Vita-Bug Wrap Up

A few months back I set out to try to discover what the best and most nutritious way to feed our lizards, here at BHB reptiles. Our standard practice was the traditional way of either gut loading our bugs and/or powdering them with vitamin supplements. When I came across the Timberline “Vita-bugs” I was intrigued but truthfully skeptical. Was it possible that a nutritionally engineered bug would carry the same, or more, nutrients than adding supplements the traditional way? I was determined to get to the bottom of it.image

  My first course of actions as to reach out to Timberline with a whole host of questions and see if this was all smoke and mirrors. After spending a fair amount of time getting the background on Vita-Bugs,  I was convinced there was something to this new food source. But how would I know if they really were superior to the way we’ve been doing things for a decade? You see the truth is when running a commercial reptile breeding center it’s all about efficiency. Not only do you want to save as much time and money as possible, but you also want to make sure that the work is being done properly. In this case if one of the employees decides to skip the vitamin dusting process for a few weeks because it’s taking too much time the animals suffer. Of course we would hope that our crew would never do this, but trust me with having animal keepers working for me for almost 20 years, I have seen it all. Not to mention selling animals to the general public I’ve seen a large portion of animal buyers not willing to put the proper care into their animals. If we could skip the process of gut loading or powdering it would not only be beneficial to the animals, but also ensure that they are getting the vitamins they are needing to stay healthy. 

  Back to my dilemma of finding out if the Vita-bugs are all that Timberline was saying they were. I proposed an experiment where I would set up three groups of Bearded dragons that were all hatched within a day of on another and had the exact genetic make up. Each group would be made up of twelve babies. The first group would be fed with dusted crickets, the second group Vita-bugs and Calci-worms and the last group would be fed gut loaded crickets. I would keep them in the exact same set up and feed them the exact same amount of bugs each day. I would then keep track of the “average” weight of each group along with the overall “look” of each animal (the eyeball test). 

  I was extremely happy when Todd Goodman, CEO of Timberline Fisheries agreed to help with this experiment and was even more excited that he was so confident in the results we decided to have a Vita-bug contest and giveaway towards the end of the 90 day test group. Of course I preferenced this by telling Todd I would only proceed with the contest if I saw some results and was willing to endorse Vita-bugs as a good alternative for traditional supplementing of reptiles. 

   So it was all set, all we needed to do was hatch the animals and get the test groups set up and away we go! On the 9th of September we set up the three groups and started our feeding regiment. Of course the first week we didn’t see any change whatsoever, but I certainly wasn’t expecting any miracles. By week three we started to notice the Vita-bug group growing a bit faster and their overall look was just brighter. By the end of the first month we say some pretty significant results from the Vita-bug group. The dusted group was in second place and the gut load was lagging behind in last. image

  By the end of the second month it was very obvious that not only did the Vita-bug groups growth exceed the other two groups, but their colors were popping compared to the other animals as well as there were no animals in that group that were lagging behind unlike the other two groups where there were one of two animals that just didn’t seem to be thriving. With these results we launched the Vita-bug give way and were able to introduce thousands of people to this new way of supplementing their pet lizards. It was a huge success and the feedback was terrific!image

  The last month went accordingly without any major surprises. The Vita-bug group kept distancing itself from the other groups and the gut load group by far was the worst performing group. In the end even I was surprised at the success of Vita-bugs on rearing these baby Bearded Dragons. I feel that not only was it by far the healthiest test group we had and certainly the prettiest of them, image

 In the end, it was the easiest way to supplement our lizard groups. No more worrying about whether or not an employee of mine is supplementing the crickets as well as no more chasing vitamin supplements when supplies are low. We are switching all of our lizard groups to Vita-bugs and look forward to saving time and money as well as seeing the health of our breeding groups explode with the switch. image

  So if you’re tired of powdering crickets or making up a gut load, I would suggest giving Timberlines Vita-bugs a try. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the results. We will also have a wrap up SnakeBytesTV episode on the entire journey of our findings coming soon!   Thanks for joining me on this fun experiment! 

Are Animal Auctions The Death of a Market?

   I remember when Ben Siegel launched his first FaceBook auctions. I initially thought how brilliant is was and then contemplated the morality of auctioning off animals to the highest bidder. After really looking at it more closely I felt the way Ben was doing it was perfectly ethical and I saw no real major problem with it, it’s not like he was auctioning off King Cobras to a twelve year old? Shortly there after I threw my hat in the ring and spent a few months doing BHB Auctions. In honesty some animals sold for fair prices and others went far below retail and in turn I decided to stop doing them. The amount of energy put into the auctions along with the uncertainty of the sales price was just not for me. I found that after a while people would be upset if they didn’t get the animal for a “steal” price. So for me the decision to stop was based solely on dollars and cents. 

   Fast forward a couple of years and Ben Siegel has made an empire out of his FaceBook page auctions and I’m sure if anyone was being 100% honest they would admit how jealous they are of him, I know I am! With that said I am concerned over the abundance of people doing FaceBook auctions and the effect it’s having on the pricing of some animals, in particular Ball Python morphs. You see when Ben has 80,000 “likes” and has tens of thousands of people following you can get a reasonable idea of what “people” are willing to pay for an animal. Sure some things go cheap, but for the most part it’s a fair auction and does not hurt the market. But when “Johnny Appleseed” has 1000-3000 “likes” you can not expect to get a good representation of the market and more times that not the winning bid is FAR less then market value. Let me break it down for a minute. Lets say you have 1000 “likes” on your FaceBook page, that means that only about 300 people actually see your post because of the FaceBook algorithm, maybe this helps clarify when you see that number at the bottom of your post that says “300 people saw this post”. FaceBook has done this because they want you to PAY for the people that follow you to see your post. Of course this infuriated me, but that’s for another blog. So if 300 people see your auction what are the chances of many of them actually wanting that particular animal unless it goes for a ridiculous price? Not many, right? So then the animal sells for next to nothing and the perception is that the “new” price should be what people saw said animal sell for.  I recently saw a FaceBook auction on a big name Ball Pythons breeders FaceBook page, he has 3000 “likes” and had only two people bid on this morph Ball Python. It sold for 90% off his asking price. Now the issue I see here is two fold, one the perception of the market to many is that animal is now “worth” that amount. Let’s face it when a “name” in the business sells a morph animal for 10% of it’s value it becomes almost impossible for a non-named person to sell it for a fair price. And secondly it appears that the seller is desperate and will take anything just to get rid of his animals. What I’m saying is that many people will see an animal auction off for a certain price and then assume that the winning price is now the actual market value of that animal. 

   I’ve always been a guy that believes pricing is based on what people are willing to pay for an animal. Some animals are pretty pets and can sustain a price of $100 or even $500 and others are sought after investment animals that demand $50,000 or even more. But I am very concerned what this latest fad of FaceBook auctions is doing to the perception of the market. When I see an animal that is posted for $1000 sell for $75 I think what effects this has on all the other people trying to get a fair “retail” price for their animals. Listen, I know the market is soft at the moment and I attribute that to over supply, not lack of demand. I would be willing to bet that there is more interest in Ball Python morphs then there has ever been, but there is ten times the amount of animals available. So obviously it’s harder for one person to sell all of their animals, it’s just simple economics. I have to believe this is why so many people are turning to FaceBook auctions in hopes to sell their remaining stock. 

  Do I have the answer to how to sell all our animals if people aren’t buying? Not really, but I can assure you that giving them away on a FaceBook auction will only make it even harder to sell them for decent money down the road. I think we have to focus on bringing new people into our hobby, educate the masses and get people excited about it again. I can tell you that talking to a TON of the new comers that are getting into keeping and want to breed Ball Pythons they are frightened to invest their hard earned money when all they are seeing is pricing dropping like mad. I recently had a customer come and want to buy some morph Ball Pythons and every time I quoted him a price he countered by saying he saw a similar animal sell on a FaceBook auction for far less. Again, he assumed that if they sold for that price that it must be the new price? In the end he left without buying one snake. 

   I have to reiterate that I am not telling anyone what to do and I applaud Ben Siegel for doing it the right way, I just think many of these online FaceBook auctions are doomed to failure and it’s causing even more concern for the confidence if future markets. So before you post that animal on your FaceBook auction, think whether the small amount of money you “might” make is worth it. I would love to know what your opinion is of this very tricky topic. 

The Reptile Report Best Of Awards

   Over the past few weeks The Reptile Report started the second annual “Best Of Awards”. This year was much expanded covering dozens of categories from best Python image all the way to best Brick and Mortar Store. They also promoted the “peoples choice” awards, where YOU could nominate and vote for who you think deserves each award. Pretty cool, huh?

   Our hobby is in a tough spot at the moment, with peoples concerns about pricing on certain species and of course the pending rule change that could possibly add a few new species including Reticulated Pythons and Boa Constrictors to the lacey act, which would basically shut the trade down on those animals and cost the reptile hobby hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Along with these major issues people are searching for what organization they need to support to help save our hobby, with passionate debates on all sides. 

  So why care about a silly award that some people are deeming a “popularity” contest? Hence the reason for this blog. We all work hard at the things we are passionate about, in my case it’s the reptile hobby. I produce a weekly web show called “SnakeBytesTV”, I post dozens of times EACH day on FaceBook, Twitter, Instgram, Pinstrest and of course YouTube. I promote the positive of the hobby along with doing my best to entertain. These awards may seem insignificant to some, but the truth is they are a reward for countless hours of dedication we put in. Sure, there are well deserving people that are not on the list, but who’s fault is that? If you thought someone deserved to be on the list all you had to do was nominate them. If they were nominated then vote for them, it’s really that simple. Certainly not each winner will be the BEST, but they will be the peoples choice for the BEST. 

  I guess I’m just a little confused and saddened that some have once again taken a great  positive promotion such as The Reptile Awards “Best Of” awards and tried to put a negative slant on it. It’s not like we are forgetting the big picture and only focusing on these awards. I can assure you that along with doing all the things we do for the hobby we are in fact extremely involved in the battles we need to fight, but there is no harm in rewarding the people that work so hard with an award expressing your gratitude for all that we do.

  It may seem like a popularity contest, and in fact that’s what it is. You win because the MOST people vote for you. You get popular because you are being rewarded with people’s support for the things you do. In the end I care more about the hobby then anyone I know, but I’m not going to sit here and tell you that it wouldn’t feel great to get as many awards as possible. Maybe some see this as childish, but who doesn’t want to be recognized for all their hard work.  

  I know I won’t win all the categories I was nominated for, heck I might not win any of them, but if I do I will be proud and very gracious for all the support you all give me and I can promise I will always have my eyes on the big picture and continue to do whatever I can to fight for all our rights to keep working with ALL the animals we love so dearly.. 

  If you feel so compelled these are the categories I am nominated for. You can vote once a day per category. If I win I’ll be forever grateful for you voting. Thanks to The Reptile Report for expending all the time, money and energy for this awards! Let’s not ruin them by not seeing them for what they are, a reward for those that put in the effort to make this hobby a better one!

Video Show of the Year.

Ball Python Image of the Year

Show Both of the Year

Colubrid Breeder of the Year

Online Store of the Year

Python Breeder of the Year

Social Media Presence of the Year

The Brown Tree Snake Of Guam

The Brown Tree snake (Boiga irregularis) is an interesting snake that has caught a lot of news headlines over the past decade. It’s a rear fanged colubrid snake endemic to the Northern coast of Australia, Papua New Guinea, and  the Islands in northwestern Melanesia. It’s venom is thought to be both neurotoxic and cytotoxic, but because of the small teeth as well as the rear fanged nature of the venom delivery it’s rarely a threat to humans. They are one of roughly 25 species of Boiga commonly known as “cat eyed snakes”. They are highly arboreal  spending most of their time in the  canopy of the rainforest feeding on birds, lizards, bats and a variety of small rodents. They are an extremely slender snake reaching up to six feet, but more commonly measured at between three and four feet in length.

   Now I could go on about the characteristics of the Brown snake for quite a while seeing as I’m a fan of all snakes, but that’s not what’s made this interesting snake such a celebrity over the years. The rise to fame started just shortly after WWII when inadvertently they were introduced to the small military Island of Guam. Many believe that they came in on freighters carrying supplies for the troops, and soon after their population exploded. This was most likely because of the abundance of food sources on the Island, which came mainly in the form of native birds such as the Mariana Fruit Dove, the Guam Flycather, the Rufous Fantial and the Micronesian Mysomela. As a matter of fact biologist believe that the Brown Tree snake may be the cause of up to a dozen native bird species extinction.  Snakes probably play important roles as predators in their native ecosystems, when they are introduced to new areas with prey that are not used to them, this normally important role wreaks havoc on native animals. With the abundant food supply and lack of any main predator to slow their population growth down there’s no doubt why this invasive species thrived in it’s new environment. There have been recent studies where there could be up to 100 Brown Snakes per hectare (2.5 acres).

  It’s not just the local wildlife that is suffering, but even the electrical grid is being taxed by this invasive species. The arboreal snakes stretch from trees onto the power lines and create an arch that can destroy the power supply lines that provide the much needed electricity to the islands inhabitants. These power outages have caused millions of dollars in repairs to the island over the years.  As you can see these invaders are causing a stink in Guam. The bigger question is what to do about them? How do we put the cork back into the bottle?

  Enter the Brown Tree snake control, interdiction, research and eradication act. Which sole purpose was to find a scientific way to get rid of this pesky invasive species to the tune of up to $2.6 million dollars per year from 2006 through 2010. The first thing that comes to mind when I hear this is, I know a bunch of fun spirited herpers that we could hire for not much more than a plane ticket and a good supply of beer that would happily catch every Brown Tree snake on the island and we would save the government load of money, but I digress.

  One of the ideas was to identify potential predators and introduce them into the habitat. So let’s think about this for a minute. Let’s introduce some invasive species to eradicate an invasive species? Sounds like good science to me? Maybe the story of the  Cane toad In Australia comes to mind? Well if you haven’t heard it, it goes something like this. In 1935 there was a major issue in Australia with the cane beetle. Seeing as Sugar cane was a major industry and these beetles would not only eat the crops leaves, but more importantly the larvae would feed on the roots of the plant. They felt that something had to be done to reduce the threat of the cane beetle on their Sugar cane crops. The idea to introduce the Cane toads as a natural predator came from the Bureau of Sugar and Experiment Stations. In August of that year 102 young toads were released in Northern Queensland. The bad news is not only did they not have any effect on the Cane beetles attack on the sugar cane crops, but the introduced Cane toad now number up to 200 million strong and have been the culprit to destroying much of the fragile Australian ecosystem.  Not to worry because one the two main candidates to help in Guam was in fact the Cane toad along with the Red-bellied Black snake. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed and they realized that the introduction of said species may “possibly” have a positive impact on the reduction of the population of the Brown snakes, but would most certainly have a negative impact on other  species on Guam and thankfully the plan not implemented.

   After millions of dollars of research we still seemed to be no closer to the answer to the growing problem of the Brown Tree snake. But fear not there’s always a plan and this one comes from the sky above! No literally I mean the sky above.  In 2010 the US Department of Agriculture dropped expired mice that had been injected with Acetaminophen, the generic equivalent for Tylenol, into a small test area that had make shift parachutes on. You see it seems that Acetaminophen is deadly to the Brown snake, killing them within 72 hours, and they felt that putting tiny parachutes on dead mice packed with the drug was the best way to kill off the invaders. I’m not really sure you could make this stuff up, but in fact the test was so successful that they have decided to expand the skydiving Tylenol packed dead rodents to a larger area. They will drop 2000 Brown Tree snake killing rodents into the entire fenced in area that the air force base encompasses to the tune of eight million dollars. I haven’t checked on the cost of tiny parachutes lately, but I’m pretty aware of the cost of frozen rodents and Tylenol and someone seems to be making some extra profit on this event. If the results are positive there are plans to expand this measure to the entire island of Guam, I wonder what that will cost?

  For more than 60 years Guam has been dealing with the invasive Brown Tree snake and still to this day there has not been a solid plan to eradicate them from the island. I’m guessing that the hopes are that these latest efforts are the best we can come up with and with the people and economy of Guam on the line I can only hope that it will be effective, but I still can’t help to think that this problem seems to have a much easier fix than what is being proposed. But then again what do I know? I just clean snake poop for a living….

The fate of the Reticulated Python

   Over the past 24 hours there has been a lot of panic and speculation about the fate of Reticulated Pythons, Anacondas and possibly even Boa Constrictors. Most of this stems from some recent posts that made it seem as if these species are going to be added or possibly have already been added to the Lacey act. This of course prompted me to get to the bottom of what is going on and try to calm the hobbies nerves. For starters “nothing” has been added to the list of injurious species as of yet. As we all know several species including Burmese Pythons were added to the Lacey act last year. Within this rule change there is a possibility that they can add additional species to the list without going through the entire process, but in many cases these additions are denied. 

  My first call was to Phil Goss, president of USARK. He is of course concerned and very engaged with this process, but assures me that there has been no “new” information released and that this process has been going on for months. There will be a ruling in the coming months that may or may not include some species of snakes. USARK has been involved in every step of this process and will be releasing a statement with very valuable information in the coming days. They had already planned on releasing this statement prior to the latest buzz, but are fast tracking it and hoping to have it out very soon. Phil ensures us that they are doing everything to protect ALL reptile keepers and that this is a process and there is no way to predict what the final ruling will be. Phil followed our conversation up with this email:

Phil Goss (president USARK)

The stuff floating around is not new information and additional species
have not been listed as injurious. USARK has been working on it all year
and we continue to do so. For reference, below is the original text from
the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs by the Department of the
Interior (DOI)/USFWS in 2011:

Abstract: We have made a final determination to list nine species of large
constrictor snakes as injurious wildlife under the Lacey Act: Indian
python (including Burmese python), reticulated python, Northern African
python, Southern African python, boa constrictor, yellow anaconda,
DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda, and Beni anaconda.

This is what was posted months ago and been brought to light again

Abstract: We are making a final determination to list four species of
large constrictor snakes as injurious wildlife under the Lacey Act:
Reticulated python, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda, and Beni
anaconda. The boa constrictor is still under consideration for listing.

As you know, only four species were listed previously. This announcement
is not a final ruling but for someone who does not know that, it sounds
very dire indeed. It is just wording that could be misinterpreted
that was posted in the Unified Agenda. Any reference to a July, 2013
statement is from the most recent hearing and not from the Unified Agenda
as it was simply republished as part of the hearing record.

Below is one link where you can see that this exact information has been
around since Spring 2013.

  My next call was to Bill Brant, seeing as he spent 10 years on the board of PIJAC I thought he could shed some light on the subject. Bill is very concerned about the potential for any additions to Lacey that will effect our hobby, but also ensured me the engagement that PIJAC had in the process and also confirmed that there was no “new” information out there. We all knew that the process to potentially add additional animals was in the works for several months and there is nothing that has developed in the past few days. With that said, Bill feels the the attention this has gotten is not necessarily a bad thing as long as the hobby does not panic and the snake market become effected. He believes that attention to all potential threats is very important and peoples involvements into these issues is paramount to the future of our hobby. This was PIJAC’s statement on what has happened in the last 24 hours. :

Statement on Constrictor Rule

USARK and PIJAC have been in constant communication about these issues for quite some time, and worked very hard to submit pertinent information during the rule making process. We are aware the internet has been flooded with speculation as to what might or might not come out in the future as it relates to which species might be listed as injurious under the Lacey Act.

PIJAC does not respond to speculative comments that involve an existing rule making. Based on the variety of rumors that we have heard, one of these rumors is bound to be right, just based on the mathematical probability. The responsible course of action is to wait until the Final Rule is published. It makes no difference to any reasonable person what is said or unsaid before the Final Rule is published.

PIJAC would never ask an agency person to violate their ethical obligations and leak any information before the Final Rule is issued, because it is unethical or possibly illegal. It puts the agency person’s (the leaker) job in jeopardy.  And, as the party receiving this information, your reputation is ruined at the agency because other agency staff wonder how you got the inside information and will resent you for bringing scrutiny to the confidentiality of their work. PIJAC is in the business of representing the pet industry for the long haul and needs to be able to deal with federal agencies on myriad issues: herps, fish, invasive species of all types, etc. Sound representation is not about being first, but about being right. The only way PIJAC can guarantee being right is to read the Final Rule when it comes out.

We caution the industry against taking any action with their reptile collections until the Final Rule is issued. Here is an interesting article about the mechanics of the federal rulemaking process:

  So to wrap this up, we need to be concerned about the potential for some species including Reticulated Pythons and possibly Boa Constrictors, but until the ruling is made there is little we can do except put our faith in the process and the advocacy groups such as USARK, PIJAC and Herp Alliance. What we do have to take out of this is that fact that as a hobby we need to be united and be one voice. We can only win these battles if we are together. So this is not time to call names or complain about bad information, but a time to prepare ourselves and ready to stand up for our rights. This ruling may come down as early as February of 2014 or may be postponed for many months. In the end we can not panic and cause damage to our hobby when ‘nobody” knows the outcome. I for one am staying positive and hope that common sense prevails and they do not allow any further animals to be added to the Lacey Act. So there you have it, the full story. I hope this calms your nerves as much as it did mine. Keep that passion for reptiles! Brian


Australia Wrap

  As I sit here a couple of days after my return from the amazing Australian adventure, somewhat jet lagged and certainly sleep deprived, it’s all staring to sink in. Our first official Aussie tour is now behind us and we can start to process the incredible adventure that we had. It all started over a year ago when I wanted to share my love of Australia with a dozen fellow travelers. I’ve been lucky enough to spend a bit of time down under and wanted to share the experiene with other adventurers. When we offered the chance to travel with us I hinestly didn’t know if anyone would join on? It’s not a cheap place to go and the thought of a 20 plus hour plane ride turns a lot of people off. With that said it wasn’t long before the majority of the spots were filled and soon after the final person committed. Then it was all about the planning, trying to see as much as we could in the time aloted without keeping such a pace to wear everyone completely out. We’d start in Brisbane and hit the Scales and Tails festival which is an Australian reptile show and banquet. The hands on you get with shows like this in Oz is pretty amazing, lets face it where else can you handle a Tiger snake or fondle a Fresh Water Croc? One of our travelers Matt, who I lovingly called LJ for “little Josh” because he reminded me of my Manager Josh Roberts, had a close encounter that first day with a King Brown. Only one of the deadliest snakes on the planet! Fortunetaly, it all ended well and he escaped without a bite and I escaped without having to call his parents and explain how on the first day of our firt trip we lost one of our people? The night ended with some long haired YouTuber named Brian Barczyk giving the KeyNote speech at the banquet. I’m guessing this was the toughest part of the trip for most;)

   The following day we headed to the Australia Zoo, the iconic zoo that Steve Irwin and his family ran. It’s not the biggest and best zoo I have ever been to, but certainly very impressive and the fact that my idol built it to what it is today makes it a shrine to his legacy. One of the tour group named Mike expressed how emotional it was going there. He admitted his nervousness when thinking of visiting the place that Steve called home for most of his life. It was a great day with lots of emotions and enjoyment that ended with a trip to a famous herping spot called Mt. Glorious. By the time we got to the mountain it was pouring rain and although all the locals claim that it’s a no miss when looking for reptiles, this was my third time up the mountain and I had yet to find a “real cool” snake. We did come across a couple small blind snakes, but other then that we got skunked. In reality herping is like fishing, it’s more about the experience then about the catch. One day you go out and you are tripping over animals and the next you see nothing. It was still a great time and I am confident I’ll one day be triumphant on Mt. Glorious. 

   The following day was the most memorable for me, we were spending the day at camp Chilli with Bob Irwin (Steve’s Dad). He stands for all the things that have made me what I am today. A guy like myself that will sacrifice his own life to better an animals existance. To see the sparkle in our two youngest tourist, Sam and Marcus’s eyes was incredible. You could see that they were blown away being able to get to know the person that was respoinsible for their idol Steve as well as the founder of the Australia Zoo. Spending the day with Bob and hearing hom talk so passionately about his fight was something I am sure we will all cherish for the rest of our lives. 

  The next morning it was off on a flight to Darwin in the Northern Territoty of Australia.  The weather was much hotter there, about 90-95 degrees each day with the humidity being high and the suns intesity being incredible so close to the equator. Our first day was spend enjoying the city and walking around the shops. In the morning we headed to Crocosoraus Cove in downtown Darwin. There they have an amazing display of reptiles including some monster Salt Water Crocodiles. Did I mention that it’s also home to the World famous ” cage of death”? Where you get into an acrylic tube and they lower you into the water with a huge Salty and you are face to face with this apex predator? They even intice it to feed and snap at a peice of meat just inches from your face. It’s pure adrenalin to be that close to something that is such an amazing hunter is hard to explain. Just looking into it’s eyes so close gives you the chills.. Anna, our Georgian traveler told me later that it was one of the coolest things she had ever done. 

  Later that night we celebrated one of our tour members Birthdays. Marcus was one of the easiest going people on the trip and always seemed to be having the time of his life, so it was such a blessing to spend the evening celebrating his 44th birthday on this amazing adventure. With that said I think I might have went broke buying him drinks at nearly $20 a crack! Australia is amazing, but far from cheap!  In the morning we headed to Jabaru on the edge of Kakadu National Park to a rock escarpment named Nourlangie Rock. There was an incredible display of Aboriginal art that has been proudy displayed on this rock outcropping for thousands of years. Later in the day visiting a local shop called the didjerydoo shack, which is a store that sells authentic Aboriginal art they enlightned me on the fact that some of the art on Nourlangie could date back as long as 60,000 years ago! It’s pretty amazing seeing something with that kind of history. That night along with each night we spent Darwin ended with a trip to Fog Dam, a fertile reptile hunting ground about an hour out of the city. Each night we were lucky enough to find Water Pythons and even the occasional Slaty Grey snake. 

  After a few days in hot and lovely Darwin we saddled up for our next plane ride back to Sydney, the largest city in Australia. It’s a bit of a culture shock going from the rural Darwin to a bustling large metropolis like Sydney. The weather was about 20 degrees cooler and the forecast was calling for rain on the last days of the trip. First up on our agenda was Torango Zoo, the zoo that overlooks the city of Sydney. It’s a great zoo with great exhibits and even better views. It’s set on a peninsula, so on three side of the zoo there’s views of the bay and the city in the backdrop. It’s probably the most “hilly” zoo I’ve ever been too and walking around all day really gave your calves a great workout. Their free flight bird show was to die for and the reptile section was second to none. Although the forecast was calling for rain the gods were shining on us all day. After spending the day indulged in amazing animals half of us boarded a ferry and headed to Manly beach, the other half headed back to the hotel for a rest. The weather was turning for the worst, but we decided to brave it in order to see the small beach town of Manly as well as the amazing views from the ferry of the Harbor Bridge and the Sydney Opera house. Truth be told I’m not much of a boat person and fortunately Judy, who I called “mamma bear” was there to comfort me along the journey. July was certainly the motherly figure on this trip and it was great having her along. She was always there for anyone that just needed encouragement or a hug.  Manly was just as I remembered, beautiful views and awesome gelato. The boat ride back was a little bumpy, but I made it without depositing my lunch on the deck. 

  The last full day of this trip was spent at the Australian Reptile Park. It’s a small zoo that is fairly hands on with cool educational shows thoughout the day. The weather had finally caught up to us and we had steady rain from morning until night. It was pretty cool on top of that, but the group made the best of it and never complained. The highlight for me was some fondling time with a small Tasmanian Devil and a year old common Wombat. As our trip came to a close we had one last dinner as a group and reminisced about what the prior two weeks had brought us. It’s never easy to end these adventures and being faced with a long journey home never makes it easier. It was a sad evening knowing that our time together as a group was almost over, but I was comforted with the fact that we all had a common bond that we would share for a lifetime. There’s no doubt that we all gained more then two weeks of adventure, we all came away as friends…

   Now that it’s over and all that’s left is the tough time of getting over the jet lag, I am starting to go over all the pictures, the video footage and of course the memories from this awesome time. I can’t speak for the rest of the group, but I for one will remember this trip as one of the coolest adventures I have ever had. I thank everyone that joined me on this journey and I look forward to gearing up for the next tour in November of next year. For now, it’s all about getting caught up on rest and back to my animals. I’m so blessed to be able to do the things I do and live the life I live. Until the next adventure! Your Digital Nomad…..

Sydney adventure

After the hot weather and baking sun of rural Darwin we head off on a 5 hour flight back to the most populated city in Australia with nearly 4 million residents, Sydney. The weather is about 25 degrees cooler and the sky is overcast with occasional rain showers. First up we head to the Taronga zoo for a cool adventure. I’m a zoo person and do my best to visit a zoo in every city I travel to when time permits. The first thing that jumps out at me as soon as we walk in is the backdrop of the Sydney skyline while viewing most of the outdoor enclosure. It’s hard to explain how cool it is to be watching the giraffes eat and see the world famous Sydney Opera house in the background. It’s a more traditional zoo then our experience at the Australia zoo in Queensland, but much like that zoo the animals are flawless and the set ups are amazing. There’s plenty of animals from native Australian species to the exotics from around the world. For me I prefer the native Australian animals when traveling to this part of the world, but I still enjoyed seeing the lions, tigers and bears.
The weather was calling for rain, but the gods were on our side for most of the day with the sun peaking out from behind the clouds enough to not realize the cooler temperatures. The highlight by far was the amazing free flight bird show. I’ve seen several bird shows but this one was just amazing. I often wonder how many of the birds during the training in these events end up flying off never to be seen again? Regardless it was amazing and I left with a huge smile on my face.
After making the loop around the entire zoo we decided to hop the ferry over to manly beach, about a 30 minute boat ride that takes you into the harbor with amazing views of the Harbor bridge and the Sydney opera house. Arriving at Manly brought back memories of my first to trip to Australia with my wife Lori. It was the first place we traveled to on our first visit to the country I have now fallen so deeply in love with. We had several people with us from our tour and once hitting the beach the wackiness began. It started with a dare to Marcus the 16 year old traveler from Canada to jump down a flight if stairs that were about 10 feet across down to the sandy beach. After some prodding he made the leap with a tumble onto the soft white sand. We then dared him to talk with a couple young Australian women sitting down the beach from us, I think one of us even offered him a five spot to except the challenge. Like a trooper he marched over and immediately sparked up a conversation. I guess after spending over a week with a group you start to feel more and more comfortable with one another and the fun just gets better and better. After several minutes we retrieved Marcus who I lovingly refer to as “Canadia” and we headed back to the ferry. It was a great end to a great day here in Southeast Australia.
Tomorrow we head to the Australian Reptile Park, a place I visited and filmed almost five years ago. I’m anxious to get back and see all the keepers at the park as well as revisit their amazing animals. They call is a hands on zoo and I’m certain that we’ll be able to play with some awesome creatures.

Darwin Australia

After spending a few days in Brisbane and Ipswich Queensland it was time to head north to Darwin. I’d been to Darwin a couple years ago on a film project and was looking forward to getting back to this rural city way up in the Northern Territory. It’s a 4 1/2 hour flight and looking out the window really gives you the perspective of how unpopulated the majority of Australia really is. Darwin is the most populated city in NT, but still has less then 200,000 people residing there. Getting off the plane and walking outside you immediately get slammed with the heat and intensity of the sun. We’re just getting into summer and most days peak between 90-100 F not to mention the dune being much more intense being so close to the equator.
First up Crocosaurus Cove, a croc farm that has a small zoo in the center of tone with the main attraction being the cage if death! It’s a 6 foot round acrylic tube that you get into and are lowered down into the water with one of a few 16-18 foot Salt Water Crocodiles. I had the pleasure of being in with Chopper. During the close to 20 minute experience they entice the huge Saltie to snap right at the cage by offering them a piece of meat. In honesty it’s a gimmick and at no time was my heart rate up from the fear of getting eaten, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit how cool it was to be eye to eye with an apex predator. You really get the feeling of what it would feel like if you ever came face to face with these amazing hunters. You also get the sense of how huge and terrifying these animals really are. Was it worth the $120 to experience this, I’d say without a doubt.
We spent the rest of the day feeding crocs and taking in their amazing reptile displays. But then late afternoon one of the coolest experiences happened. Gavin Bedford one of the owners of the zoo picked me up for a rare treat, to go see the only Oenpelli Pythons in captivity! On the way he asked if I had ever seen Frilled Lizards in the wild? My answer was no. He simply said, “we’re about to change that”. In honesty I figured he was taking us into the bush to a secret area to find these majestic animals. To my surprise he pulled up to a school yard and started staring at the trees that surrounded the perimeter of the yard. In the background were kids playing ball and running around, in the foreground were gum trees. Gavin slammed on the brakes and screamed, there’s one! I didn’t see what he was looking at, but he pointed in a direction and sure enough there was a sub adult male sitting on a tree about head high. I was blown away that my first experience catching a Frillie would come just feet away from a grade school. Regardless of where it was from I was still blown away by how cool the feeling was to catch and one in the “wild”.
After taking a few wanker shots with the frillies it was time to head to our final destination to see the Oenpellies. There’s only been one set of permits to collect the rarest of Pythons and Gavin was the recipient of said permits after close to 10 years of working towards it. We pulled up to our destination and I could feel my heart pounding anticipating seeing an snake I had dreamed about since I was 15 years old. We walked I to his facility and there they were. One yearly male that was rather small, one female that was about 6 foot and two pair of monsters! Oempellies can reach up to 16 plus feet and Gavin’s largest female was as big as they get. The one thing that really sets them apart was how thin they are for such a long animal. When you see them in a cage you would bet there was two or three snakes in the cage, but in reality they are just long and slender. To my amazement they were extremely tame, although a bit of a handful to handle seeing as how long they were. We filmed a segment on them and got Gavin’s take on the exciting future for this project. There’s no doubt that this was an experience I would never forget and one of the highlights to our journey.
Tomorrow we head to Jaburu on the edge of Kakadu national park to a place called Noulangie a Rock to see Aboriginal art that dates as far back as 60,000 years.

A Day With an Irwin

It was almost a year to the day when I met one of my heroes. A man that not only was the father to a person that inspired me to head down the path I have taken the last six years but also the founder of the Australian Zoo. Yes, I’m speaking of Bob Irwin the father of Steve Irwin…
After a three hour drive into the bush we finally turn down the last dirt road that leads to Camp Chilli, a 670 acre wildlife preserve that Bob and his wife Judy call home named after his son Steve’s hunting dog “Chilly” that was unfortunately killed in a hunting accident. The wild fires have been bad this year and this last stretch of road had obviously been affected by the fires, with the smell of smoke in the air and the smoldering smoke billowing from the remaining fires. Bob later told me that most of the area surrounding the camp had been burned, but Camp Chilli had been spared. Of course it was Bob himself that was responsible for saving the preserve with his hard work from morning until night creating fire breaks with heavy equipment.
We finally pulled up to the iconic gates where the sign indicated we had reached our destination, Camp Chilli. To say this is a remote location would be an understatement, it’s far away from civilization and when you arrive you feel like you’ve reached some sacred place and can immediately sense the meaning of its existence, which of course is a place for the native wildlife to live and thrive.
It was early afternoon and Judy and Bob had lunch waiting for us. We said our hellos and sat down to a nice assortment of delicious food. I’ve been fortunate to meet some amazing people in my life, but I’ve never been as in awe of anyone as much as I am with Bob Irwin. He has a presence about him, something that makes you realize he’s larger then the man standing in front of you. With that said he also has a humility that is incredible and makes you feel so comfortable around him. In honesty he reminds me of my own father. Humble, hard working, full of integrity and seemingly kind to a fault. Perhaps this is another reason I feel a connection with him, a bond that makes me want to help him and his message in anyway possible. And of course that messages is to change people’s minds about animals and help protect them from the evils of mankind.
After lunch we all piled in the back of a couple of trucks and headed on a tour of the grounds. He pointed out several man made ponds and explained how when he moved to the camp he rarely found snakes, but now six years later he sees an assortment of species on a daily basis.
Again, it reiterates what an amazing person he is, being in his early 70’s and still working tirelessly to provide an environment that helps the animals he loves so dearly to thrive. One of my favorite moments from the two times I have visited him was the stop at his tree fort. Constructed 100% by Bob himself from fallen trees from within his camp, it sits close 35 feet in the air and it’s purpose is to observe the movement of native species of Sugar Gliders. The most amazing part about it is how a man in his 70’s could possibly have built something of this magnitude by himself? Regardless Bob humbly acts as if it was no big deal and helps him connect with the animals he loves.
It was just a few short feet away from the fort where my favorite memory of the day happened. We all stopped and just started chatting about his message, where he felt we all needed to be in order to protect the future wildlife for generations to come. I’m not saying Bob has all the answers, but he really sees it in simple terms. The difference between right and wrong… Most of the atrocities committed against wildlife could be easily fixed if we just did what was “right”. I know it seems like a simple solution, but really if you think about it, that’s the answer. We both agreed that it’s an almost impossible task to convince people to change their ways, but also agreed that we needed to keep pressing forward and to never give up.
Another surprise that Bob dropped on us was he had captured a few carpet Pythons early that were to near his residence and the family dog and had them for us to relocate into a safe area deeper into the camp. I took this time to do a short film piece with Bob, myself and said Carpet Python. I rarely get nervous filming, but I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit I had butterfly’s filming this segment. I wondered as Bob watched me talk about my passion for these animals on camera how many times he had watched my idol Steve Irwin do the same? Once the Python was on its way we packed up and headed back to the house for some more story time.
Sitting in Bob’s kitchen talking about his life’s work with a backdrop of family photos of Steve and his family was surreal. I’m really not sure how long we stood there, but I feel as we could have spent a month there and it would have been too short. It was getting late in the evening and the sun had already set, so it was time to say our goodbyes. He graciously took photos and signed the copy of the Scales and Tails magazine that by coincidence had the article that I had written about my last visit with Bob and had just been released to the public a few days prior. He signed it saying “to a very special friend”. It’s something I will cherish for the rest if my life. Although the goodbye was difficult not knowing for sure the next time I will see this amazing person the memories will stay with me for a lifetime.
It’s off to the real bush of Northern Territory way up on the top end of Australia where there is plenty adventure to be had.

Australian Zoo

There’s no doubt when you think of zoos one of the most iconic names that comes to mind is the Australian Zoo. Founded by Bob Irwin as the Beerwah Reptile Park in 1970 and eventually changed to its now name sake by Steve and Teri. It’s a zoo that any animal lover dreams about, and I can say with pleasure this was my second time visiting this amazing sanctuary for animals.
We set out early seeing as Beerwah is close to a 2 1/2 hour drive from Ipswich where we were staying. The entire group was anxious and even in a couple of cases nervous about this opportunity to see the zoo that their hero Steve built. You know you’re getting close when you hit “Steve
Irwin Drive”. Of course we stop for a few pictures at a huge tribute to the amazing Crocodile Hunter and then finished the last few kilometers to the zoo entrance. There’s never a doubt who the zoos major contributor was with huge signs with Steve’s pictures all over the place. Being at his zoo brings loads of emotion for me, in one way I feel so privileged to have the ability to visit not once but twice, yet on the other hand I can’t help but be struck with an overwhelming sadness realizing what he might have been able to achieve if his life was not cut short.
I’ve told the story before about how I felt that the Australian Zoo is not the biggest and certainly does not have the amount of animals that a zoo like the San Diego zoo has, but no doubt is one of if not the nicest kept zoos I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. Each enclosure is beautiful and each animal is one of the best specimens I’ve ever seen. You can tell there’s a mandate for excellence. We had a guided tour and learned many small details not only about the animals but also Steve’s interactions with them. At one enclosure we came across a stork that looked someone depressed and down. Our guild mentioned that each day when Steve wasn’t out filming he would personally feed this bird and it was one of his favorite animals at the zoo. She told the tale of the connection the two of them had. When Steve never returned the Stork never thrived again and appears to be awaiting Steve with his bucket of food. I know it’s hard to believe but you could see that this poor animal was still awaiting the one person that it had bonded with and the lack of his presence had really effected its health. Stories such as this one seemed to be abundant and once again reinforced what an amazing animal guy Steve was.
It was a dream come true for me to have first visited this zoo and the second time was just as touching. I’m so blessed to have had the chance to share this experience with our tour group and I don’t think there was a person that didn’t have an amazing time. Sure, all of us felt sadness at the loss of legend, but we all agreed that it was so incredible to see his life’s work continue on with the Iconic Australian Zoo! On to the next adventure… Spending the day with my hero, Bob Irwin…..