.

An ideal blood pressure reading is around 130/80.  The first figure is systolic pressure, or the amount of pressure on our arteries at the highest point when the heart contracts.  The second figure is diastolic pressure, or the pressure in our arteries between heart beats, when the heart is at rest.

Modern, developed societies around the globe are reporting increased blood pressure readings in its ageing population due to lifestyle and dietary habits.  This inherent high blood pressure (or hypertension) of can give rise to heart attacks and strokes and there are seldom any warning signs.

But low blood pressure is not a good thing either, giving rise to symptoms similar to that of low blood sugar levels.  This can manifest itself in episodes of weakness and dizziness.

Although some of us are genetically predisposed to chronic hypertension, it has been shown that proper exercise and nutrition can restore normal healthy pressure in many cases.

10. Homocysteine

Elevated homocysteine levels are 40 times more predictive of heart disease than cholesterol levels.

Homocysteine is derived from methionine, an amino acid metabolised from dietary protein.  Although homocysteine is formed by all of us whether or not we are healthy, it is when levels in the blood become elevated that problems can occur.

Evidence suggests that even moderately raised levels can significantly increase susceptibility to cardiovascular disease, strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis and certain forms of cancer.  Research shows that 30% of those with either coronary or peripheral artery disease have elevated levels of homocysteine.

Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12 and most importantly folic acid help to convert homocysteine into harmless compounds and these nutrients should be considered in any optimal diet.  If our dietary choices mean we could have low levels of these nutrients, or if there is a family history of any of the above conditions then it may be worth having homocysteine levels checked.  All it takes is a simple blood test.

11. Bone Mineral Density

Two weeks bed-rest can incur as much bone density loss as one year of ageing

The later stages of poor bone mineral density is called osteoporosis and contrary to popular belief it affects men as well as women.  Loss of bone density can cause fractures, disability and can lead to life threatening complications.

Studies have shown a decline in bone mineral density of 1% per year after peak mineral density is reached. (We usually peak at age 28-35)  After female menopause density loss increases to 3% per year and in some women this can be up to as much as 15% per year

Traditionally, bone density testing is done at hospitals using expensive DEXA (Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry) machines.  Although this testing method is very thorough, it is unusual for a GP to refer a patient for a test because of the expense. However, there are private clinics where bone density can be tested using ultrasonic equipment or be testing our urine in search of the by-products of bone breakdown.

Once again, we can avoid and reverse bone density loss with exercise, good nutrition and supplementation with particular attention to calcium and other bone building nutrients.


The fact that you are reading this magazine means that you have an interest in health and fitness.  You probably train one way or another and have at least more consideration about your nutrition than most of the population.  As a result you are likely to enjoy the benefits of this commitment into your old age.

But let’s get real for a while shall we.  For most people our commitment to exercise and nutrition is somewhat erratic.  Furthermore our primary focus is not generally on issues such as homocysteine levels or blood sugar tolerance.

We can of course leave the fitness levels of our twilight years to chance and if we have dedicated the time we can most likely enjoy a more healthy old age.  However, by specifically measuring and working on these eleven biomarkers of ageing we can get one step closer to that fountain of eternal youth.  See you at the Veteran Olympics!

Literature Cited: 11 Biomarkers of ageing. (Citisport Clinic), Tufts University
Thanks to Dr John Reynolds and Deborah Mc Govern of Citisport and Magnus Bowden of Cannons Health Clubs.

Simple Pleasures

•September 30, 2008 • Leave a Comment

"It is good to have an end to journey towards,  but it is the journey that matters, in the end."  Darryl Kempster
I can sleep for England. If I don’t set an alarm I can clock up 12 hours in bed easily. I’ve always wanted to be an early riser; up with the sun, achieving more before 9am than most get done all day. But I love my bed and I don’t find getting out of it to be an easy task. After all, it was Hippocrates himself that said “Man should not rise until the heaviness of sleep has left him.” And who am I to disagree with Hippocrates?

So it was with some surprise that I found myself up and dressed by 6am this morning. Having run out of milk last night it was a short walk to the petrol station, where I was greeted by my favourite cashier. She’s always smiley and speaks with a broad East Midlands accent, beginning her sentences with “Eh up!” and punctuating them thereafter with a liberal smattering of “me duck” and “petal” (I like being referred to as a “petal”.) It was still quite dark and the street lights were draped in fog and frost, looking almost picturesque.

My fire had all but gone out overnight and so the boat would be chilly until the stove started to do it’s thing, some 30 minutes or so after I lit it. The sun was just coming up and so, wrapping up warm with hat, gloves and scarf I unearthed a deckchair from the engine room where they had been stashed since the summer and sat on the towpath with my coffee, watching the sun rise. It glowed red across the water, illuminating the boats across the marina and reflecting off the ice covered water in a most magical way. I decided that another cup of coffee would be both warming and a good reason to continue my indulgence.

Looking out across the marina I could see that one of the old working boats had sunk. There are three of these old museum-worthy vessels on our marina and I have never seen anyone working with them. I find it a little saddening that they, like many boats on the network, are essentially abandoned and unloved when I know so many people who would sell their grandmother for the pleasure of owning one. Indeed, even as it lay forlornly on the bottom of the cut, only the long, low tug deck visible above the waterline, it looked somehow peaceful as the mist rolled across its deck. I’m hoping I can make myself useful later today, helping the old guy who runs our marina to raise it somehow.

By now the fire had just started to take the edge off the chill. I decided that by the time I had collected my laundry from the washing machine on the other side of the boatyard that the stove would be toasty warm. Besides, I knew that I could get a better look at the sunken workboat if I walked around to that bank. As I got there I found that someone had neatly folded my clothes and put them in a pile on top of the machine, with a rather sultry looking white lacy bra perched incongruously atop my work jeans and jumpers. Unfortunately it is neither mine nor belongs to anyone I know, so I smiled and left it there to be reclaimed by its rightful owner.

The canal was iced quite thickly in places, making it easy to see which boats accommodated occupants and which were empty by the unfrozen halo of water around the ones where a stove had been lit overnight. Where there was grass on the towpath it was crisp with frost, making me feel like a vandal as it crunched beneath my hiking boots. In places where there had been puddles the night before, now lay sheets of ice, each patterned differently as the thickness of the ice varied. Again, my vandalist tenancies showed themselves as I stepped on each one, cracking the ice, watching the muddy water swirl beneath before the slowly rising sun wore them away to become puddles again.

Next door’s tatty cat was waiting for me when I got back, expecting some fuss as usual; and given my mood she was not disappointed. My stove had now melted the frost on the steel top of my boat, making a steadily growing patch in the white sheet covering my roof. The sun was, for all intents and purposes, up by now and there were several other chimneys rolling our smoke, signalling that the marina was coming to life. A police siren signalled the end of my early morning daydream and I realised I was back in real time.

My morning had been wondrous and magical and I’m a lucky lucky boy to be able to enjoy where I live. I should remember this and make a purpose to rise this early more consistently. After all, I think we would all like to stop and smell the roses a little more often. Particularly when they smell as good as this.

Hope you all have a great day.

Resistance Training – Rule #1

•September 23, 2008 • Leave a Comment
Women and Weights?  Hell yeah!

Women and Weights? Hell yeah!

Resistance training can be a nightmare.  Look around the gym and you will likely see everyone doing things their own way.  Three sets of 10?  One set of 15?  Light weights, more reps?  Heavy weights, less reps?  Which is best?  Things can be very confusing, especially if you don’t know whose advice to follow.  Perhaps you should copy that big guy lifting those big dumbbells?  He seems to know what he’s doing?

In order to clarify things a little, I normally give new members three rules to abide by.  Of course, there is no substitute for personalised instruction from a fitness professional and of course there are always specific situations where these rules can be broken.  However they are suitable for most new exercisers and if applied, you can’t go far wrong.

Resistance Training Rule 1

Always lift to muscular fatigue.

That means lift, and lift, and lift until you can’t lift any more.  That’s muscular fatigue.  That’s the point at which you have asked so much of the muscle that it can’t deliver.  After all, why should your muscles and your body change if you are not asking it to do more than usual?  If they can execute the task comfortably in their current state then why should they change?

So how do you know when your muscles have reached fatigue?  Well, there are a few signs to look out for, all of which indicate a less than perfect lifting form.  For example, if you begin to falter whilst lifting the weight then that means the muscle(s) have fatigued. You know that point where you start to judder and you’re not sure you can complete the rep?  That’s muscular fatigue.

Another sign is if you start to use momentum or if you need to rest between reps.  You should lift the weight in a smooth controlled fashion without the aid of momentum and keep the weight moving until you fatigue.  If you need to rest between reps or if you need the help of momentum then you have fatigued.

Lastly, if you find yourself recruiting other muscles to help complete the movement then this also indicates fatigue.  Squirming in your seat, arching your back, or leaning over your weights all indicates that the fatigued muscle needs help.  Keep your form strict and when you can’t do any more, stop!  Job done!

Now you know this rule, have a look again at the guys swinging great big freeweights.  Some of them have more swing than BB King!  Think of them as a great example of how NOT to do it!

Resistance Training – Rule #2

•September 23, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Resistance training can be a nightmare.  Look around the gym and you will likely see everyone doing things their own way.  Three sets of 10?  One set of 15?  Light weights, more reps?  Heavy weights, less reps?  Which is best?  Things can be very confusing, especially if you don’t know whose advice to follow.  Perhaps you should copy that big lifting those big dumbbells?  He seems to know what he’s doing?

In order to clarify things a little, I normally give new members three rules to abide by.  Of course, there is no substitute for personalised instruction from a fitness professional and of course there are always specific situations where these rules can be broken.  However they are suitable for most new exercisers and if applied, you can’t go far wrong.

Resistance Training Rule # 2

Reach muscular fatigue between 8 – 12 reps

How many reps do you do?  Ten?  Twelve? Eight?  Fifteen?  Six?


What does each of the figures mean?  Which is best for you?  Well, the simple answer is that there is no conclusive research to state definitively which is best.  Also, individual situations and goals vary so much that there is not one blanket answer to this question.  However, as a rule of thumb and guided by the little research that is out there most fitness professionals will agree that a range of 8 – 12 is best.  This range gives the most practical and comfortable workout results.

So do you automatically stop somewhere in this range?  You seem to have forgotten rule #1 already!  The rule states that you should “Reach muscular fatigue between 8 – 12 reps.

Let me put it this way.
•    If you chose a weight and you can’t do 8 reps before you fatigue then that weight is TOO HEAVY.
•    If you chose a weight and you manage to do more than 12 reps, than that weight is TOO LIGHT.

See, FATIGUE between 8 – 12 reps.  You may need to play around with the weights you use at first but you should get the right weight after a couple of workouts.

Another benefit of this resistance rule is that it makes it easy to identify when to move up a weight.  On the day you manage to do more than 12 good reps, you move up a weight.  (You may now only manage to do 8 reps, but that’s still within our range.)  Stick to the 8 – 12 rep range rule and you know exactly where you stand.

Resistance Training – Rule #3

•September 23, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Resistance training can be a nightmare.  Look around the gym and you will likely see everyone doing things their own way.  Three sets of 10?  One set of 15?  Light weights, more reps?  Heavy weights, less reps?  Which is best?  Things can be very confusing, especially if you don’t know whose advice to follow.  Perhaps you should copy that big lifting those big dumbbells?  He seems to know what he’s doing?

In order to clarify things a little, I normally give new members three rules to abide by.  Of course, there is no substitute for personalised instruction from a fitness professional and of course there are always specific situations where these rules can be broken.  However they are suitable for most new exercisers and if applied, you can’t go far wrong.

Resistance Training Rule 3

One set only

What!? I hear you say!?  Just one set?  I can’t get an adequate workout with just one set!  No way!

How do I know you are saying this?  Because it is exactly what I said when I first heard of the one set max principle.  Inevitably though I had to rethink the way I wrote member programmes in light of the research presented to me.

The one set max principle states that a significant proportion of the gains made during resistance training are made during the first set.  So, by default we can make “significant gains” by executing one set only.  Think about that for a second.  You can make almost as much progress as you currently make doing three sets, but in a third of the time!  Who can argue with that?

This is interesting for all kinds of reasons, but I feel the primary reason to adopt the one set max principle is because it benefits exercise adherence.  We know that member drop out rates directly correlate with the length and intensity of the workout they do.  Basically the longer and harder your workout, the more likely you are to drop out.    From this angle the benefits of the one set max principle are hard to resist!

I find it increasingly strange that instructors write programmes for new members that last any longer than 45 minutes.  Long arduous programmes might be effective if the member sticks with it, but research shows that as a whole they don’t.  They quit, and that makes the supa dupa 2 hour long programme useless.  Using the one set max principle helps negate dropout and we know that new members are vulnerable for the first 12 weeks.

Of course, there are those who like to work at intensities that make their eyes bleed.  Hell, I’m one of them and eventually, you may be too.  For the first 12 weeks though you should give the one set max principle a try.  Muscular fatigue, 8 – 12 reps and one set max are the way to go for most new members.

How to upset your Gym Instructor.

•September 23, 2008 • Leave a Comment

A friend of mine once said, “Never upset your wife, your dentist or your gym instructor.”

It’s sound advice I feel, so here is my humorous look at gym etiquette.

Essential Kit!

Essential Kit!

Don’t eat before you work-out..
If you pass out with hypoglycaemia and bang your head on the treadmill, I will have to clean up the blood.
Plus, I am duty bound to give you my flapjack to get your blood sugar back up. You will pay for this in the future.

No, it does not make you lift more. It makes you sound stupid. Especially those grunts you do after each rep. They sound like you are having sex.

Chew gum..
As you breathe more heavily you may inhale it. Then you choke, go blue etc. I have to revive you with mouth to mouth. Thing is, you are really ugly and have a beard. Plus you are all sweaty and smell a bit. I don’t want to, but I’d rather you didn’t die on my shift..

Be late for your appointment..
We have people booked in after you who probably run their diaries more effectively. When they say 12.30 they mean 12.30. In fact, they will probably be early. So for me to over-run by 5-10 minutes because you are late leaves the next person waiting for 15-20 minutes.  No fair!

Leave hair/litter/paper towels in the changing rooms for us to clean up..
We are fitness professionals, not cleaners. We take pride in our club and so will clean up any mess there is. There would be less mess if you cleaned up after you.

Leave dumbbells in the wrong place..
The wrong place on the rack is bad enough, leaving them on the floor is just wrong. If you are big enough to lift them, you are big enough to put them back. It looks a mess and it is dangerous too.

Clang the weights..
There is really no need. It achieves nothing, and besides, each time you let the weights touch you are resting the muscles. We are here to train the muscles, not rest them.

Don’t wipe your sweat up..
It’s disgusting, unhygienic and inconsiderate.

Be rude or patronising..
If you are rude to us we will thrash you until your eyes bleed. We know that you have too much ego to give up or ask us for a lower level. We will keep putting the level up until your lungs pop out of your ass.

Ignore our good advice and “do your own thing”..
If I wanted to know about cars I would ask a mechanic. I am a fitness professional. I know best.

Oggle at the girls and lurk around them..
We will ask you to stop and you will be very embarrassed.

Leave your stuff in the locker overnight/for the whole week..
It is not your personal locker. We have just enough lockers and to claim one causes us problems. We have a spare key ad will remove your stuff. If you do not claim it, it goes to Oxfam.

Wear dirty footwear..
If you notice a pile of dirt behind your treadmill that means your shoes were dirty. We noticed this and so will have to get the dust buster out. Once is a mistake. Every morning is annoying.

Don’t wash..
We have a three-stage process to deal with this.
Stage one – We leave a “Gym Etiquette” notice in the changing rooms reminding people to be aware of their personal hygiene. Are you sure that it was not you who prompted this notice?
Stage Two– “Strewth George, you must be training hard! Here, use my deodorant.”
Stage Three. – “George, you stink. Use deodorant and have a shower before training please.”

Do freaky weird exercises that are dangerous..
I don’t care who taught you to do it that way, it is wrong. If people copy you they may get hurt. Not in my gym. Not on my watch.  Safety first!

Make lame excuses..
I know you have lapsed and would like to help. But trying to address each of your excuses is hard work. You are never going to admit to your shortcomings in attendance. You will justify yourself to the hilt. I can’t help you.  How about we just make a fresh start?

Poop in the pool..
I have to get it out, and when I find out whose it is I will return it. We know it was an adult; it is adults only on Wednesdays.

Ask us to play your crap music..
Only you like it. Everyone else will complain. Get an iPod.

Complain about the music..
Yes, we know it is crap. We don’t even like dance music, but we play it for the beat. It is the most accepted music in gyms. We will never please everyone. This is the lowest common denominator.

Make/take mobile phone calls in the gym..
This is a leisure environment. This is your leisure time; so stop working! I know you have an important call coming in. Just hide your phone and put it on vibrate. Answer it as you are leaving the gym. That’s the polite thing to do.

Do unmentionables in the saunas..
Again, I have to clean it up.

Not thank us when you reach your goals..
Of course, the result is entirely your doing, but we like to feel appreciated.

Fart in the gym..
We know it was you.

First Published – Motley Fool

Ray Wiley Hubbard – The Borderline

•September 12, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Ray Wiley Hubbard
The Boarderline.  Soho.  London.
Tuesday 1st August 2006

Ray Wiley Hubard & Lucas @ Borderline London UK

Ray Wiley Hubbard & Lucas @ Borderline London UK

Writing for this website has been good for me.  Being based in the UK means I miss out on some of the more interesting stuff from the US and here I get an opportunity to catch up a little.  Reading Cindy’s review of David Allen Coe is a good example which sent me straight to allofmp3 to get hold of his albums. So, armed with my newfound love of Americana, I was pleased when Jeff asked me if I would like to review Ray Wiley Hubbard at the Boarderline Club in Soho, London.  I agreed, despite vowing never to set foot in Soho again after I woke up one morning to find I was missing £300 and had only a leopard-skin thong and a photo of a naked girl with a face like a bag of slapped arses to show for it.  Damn that strip joint!  Making a mental note to stick to the remit, Dawn and I headed for Soho.

We arrived at the Boarderline early to be met by Ray’s wife Judy as he himself was finishing up his sound-check. I couldn’t help but notice that the kid on stage with Ray was considerably younger and looked more like he should be in System of a Down.  Turns out the kid was Ray and Judy’s son Lucas; and he could play too!  After some quick hello’s we set of to eat and chat at a restaurant near the club.  Getting kicked out of the local metal bar “The Crowbar” was cool, even if it was only because they have a no kids policy.  Getting kicked out of the Crowbar takes some doing!

It seems I have much to learn about Americana.  Apparently, owning Kenny Rogers Greatest Hits and knowing the words to Whichita Lineman aren’t enough to impress Ray and so he promptly set about educating me.  (I’m just getting round to looking up James McMurtry and Cross Canadian Ragweed)  I figured I should listen up, given the look on his face when I mentioned Kenny Rogers, but Ray continued to humour me, despite my faux par.  Dawn and Ray had some common ground, having both worked with Lee Rocker from the Stray Cats which seemed to restore his faith.  Inevitably the conversation soon focused on the good old rock and roll topics of snakes, tattoos and more rock and roll

The title track on Ray’s latest album “Snake Farm” honours a herper called Ramona who runs the joint.  She sounds just like my kind of girl considering we both have tattoos and a love of The Alarm. However, Ray assures me she is just a fictional character, much to my disappointment.  I was looking forward to showing her my tattoo of a python constricting a mouse, just like the one she apparently has.  Ray himself made a relatively late entrance into the world of tattooing, getting inked only recently after losing a bet with a friend.  He proudly rolled up his sleeve to show me his tattoo of a boa, similar to the ones on the cover of the Snake Farm album.  Cool ink Ray, perhaps you could post a pic on our tattoo photo forum.  I’ll show you mine if you show me yours?

The Boarderline is a smallish venue which was thankfully not over-packed for the gig.  Around a hundred people meant that we could still make our way comfortably to the bar without having to manhandle people out of the way.  We’d missed the first support, Linda McLean but arrived just in time to see Jason McNiff play his melancholy set.  I was impressed enough to buy his CD so I’ll post a review soon.  Watch this space.  Also supporting was the comical Darden Smith, again, well worth a peek for Americana fans.

At last Ray took the stage and after a brief banter and howdy, launched into his set.  As a newcomer to the genre I didn’t really know what to expect.  I’m a frequent victim of one hit wonder artists and regularly buy albums on the strength of one song, only to be disappointed by the rest of the disk.  I’d heard a few of Ray’s tracks but I couldn’t help but wonder if the rest of his material was of the same calibre.  A couple of tracks later I had my answer.  Ray sounded just like I thought he oughta and he certainly seemed to be enjoying enjoy himself as much as we all were.  With his guitar taped up with gaffer tape he cursed Delta Airlines every time he had to re-tune.    What I found really outstanding though were his lyrics.   For example, I was particularly amused by “Mississippi Flush” is apparently a winning poker hand involving “a revolver and any five cards”.  “Ruby red lips and liquid hips” is a phrase I will be using myself at some point soon too, all credits to Ray of course! 😉

I was really getting into it when Dawn crossed the floor to whisper in the ear of a pissed up couple who were talking loudly in front of the stage.  Not one to suffer fools gladly she wasn’t gonna stand this rude and off-putting behaviour.  Ray is just too nice to tell them to shut the fuck up, but Dawn is less reserved.  I remember hoping that they didn’t back-chat her cos she’d threatened to drag them out of there so fast they got whiplash.  She could and she would too!  They soon piped down and so it was on with the show.   “Crimson Dragon Tattoo” was a particular favourite of mine; especially considering it was “dedicated to Tony, a snake farmer I know!” Time for another round at the bar I thought!  “Last Train to Amsterdam” was another blinder from the set.  I’ll have to find out which CD it’s on, although I think I may just keep collecting his CD’s until I find it.

Soon it was time for the boy wonder to take the stage. Lucas stepped up with confidence and played accompaniment and a solo, finishing to tumultuous applause.  “That was for both of us you know boy!” said Ray as the applause died down.  Lucas just grinned and raised an eyebrow in that way only kids can.  The boy was far too cool and unfazed for a 12 year old.  Shit, when I was his age I was still playing marbles.  Ray looked suitably proud as they saw out the rest of the set together.  I hope the kid gets paid.  He deserved it!

The set rolled on and over me, much to my approval.  I’d come to the gig wanting to enjoy myself, but very conscious of the fact that as a rank amateur, it could all have gone over my head.  I was aware that although I thought Ray was a cool guy, this is a review site, not a fan club and so I would write my account honestly.  I’m pleased to say that Ray delivered everything I’d hoped for and more.

As a final note I’d recommend you all check out his website. http://www.raywylie.com
It’s one of the coolest sites I’ve seen and the animated story about the dog at his gig in the seventies had me pissing my pants.   Live and die rock n roll!
Snake Farm Album Review

Set List

Snake Farm
Name Droppin’
Last Train to Amsterdam
Conversation with the Devil
Mississippi Flush
Dust of the Chase
Three Days Straight
Pole Cat
Crimson Dragon Tattoo
Redneck Mother
Cooler ‘n’ Hell
Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll
The Messenger

Time and Tide

•September 11, 2008 • 3 Comments

“Experience teaches much, and teaches it sharply.”
Sir Francis Youngblood

The Trent at Gainsborough

The Trent at Gainsborough

“My boat was about as ready as it could be for the arduous journey from Derby to Leeds. It’s an old boat, built in 1985 by Stoke on Trent boat builders. My friend Mike helped me to buy the tub and commented on the “beautiful lines” and “interesting fit out”. As a rank amateur I had no concept of boat styling but trusted his discerning eye, and since then have come to appreciate his guidance as my boat is certainly pretty, if a little rough around the edges. I like to think that we have at least this in common. Over the last three years I have overhauled most of the systems on the boat, the plumbing and toilet system, electrics, gas and some of the engine have all been fine tuned and by the end of March there was nothing left to fix. It was the fist time that everything on the boat actually worked properly. We were as ready as we were ever going to be.

The first few days were plain sailing so to speak, on the easy and familiar Erewash Canal heading south towards the River Trent. I’d been warned that the Trent could be a little hairy in places, being tidal and cutting through wide expanses of flat country, allowing the wind to barge my boat in any direction it fancied. I was typically unfazed by the warnings, feeling I had enough boating experience and a decent amount of tidal river experience to boot, having done part of The Thames on a couple of occasions. Don’t get me wrong, I took heed of the advice I was offered and had spoken with a couple of Trent Boating Veterans at length; but ultimately I felt I was ready and by the time the big turn east onto the Trent appeared I was basking in the spring sun and enjoying the experience thoroughly. It would be two more days until I reached the tidal part of the river. Had I known then what was to come I may have been less cocky.

The tidal part of the Trent begins just North of Newark at Cromwell Lock. I’d booked my passage through the lock by phone the day before, and had a chat with the Lockie as my boat through. He was quite a typical Boat Folk kind of character, forthright and experienced with a tale to tell. As the water level dropped he waved me off and opened the lock gates for my entry onto the tidal Trent. It was less than 24 hours later that it all started to go wrong. Seriously, seriously wrong.

My boat is my home and I’m not dumb enough to risk it all on some stupid joyride. I’d done my research, I’d done my preparation and I was confident enough in my ability. There was risk, but I felt more than up to the task. Any investor will tell you that without risk there is no reward. I live my life by that philosophy and I’ve done OK thank you very much. So please don’t read this story and think “Oh here goes tonyreptiles on another crazy adventure.” I assure you that despite my tendency to find myself in interesting situations, I would certainly have foregone the telling of this particular story if ever it had been possible. But this time, things were completely out of my control.

I’d worked out that I’d have around two days of serious cruising on the tidal Trent if the tides worked in my favour, otherwise I’d sit it out on one of the few moorings available on the river and wait for the tides to time themselves nicely for my schedule. The Trent is a horrible, if not impossible place to moor at bank-side given the severity of the tides. A beautiful high tide mooring becomes an ugly slope of steep mud banks at low tide and the Trent seems to slip between them both with some ferocity. This didn’t worry me however as I had planned my journey to include stop offs at the convenient and safe floating pontoons, which were provided by British Waterways at brilliantly convenient intervals. These floating pontoons do exactly what it says on the tin, rising and falling with the tide, the only downside being the noise they make as the decking walkways slide up and down upright steel girders. Sanctuary indeed. Having completed day one of the Tidal Trent without any disasters I spent a night at Torksey Lock on their floaters before setting off with the tide the next day, headed for the safety at the canals at Keadby.

By this point in the journey I’d about had my fill of the Trent and its flat, uninteresting landscape. There really is not much to see once you’ve had enough of fields and the occasional hint of a town. A place is truly boring when the series of power stations and cooling towers are the only breaks in the horizon. By the time we approached Gainsborough it was 15.30hrs and I was looking forward to seeing the entrance to the Keadby Canal. I was tired, hungry, bored and cold and probably another three verses of Kum By Yah as well. I rounded another sharp bend and the cooling towers of a third power station came into view. I remember wondering if the steam turns to rain as it leaves the towers, and if that meant it was always raining around power stations. My amateur physics and meteorology musings came to an abrupt halt, at precisely the same moment as my engine. My mind took a second to realise that my worst fears had come true, and I had lost power on the Tidal Trent. It took another few seconds before I’d fully appreciate the world of shit I now found myself in. I gathered myself, chose my most favoured and trusted swear word, and shouted it loud and shrill into the wind.

I knew that this was NOT GOOD.

Whilst on tidal rivers it is recommended that boats carry an anchor; mine was bought in the first week of boat ownership and had yet to see active service. As my boat drifted slowly with the current I looked to my anchor, desperately trying to decide if I should chuck it in. I was in two minds as to the best thing to do; if left to drift my boat could end up anywhere, but if anchored in the middle of the river we were reliant on other people to save us. In the end, three factors made me decide to drift without dropping anchor. Firstly, I wanted to be able to get ashore if I needed to, as by now I suspected the problem was fuel related. Secondly, the season was still young and there were few vessels cruising the river. And thirdly, I couldn’t help resenting that if deployed the anchor was essentially lost as retrieving them is a bit of a lottery. That anchor system had cost me over a hundred quid and I was damned if I was going to lose it unless absolutely necessary. I decided to see where I drifted.

Eventually we came close enough to land for me to jump ashore, getting my feet only slightly wet. We were already pointing the other way and so ran my bow line to the base of a small tree which over hung the water. I drove in two large mooring pins, having to relocate them several times as the bank was about as firm as porridge in places, but eventually I managed to tie my spare ropes together and lash bow and stern to a couple of reasonably secure mooring pins whilst running a midline to a more stable stump in a fence around the riverside field. I felt the fence was the strongest mooring and was thankful for its presence; the mooring pins were ropey to say the least and I didn’t trust them one bit. I congratulated myself on my small victory and stood on the bank trying to work out where it had all gone wrong.

As I said, I suspected a fuel issue based on the noises the engine made just before it cut out. On dipping my diesel tank it became clear that I had very little fuel, probably not enough to get sucked into the pump. This puzzled me as I had filled up before I left and I know what kind of distance my boat can do on a full tank, and we were nowhere near that distance. Clearly I was using or losing diesel and when it ran out, so did my engine. Scouring the map I located the nearest road and set off across the fields in search of a petrol station. I wasn’t happy leaving my boat but given that there was not much traffic on the river it was unlikely that help would come. I felt that if I could get some diesel I could at least get to Gainsborough Moorings, a mere mile away according to my waterways map. It took me an hour and a half to get across the fields and get back with 20 litres of diesel. By now it was approaching 17.30hrs and the tide was starting to drop. Darkness was only a few hours away and I had to work fast.

I knew that there was a chance that despite topping up the fuel, I may need to bleed the fuel line before I could start the engine. I wasn’t wrong. After numerous attempts to start, my boat was having none of it and I was concerned about using all of my battery power on starting attempts. Besides; by now I had an even bigger problem. The tide was going out and the water level was dropping. There was already more of the bank visible and the bow of my boat was nestling comfortably in the mud. I had no idea how low the river would go and how around I was going to be or how steep the slope was. The risk of tipping was pretty high and if I was going to run aground I needed to make sure I was aground as safely as possible. I spent the next hour hauling on ropes and pushing with the pole, trying to get the boat as stable as possible. We ended up with the bow aground at the end of the longest rope I could make, trying to keep at least some of the boat in the water in an attempt to keep my rudder and stern gear wet. The last thing I needed was a bent and muddy rudder.

The water appeared to have levelled off and by this time I was absolutely exhausted. Trying to fight the tide is hard work and there is very little victory to be had. In fact, I think if I had just left the tide and the boat to do their own thing I’d have likely ended up in pretty much the same position and not exhausted myself at all. As it stood my boat was at around 30 degrees nose to tail and at a jaunty angle side to side, making walking along the length quite a mission indeed. Having achieved a degree of stability I turned my attention back to my engine and set about bleeding the fuel line. Within the hour the job was done and my engine was purring like a kitten. (And, if you have ever heard an old Leyland Diesel 1.5 BMC, you’ll be smiling right now.)

But we weren’t out of the woods yet. We still had the issue of being aground and the tide to deal with. I couldn’t set off until the tide came in, which wouldn’t be until midnight. The lack of civilisation on the banks of the Trent meant that it would be difficult to see where I was going as there are no buildings or street lights to use as bank markers. As darkness fell I checked how useful my navigation floodlight would be and decided that it was better to rely on the sheen of moonlight on the river than to expect my pupils to adjust between the bright flood-light and the pitch blackness of the night. I spent the next hour making the boat ready for the float. My pockets were bulging with stuff that really should have been in a utility belt, blade, adjustable spanner, head torch, Jaffa Cakes and my mobile phone. (I had switched my phone off earlier that afternoon to preserve the last of the battery that remained considering there was no way of charging it again once dead.) My engine was running and my Jaffa Cakes were long gone by the time my boat finally floated off the mud bank and I cut the last mooring rope. It was about an hour to Gainsborough Moorings against the current and I was more or less home and dry. I laughed to myself a little as I pushed the throttle and revved the engine to fight the tide. It chugged sweetly out into the middle of the Trent and I was pleased to see the glimmer of moonlight illuminating the line of the river.

Then the engine cut out again.

I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t disappointed. I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself at all. I’m trying to think of a word to describe my feelings and my behaviour as the realisation of what had happened dawned on me. I can only describe it as a blind rage, filling my body with adrenaline and testosterone. I know what it feels like but I can’t describe it, but I remember it from my years of boxing. There is no rationale, or style, or control or anything except the urge to fight. My eyes were wide and I could hear my rabid screaming echoing across the fields. My half drunk mug of coffee smashed off the front of the boat as I hurled it indiscriminately and I’ll need a new casing for my electrics panel. It was a while before my throbbing and bleeding hand nudged me back to consciousness and I could see the bank was approaching again. By the time my bow hit the mud and I stepped onto the bank I was in “deal with it mode” again as I lashed another midline to the exact same fence post it had been fixed to earlier. Once back on the boat I knew that coffee was not going to touch it and so made straight for the JD. A couple of those steadied my nerves and focussed me on the task I knew lay ahead. I had four hours or so until the tide went out and then I would be aground again. I remembered how exhausted I was after the last attempt and knew that this time it would be even more dangerous as it was dark; and as if to really put the cream on the cake, I noticed that it had started to rain and my hopes that it would be a short shower were unfortunately in vain.

04.00hrs found me in the mud up to my ankles wrestling with the bow of my 50 foot narrowboat. It was a futile effort as it weighs around 12 tons and unless it is floating it is about as manoeuvrable as a building. As the front ran aground and stuck fast I had only the stern left to deal with. The rain and hail battered my face, my hands ached with cold as I wrestled with the freezing wet ropes trying to drag the stern to safety and away from the mud. With no engine power and a current to fight against I felt pathetic and weak as each haul gained me only a meagre success, and all the time the current would fight against me to regain ground, despite my screaming, back breaking best attempts. I could feel the rage rising again and even my reminiscence of the old Incredible Hulk scenes did nothing to change my mood as rain trickled down my face. I’ve never sworn so much as I did over those hours as I was soaked to the skin, freezing cold and frightened to my very marrow. I cried. For most of the time out there I was crying; a mixture of fear and sorrow and rage left my eyes stinging and my throat raw from screaming.

Eventually, when the water was still and my boat stopped moving I decided I should rest. As if to prove its superiority I noticed that the Trent had left my boat at an even steeper angle than it had been earlier, the nose high on the bank with enough space to crawl under my hull on the mudflats, should I have so wished. I didn’t get aboard immediately but sat on the bank on the wet grass looking at the glassy stillness of the water below and the occasional dark cloud sweeping past the moon in an otherwise crisply clear sky above. The rain had stopped, the tide was out and I was left on the bank, wasted and beaten as the Trent continued on its way leaving me spent in the wake of my impotent fury.

The next morning I’d managed to get a few minutes of sleep snatched here and there. There was little else for me to do as nothing could happen before the tide rose and lifted me off the muddy banks. By now I had dispensed of all pride and knew that I was out of my depth. I’d bled the fuel line several times by this point but the engine would cut out each time I pushed the throttle and got some revs. Whatever was wrong, I couldn’t fix it and so only a rescue would save me and my boat now. I gave the Lock Keeper at Cromwell a few minutes to settle with a cup of tea before calling him at 06.45 to tell him about my situation, hoping that he had some way of saving me. My abridged version of events left him chuckling nervously as he told me I must have had “quite a night”. I agreed that I had, and asked him what could be done. Apparently I was in luck as there were two narrowboats awaiting high tide to the north of me and could tow me to safety once my boat was afloat. The hours and minutes ticked slowly by as I awaited the 11.30am high tide.

Time is a relative thing. The last few minutes of a football match can drag by in slow motion for an underdog team with a 1-0 lead whereas two weeks of holiday time can fly past in an instant. The tides that had dragged me so swiftly into trouble the night before were taking their time to help me get afloat. I watched the shore line, trying to work out if the water was getting any higher, concentrating on small markers in the mud to ascertain any rising.

“When it reaches that footprint, I’ll know the tide is rising.”

“When that bit of bark starts to float it is coming up for sure.”

My phone was out of battery by now and the only timepiece I had was the clock on my wall in the galley. I’d run into the boat to check the hour, only to find the minutes ticking by painfully slowly. Despite the creeping slowness of the tide, everything I did was in a rush. I even became brave enough to make tea by making short frenzied dashes to the kettle and back, frantically worried I would miss the nose as it dislodged from the bank. Eventually the waters rose slowly and I waited for it to reach under my bow and lift me off to safety.

I didn’t worry at first when I saw the water in my bilges under the engine. I was not surprised in the slightest that some water had gotten there given the adventures of the night before. It wasn’t until the tide was well on its way up the bank that I noticed my prop shaft was now underwater, as was my gear box and bilge pump. The fatigue and tension were playing tricks with my reasoning as I looked into my engine bay, watching the water rise slowly over the ledge. I came round with a click of realisation and banged my head as I came out of the hatch at the back of my boat. My entire stern end was underwater and my exhaust pipes were now under the waterline too. I rushed into the boat to get something to stuff in the exhaust pipes to find the water was now halfway along my bedroom floor. Grabbing a couple of t-shirts from my wardrobe I splashed my way out onto the back deck and lay down in the rising water and leant over the side. Groping around underwater, I found the holes on the outside of my hull where the exhausts vented out and screwed t-shirts into the gaps as deep and as tight as I could. Next, I grabbed my laptop, my photo albums and my passport from my office and placed them at the front of the boat and away from the water, ready to chuck them onto the bank if necessary, before diving back into my flooded engine room. I didn’t stop to check if the influx had stopped but grabbed a jug and started bailing. I’d taken out a couple of scoops before I remembered my submersible bilge pump and bodge-wired it to my batteries. I figured there was no need to preserve battery power now as my engine would not be worth starting until the fuel issue had been sorted, not to mention the fact my engine was now full of water. With the bilge pump belching out water I turned back to bailing, frantically throwing water over the back of my boat, spilling most in my frenzied haste.

I tired quickly as I could only get access to the water filling my engine bilges with one arm. I snatched a few seconds rest before looking down and noticing the ledge which had previously been submerged was now just visible above the water line. I decided that swift but steadily methodical bailing would be far more energy efficient, considering my fatigue. I hadn’t eaten anything but a couple of Jaffa Cakes since lunch yesterday and I was delirious with lack of sleep and general exhaustion. My boat was sinking and all I could do was bail.

So I bailed.

Dunk, lift, splosh. Dunk, lift, splosh. Dunk, lift, splosh. Dunk, lift, splosh.

That was my entire focus for the next period of time. I don’t know how long it was exactly, probably about half an hour. Rescue was still over an hour away as the other boat made its way from West Stockwith Lock to me on the high tide. All I could do was bail and watch the tide rise. So I bailed. And I bailed. And I bailed.

Dunk, lift, splosh. Dunk, lift, splosh. Dunk, lift, splosh. Dunk, lift, splosh.

I heard the bilge pump groan to a stop in the background as the batteries finally flattened, but didn’t really pay much notice. I was busy bailing and my brain had kind of switched off. There was nothing else I could do, nothing else worth noticing. Only bailing would help. So I bailed.

Dunk, lift, splosh. Dunk, lift, splosh. Dunk, lift, splosh. Dunk, lift, splosh.

My arm was burning with lactic acid as my muscles strained to keep the rhythm I had set, which was luckily just about tolerable. Or perhaps I’d switched off so much that the pain message was not getting through to my brain. I was bailing. Bailing. Bailing. I saw the prop shaft emerge from the water and registered that it meant that no more water was getting in. I bailed faster, gritting my teeth and swearing. “I got you beat, you shit! I got you beat!” I didn’t care that my respect for the river was gone. I was past contempt for this river and its ugly, faceless landscape. I hated it. I hated it and I was going to beat it. I WAS beating it and I just had to keep on bailing. I bailed and bailed until the water in my engine room was so shallow that I could only get a mugful of water in the jug at each stroke. Dropping the jug I lifted my arm painfully out of the engine bay and looked out of the rear hatch at the riverbank opposite. It was horizontal. Stepping out onto my now dry back deck I scanned the panorama of landscape around me. I was afloat and out in the river, tied to the bank by my midline. My engine bay was only a couple of inches deep of water instead of a couple of feet and, despite the rain and wind, I was reasonably safe.

I waited another twenty minutes, shivering and wet in my soaking clothes, not bothering to go inside to change for fear of missing the rescue boat. It turned up, lashed me to it and pulled me to the safety of Torksey Lock, some hour or so away. Once there I stripped off my wet clothes and made a cup of tea, lying naked on my sofa, allowing the stove time to warm the room. I was in no hurry. No hurry at all. I was safe now and lay there motionless for the next few hours. Delerious. Weak. Lobotomised.

I was too tired to rush about anything, but eventually went in the shower and got dressed before calling to book an engineer to salvage my engine for the next day. Apparently there was a problem with the line to my fuel pump which was leaking diesel, meaning I eventually ran dry before I’d expected. The fault was also responsible for letting air into the line when the system was under pressure. This meant that each time I revved the engine it would suck in air and cut out, just like it did last night. We also managed to get all of the water out of my engine without damage and the whole sorry scenario cost me £110 and the collection of (now soggy) reptile magazines from the last 20 years, which I stored under my bed.

The engineer left a few hours ago now and I can’t do anything or go anywhere until high tide tomorrow. I’ve charged my phone and called a few people to let them know what happened and that I’m ok, but I haven’t managed to stop thinking about the last 48 hours and how it came about. I’m deliriously tired and I don’t even know if what I have written makes any sense. I’m not going to go back and edit anything because how it is here is how it is in my head. I can’t help thinking about tomorrow though, and how I have to face the Trent again. My rescuer was heading south when he picked me up and dropped me on a Lock back the way I came. Tomorrow I have to re-trace my course North, past the scene of last nights horrors and onwards to Gainsborough. I really can’t think about it right now but I’m going to spend some time getting my head straight, ready for the journey. I know now I can’t be anything but 100% if I’m going to make it and fear and dread have no place in my world tomorrow.”

First Published: The Motley Fool

Livefood Lowdown

•July 8, 2008 • 1 Comment
Desers Locusts - The best selling bug by far!

If you want to get ahead with reptiles you need to be clued up about their food. Insect live-food is the foundation stone of any retail reptile business, with customers retuning week after week to buy fresh bugs. Here’s an invertebrate insider FAQ to keep you ahead of the game with your insect investments!

Q. I don’t stock reptiles so why should I stock reptile live-food?
A. Most people stock live-food in order to make a profit believe it or not. Reptiles are the fastest growing sector of the pet industry and it’s estimated that over TEN MILLION crickets are bred for the reptile market each WEEK. Reptile owners will usually buy fresh bugs each week and so need a convenient local outlet. Many shops offer only live food without wanting to stock actual reptiles.

Q. What should I be stocking then?
A. Tubs of crickets and locusts are the most popular live-food making up approximately 80-90% of sales, split almost equally between the two. The rest of your stock should be tubs of mealworms, giant mealworms and wax worms. Demand for other bugs such as pachnoda, mini mealworms and curly wing flies is usually small and these are usually stocked to order in most shops. You can also buy crickets, locusts and mealworms in bulk bags and shops will often use these for feeding their own stock.

Q. But aren’t there different types of crickets and locusts?
A. Yes there are, and it’s quite an important difference too. Be sure to read our Live Foods Lowdown for all of the information you will need.

Q. Does size matter?
A. Yes it does and understanding live food sizing is quite useful. As invertebrates, crickets and locusts have an exoskeleton that is shed each time they grow, with each shed being called an instar. They start off as hatchlings as they leave the egg and most suppliers will allow the hatchling a day or so to harden its exoskeleton before they sell the bug. A few days later they will shed their skin and become a 1st instar. The next shed they become a 2nd and then a 3rd, right up to a 5th instar before they acquire fully developed wings and become an adult.
Most suppliers and shops sell live food graded into small, medium, large and XL sizes although some do use instars. I think instars are a more accurate and less ambiguous description of size and help everyone to avoid misunderstandings when ordering specific sizes of live food. Your supplier will be able to give some advice on which are the most popular sizes, although you’ll need to adjust to your specific local market.

Q. My tubs seem to be dying off after a few days. What am I doing wrong?
A. The most common mistake is keeping tubs of live food too warm, so storing them near vivariums is not a good idea. Ideally they should be kept somewhere dark at around 15°C which makes the bugs dormant. A warm bug will feed, but unfortunately the moist stuff that comes out at the other end is also considered edible by the bug and eating their own faeces simply kills them. Keeping them cool will mean your bugs stay fresh and have a longer shelf life.

Q. What’s all this about Gut Loading then?
A. Live food Gut Loading is a very important part of reptile husbandry. In order to ensure the live food is of high nutritional quality it is necessary to feed your bugs before you feed them to your lizards. Unfortunately most people who buy live food simply sprinkle them directly from the tub into their reptile vivarium. Discerning shop keepers will advise their customers about gut loading and swotting up on the subject is a good idea. There’s a great book which explains the process brilliantly and is essential reading for anyone who sells or uses live food. It’s called “The Lizard Keeper’s Handbook” by Phillipe de Vosjoli and is available from all good herp suppliers. I’d recommend you stock copies to sell to your customers.

Q. OK, I’m sold on the gut loading idea. Can I sell Gut Loading products to my customers?
A. Yes, certainly! One of the benefits of offering excellent advice is that you can up sell other products. Some shops offer a “Gut Loading Starter Pack” which contains everything your customers need. It would include a larger container (such as a large Fauna Box) to re-home the bugs from the tub along with one of the branded bug foods. (Crickets, locusts and mealworms all have specialist foods so you could stock them all!) It should also include a heater such as a mini heat mat and ideally a cardboard egg tray or two to use as a perch. You should also offer powder supplements such as calcium or vitamin D3; some manufacturers even make species specific nutrition supplements. I’d also offer a copy of “The Lizard Keeper’s Handbook” too, just to round off the package nicely!

Q. Sound’s great! All I need now is a small leaflet to explain about Gut Loading to my customers and entice them to buy a starter pack!
A. Feel free to photocopy or reproduce the one below, courtesy of PBW News..

The PBW Guide to Gut Loading.
By Tony Jones

It is often said that you are what you eat. If you are a predator like a reptile then it is also true to say that you are what your prey eats. This leaflet gives handy hints and tips used by the experts on how to look after your live food.
All insects, such as Crickets, Locusts and Mealworms, are invertebrates and so has a hard outer shell or exoskeleton. This exoskeleton is made of chitin (the same stuff your nails and hair are made of) and is of poor nutritional quality. The nutritional part of a bug is in the contents of its gut. In the wild the bug would eat a varied, balanced diet and this goodness is passed on to the lizard when it is eaten.

It is important that we replicate this varied diet for live food with our pet reptiles in captivity and all good reptile breeders will feed their bugs a quality food. The exoskeleton of a Cricket, Locust or Mealworm is of low nutritional value and so it is important to “Gut Load” the bugs before we offer them as food to our reptile. Thankfully there are several high quality bug foods on sale here to make Gut Loading easy.

The Easy Way to Gut Load Crickets and Locusts.

1. Empty your bugs into a tall ventilated container such as a Large Fauna Box.
2. Add a shallow dish of specialist Live Food Diet specific to your bug.
3. A low wattage heat mat will enable the bugs to feed and digest properly.
4. Crickets and Locusts like to perch, cardboard egg trays such as the ones you find in live food tubs are ideal for this. Add plenty of perching material.
5. Water makes up a large proportion of an insect’s diet. Offer slices of potato or carrot to provide liquid and change the slices every couple of days.
6. It is often advisable to “dust” your bugs with a supplement prior to feeding. This can be done by adding a pinch of supplement to a plastic food bag and shaking your bugs around in the dust. Check which supplement is recommended for your animal.

Live Food Uncovered (Box out)

If you want to get ahead with reptiles you need to be clued up about their food. It is estimated that TEN MILLION crickets are bred EACH WEEK in the UK. Insect live-food is the foundation stone of any retail reptile business, with customers retuning week after week to buy fresh bugs. Here’s some invertebrate insider info to keep you ahead of the game with you insect investments!


Crickets are the most popular food for insectivorous reptiles and amphibians. But all crickets are not created equal and the discerning shop keeper can be ahead of the game. Most suppliers breed the Banded Cricket (Gryllodes sigillatus) due to the huge yields obtained from a breeding culture. During the summer months Banded Crickets are fine and dandy, but come winter their susceptibility to cold weather causes problems during dispatch. Many suppliers will ship Banded Crickets at your own risk in cold weather but despite using chemical heat packs in transit, live arrival is something of a lottery.

A better choice in cold weather is the hardy Silent Cricket (Gryllus assimilis) which fares somewhat better in the cold. I think Silent Crickets are a superior bug in many ways as they are also beefier, quieter, less aggressive and much slower than their Banded cousins. You may find that your supplier charges slightly more per tub, but I think it’s worth it.
Black Crickets (Gryllus bimaculatus) are similarly resilient to cold and are slightly bigger than both of the other species mentioned above. These are great for feeding larger lizards such as adult bearded dragons, monitor lizards and water dragons and are often ordered in bulk.
Until relatively recently all of these types of cricket had been rare or non-existent in the trade as the bulk of crickets sold in the UK were Domestic Crickets (Acheta domestica). Unfortunately this species was wiped out by a virus a few years ago and are now impossible to breed across Europe. Several breeders both here and on the continent have tried to re-establish breeding cultures since then but to no avail. Breeders in the US seem to have avoided getting the virus although most here believe it’s only a matter of time.


Creepy looking they may be but Locusts are the most profitable live-food. Despite their appearance many customers prefer to use locusts as escapees are more easily retrieved. (Escaped crickets will scarper and hide, chirruping from some unfathomable hidey hole, much to the annoyance of partners and neighbours alike.) You’ll most likely see the Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria) although the less attractive Migratory Locust (Locusta migratoria) is sometimes available.

Worms and grubs.

Again, there are a few different varieties of feeder worms available. Regular Mealworms (Tenebrio molitor) are the industry standard but suffers from a poor reputation for being of low nutritional value. This not entirely deserved as just a little effort makes mealworms a great staple diet for most lizards. Indeed, some large scale Leopard Gecko breeders use mealworms exclusively. (See the Gut Loading leaflet.)

Giant Mealworms (Zophobas morio) are exactly that, being around three times the size of the Regulars. Both Regular and Giant mealworms turn into beetles as part of their life cycle and so proper care of your live-food will give you a longer shelf life.

Mini Mealworms are the same species as regular mealworms, just a little younger (and therefore smaller) and are great for smaller lizards such as Leopard Geckos and Crested Geckos.

Wax worms (Galleria mellanela) are a popular supplement for lizard diets but should be used sparingly as they have a high fat content; you won’t need to stock many. Fruit Beetle Grubs are surprisingly better known by their scientific name (Pachnoda marginata) and are very much like an obese giant wax worm to look at. These are usually stocked to order by most shops and suppliers, but it’s nice to let your customers know they are available.


Flies make up only a small part of the market but Curly Wing Flies (Musca domestica) and Fruit Flies (Drosophila) are sometimes requested by customers for small species of lizards and frogs, such as Arrow Poison Frogs and Mantellas. Again, these are usually available if pre ordered.

And watch out for…..

Phoenix Worms.

The latest in live-food from the States is the phoenix worm; a super-high calcium feeder worm with a low phosphorous content. It is a fantastic step in the right direction to address the calcium deficiency problem we sometimes see, and could negate the need for separate calcium supplementation. At least one supplier in the UK offers Phoenix Worms in their catalogue and I think it is only a matter of time before we see more Phoenix Worms in shops over here.

Published: Pet Business World News

Dirty Cherubs

•March 25, 2008 • Leave a Comment

The Dirty Cherubs

Live at The Maze – Nottingham UK
September 10th 2007

Dirty Cherubs - Promo shot

The night started early as Ms TR and I rolled into The Maze in Nottingham to see one of her workmates play. Apparently it was a rock band and apparently they were pretty good, by her estimations anyway. I’m always wary of going to see mate’s bands as you usually see them before they actually get to be any good. Don’t get me started on the amount of time and money I’ve spent watching god awful bands in god awful hell holes, just because a friend has been on stage.

So it is my relief and pleasure to announce that I had a really great evening, and for more reasons than one. Firstly, I was really impressed with the venue. I’d never even heard of the Maze (www.themazerocks.com) before and found it to be a great little venue. It markets itself well as a small local venue and their list of shows included some great bands such as 90’s favourites RDF. For a venue to actively invite bookings from local bands is a rarity, given how difficult it is in the UK for bands to get decent gigs in a venue of this quality. The sound there is pretty good given the rig they have and it’s well set out with seating and dance floor space, plus a mezzanine to ensure everyone gets a great view. Decent bar and friendly staff makes the package pretty much complete, the only drawback being able to find decent parking.

The second cool thing of the night was the support band, Left of the Dealer I’m arranging to review and photograph this band at a gig in the near future, so watch this space. I’d like to see this urban funk outfit and give them my full attention as they have the potential to become one of my favourite bands ever!. I’ve not stopped playing the mp3’s their singer Tommy sent to me. Check out their myspace for a taste.
Website clicky

But onto the main attraction, I really did enjoy The Dirty Cherubs. Having met lead singer Dave Capel at the bar before he hit the stage I was a little concerned that his vocals would be shite. With a thick Scottish accent and half a bottle of whisky inside him I couldn’t understand a bloody word he said. However, as he hit the stage the pissed up porriger turned into some kind of rock god as he belted out the vocals and hit all of the high notes with some style. In barefoot and shades he makes a great front man and poster boy and has just the kind of image every rock band should have. His guitarist is archetypal rock axe-man type who looks like he’s gonna knock you out, drink your beer and shag your girlfriend. Dropping off stage into the crowd during his solos was just what I expected and he didn’t let me down. The drummer looks like he robs people for fun.

Describing their sound is easy. Think Aerosmith, ACDC and the RHCP. Cool as fuck and totally rock and roll. Screaming air guitar hairbrush classics and sexy smooth rock ballads are the order of the day and The Dirty Cherubs deliver exactly what is says on the tin. Their style is very formulaic, but that’s far from being any kind of criticism at all when you look at the brand. I love their style and they deliver the genre right on the button. Say what you like about your typical Rock God act, pretend that you really prefer cleverly produced musical geniuses, but you all know it’s like comparing a Charles Dickens novel to Hustler magazine. You’d never admit it, but one is a whole lot more satisfying than the other.

Their single recently got to No 1 in the UK indie charts. To be perfectly honest I can’t wait for an album because they have several tracks which are as good, if not better than this first release. I need to seriously think about growing my hair again, I’m gonna need it for their next gig.

Published: http://www.clubkingsnake.com

Road Safety

•March 25, 2008 • Leave a Comment

In 2001 I was living in Reigate in Surrey and landed a job running a big healthclub in Cheam near Sutton. It was a great job and I was really chuffed, with the only problem being transport. My £200 F reg Fiesta had just packed up and I was not up for spending megabucks on a new motor so a little lateral thinking was required.
After a few minutes serious though I decided it would be cool to get a scooter. What I really wanted was one of those cool 60’s Vespas with mirrors and chrome. However, a pal of mine had one and it was about as reliable as a fishnet condom, so that was out. In the end I plumped for one of the modern “vintage style” models and bought a chrome kit for it.

It was cool.
I was cool.

I was also spending a fraction of the transport costs, compared with my buddies. They of course needed big swanky motors to compensate for their lack of sexual prowess, even if that meant paying through the nose for finance, insurance and running costs. I of course had my head screwed on. It was cheap. It was cool. It was far more commuter savvy. (On the day of the Epsom Derby it took my housemate an hour and a half to get to work up the A217. It took me the usual 25 – 30 minutes!)

One morning I was on the roundabout where the 217 links the M25. There were two lanes of traffic waiting at the lights so I did exactly what I was allowed to do and filtered between the traffic at no more than 15 mph quicker than the queue. As I neared the front the lights changed. The guy in the Merc at the front was obviously looking to his right as I came alongside and as he pulled off he clipped me. I bit the dust and thanked my lucky stars that I was only doing 5-10 mph. I walked away with nothing more than a bruised ego. (For ego read “arse”. My arse had turned a beautiful shade of black within a few hours!)

Now this was certainly not my fault as the insurance claim pretty much proved. However, I was quite shaken that although I was not to blame, my arse was just as black as if I was. Seems that being right did not save me. I decided to be a lot more careful and play it uber safe from now on.

I did OK for a few months without further incident. It seemed as though I had learned my lesson well and now had the measure of motorcycle safety. (Or scooter safety, if you want to be picky.)

Not long after that I woke up in hospital. I had been pretty much out of it for a week, although I had some vague memories of some people visiting. Apparently I had been taken out on my way home from work. I remember doing the running club. I remember saying goodbye to my girlfriend at the time, who ran the Beauty/Treatment rooms at the club, and that is all I remember.

According to all sources (and the damage to my bike and the other guys Nissan Micra) he had pulled out of a side road into my path and I had gone underneath. I like to think it would take more than a Nissan Micra to wipe me out! Volvo maybe. When I went to pick up what was left of my bike the bloke said he was surprised to see me. “We don’t normally get to see the owners when the bikes are this mashed up!” said he.

This was not a main road but my quiet residential route leading to the A217. It was not busy or raining and there was no other factor at play than driver error. I know I was strictly doing 30mph. I always did.

I had a compound femur fracture, (that’s the one where the broken thigh bone splits out of the skin!) and a ruptured cruciate ligament, (That’s when your knee is unstable because the ligaments don’t work.) a couple of sprained wrist and a broken nose. (This really pissed me off as in 5 years of boxing I had never had a broken nose.) At least I kept my good looks. I have had 4 operations on my legs including the initial repair and I am still working on my legs in an attempt to get them right.

It was 2003 before I could work in fitness again. I still can’t run and as an ex-marathon runner this is not good. I can’t kneel at all plus standing/sitting/walking/driving for any period of time is painful. There are lots of things that I can’t do and the long term prognosis does not look good. For a super fit guy, this was devastating. My body used to be a temple. Now it is a Kebab house.

I was lucky.

A couple of months ago I got an email from a member asking me to suspend her membership. She would be back but her son had just been killed on his motorbike and right now she was in no fit state for the gym. I saw her again for the first time on Wednesday and she looked awful. We joked that if you could bottle her method of weight loss without the grief we could make a fortune. (She had apparently lived on coffee and chocolate for the last few months.) I’ll say it again because I still can’t get the image of her out of my head. She looked terrible. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. To see this strong willed, successful woman reduced to her state was heart wrenching.

I know she will bounce back and that time heals all wounds blah blah. But right then I would have done anything to make it right.

Today I have just come back from another member’s house. Her husband has just been killed on his bike. She too looks terrible and it only happened a few days ago. I just went and dropped off some flowers from the team here and felt such a prat. Like they would help at all. I just can’t believe it’s happened again. Such nice people too.

I’m not sure what message I am trying to convey in this post. I’m certainly not anti motorbike. I would love to have one again. Everything about them makes so much sense. The cost, the freedom, the convenience, everything. There are so many reasons to own a bike. But for me there is one good reason to not own a bike. That’s just me and how I feel. I know people who still ride and would not swap it for the world. They know the risk and are possibly even better riders than me and the people I have written about. Maybe they won’t get nailed. I hope to god not. I know that motorcyclists as a species are not all perfect and there are some real twats riding bikes. I’m not proportioning blame.

I realise also that being in a car is not exactly safe. (This is particularly true considering the cars I own. Smart Cars and 32 year old MG Midgets do not have particularly good safety records.) I had a smash in my Smart some months ago that was identical to my smash on my scooter. The only difference was that this time the opponent was a Renault Traffic van. I walked away with some whiplash and a seatbelt bruise. Cars are not safe, just somewhat safer.

I wish things were different. I wish roads were safer. I wish drivers of all kinds were more considerate. I wish accidents were less devastating. I don’t know what the answer is and I don’t have any suggestions. No actually I have one.

If you drive a car, please please look out for bikes.

Posted: Motley Fool

Lily Allen

•March 24, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Lily Allen @ Wolverhampton Civic Hall.  7th March 2007

Lily Allen.


Wolverhampton Civic Hall.
Wolverhampton.  UK.
7th March 2007.

Like her or not, Lily Allen is certainly in your face.  The recent Brit awards ceremony was branded a farce as Lily walked away empty-handed, having been tipped to scoop all four of the categories in which she was nominated.   The Press love her, particularly her habit of slogging off other celebrities. (Radio 1’s Chris Moyles is “self obsessed” and Bob Geldof is apparently a “c**t” and a “sanctimonious prat”.)  Add to that her prolific tour schedule and live TV appearances and you can see how it would be difficult to ignore her.  Having been distinctly impressed with her live appearance on the Jools Holland show I bit the bullet and booked my spot at the Wolverhampton Civic Hall.

I’m a bit of an old cynic when it comes to gigs and I’m not easily entertained.  As I walked into the Civic and made my way to the bar I was wondering what I had let myself in for.  Trendy pop artists aren’t really my bag and a two-hour drive from my boat to the venue had done nothing for my mood.  By the time I was halfway down my pint the auditorium was heaving with 16-year-olds who looked like they had raided Bananarama’s wardrobe.  Just then the lights dimmed, the PA went quiet and the crowd erupted!  And I mean, these kids went WILD!  Screaming at the top of their voices “LIIIIIILLLLLLLLLLLYYYYYY”

Lily struts on stage looking far too confident and sexy for a girl of her age.  Wearing a white 50’s dress and making doe eyes at the audience, you wouldn’t believe this was the same foul-mouthed Mockney depicted in the press.

Without a word of introduction the band start up and she launches into “LDN“.  The crowd screamed along at the top of their voices and the first four rows held up their phones to take pictures.  They were really enjoying themselves….and so was I!  It was like going back 20 years to those days when just getting out to a gig was exciting!  When you were thrilled to be in the same room as your heroes!  Indeed, she was a few tracks into her set before I remembered I was supposed to be taking notes and photos.  I was loving it.

I think the gig was a great demonstration of a well-managed first album tour.  She played the hits with the enthusiasm you would expect of someone who has been thrust into the spotlight so quickly.  (Good old my-space!)  She pumped out almost every track from the album (I know, I checked them off as we drove home with the CD in the car.) and the crowd sang-along-a-Lily with gusto.  Her band was slick and tight, the scripted banter was funny and risqué; the backing track carried her but couldn’t be accused of being a lip sync exercise.  Normally these ingredients hide a lack of talent, but that’s not something Lily is short of.

With only one album to her name an artist has to either rely on new material or cover songs.  Lily plumped out her set with both, the highlight of which was her rendition of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass.”  I think she really pulled it off which is quite saying something.  Debbie Harry is a hard act to follow.  “Sunday Morning” was a new track very much in the Lily Allen mould and went down well.   The Special’s “Blank Expression” was received with some bemusement by the majority of the crowd, but delighted the old rockers amongst us.  I was never particularly impressed with the Kaiser Cheifs original “Oh My God” so it’s not surprising that Lily’s version didn’t blow my skirt up much either.  The kids enjoyed themselves though and that’s all that counts really, isn’t it. *

(*Note to readers.  This is the exact moment that I realised I have turned into my father.)

One of the other highlights of the night was hooking up with sisters Bianca and Cherry who were there to cover the gig for Fused magazine in the UK. This pair of seasoned rock chicks could well be contributing to Club Kingsnake in the weeks to come so watch this space!  In the meantime, I’ll say a quick thanks to Bianca for providing these photos.

Set List

Window Shopper
Shame For You
Everything’s Just Wonderful
The Littlest Things
Not Big
Sunday Morning
Heart of Glass
Friend or Foe
Knock em Out
Oh My God
Blank Expression

Posted: http://www.clubkingsnake.com

Tiger Bomb

•March 24, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Tiger Bomb

Tiger Bomb
Hi Fi – Leeds
Friday 1st February 2008

I really should have been snug warm at home with a cup of tea and a DVD, but instead I braved the near arctic Yorkshire weather to arrive at Leeds Hi Fi to see Tiger Bomb. It had been a long time since I’d been so excited about seeing a new band. I’d caught Tiger Bomb for the first time at a venue in Bradford a few days earlier and was immediately intrigued. You just can’t ignore a band with such an eclectic range of instruments. Trumpet, glockenspiel and cello all feature on their CD “Not on My Mountain” and I was eager to hear more from these guys. I wasn’t to be disappointed.

They certainly have an unusual sound, unlike anything I have heard before. To compare them to other bands for a point of reference would be misleading. They flip their style so smoothly without losing any of their own inimitable character, making me smile each time they do as I’m surprised by each clever little sweep. I don’t know how they do it! It could have something to do with the fact that most of the band are music academics and have been playing together since they were in their pre-teen years. It could be that they don’t try to fit into a predictable marketable niche. (I heard that Dan the Front-man refuses to write the catchy pop tune everyone knows he could.) It could be that these guys just really enjoy doing their own thing. Who knows? Who cares? Just keep it coming!

What really strikes me about this band is that everything they do just WORKS. The arrangement is tight and clever. They don’t overuse the trumpet or any of the keyboard effects; they are not a gimmick. It feels like we are being teased and left wanting more each time you hear them. The band’s style isn’t at all contrived but not many could pull it off as well as they do. They look good, but not as we know it. But in today’s plastic and manufactured music industry such innovation is not a marketable commodity.

Unbelievably, Tiger Bomb are not yet signed. Festival organisers don’t really know what to do with them and they are not part of the boring cliques which make up the UK music scene. It appears that for a band to be marketable they need to be part of an already popular genre and innovative bands such as Tiger Bomb are reluctant to conform. Whist the mainstream music channels are chock full of predictable greyscale banality, the really interesting artists are to be found playing small venues. All I can hope is that in a few years time I’ll be boasting about having a drink and a laugh with the guys from Tiger Bomb. These guys really deserve to make it big.

Set List

Oh Bedroom Boy
Lost in the Hubbub
My Psychological Readout
Angry Witches
Spanish Civil War
This is Love (Burning inside of Me)
Martian Women
Not on My Mountain

Published – http://www.clubkingsnake.com