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.