The growing popularity of cold blooded pets

Photograph by Dan Koehler

A boa constrictor at the Downsview Reptile Expo. Boa constrictors are a common pet in the reptile trade.

If you’re not a fan of creepy crawly creatures, then maybe this wasn’t the show for you.

But the place to be for lovers of tails, scales, and all things that slither, was the first Ontario Reptile Expo of 2017 on Jan. 15.

Reptiles and other exotic animals of all shapes and sizes, including scorpions and boa constrictors, were on display.

The expo offered reptile enthusiasts a place to come together and shop for animal products, or a new friend to bring home.

“Its always nice to see what’s new, everybody’s coming out with something new every year,” said Kyle Davidson, an attendee in his early 20s who was at the expo picking up tarantulas.  “It’s just kind of nice to be in a place with like-minded people who are all into the same hobby as you.”

The reptile hobby has grown immensely in recent years.  According to the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council of Canada, there are an estimated 543,000 households in Canada that have a reptile as a pet.

Across the pond, in sheer numbers, reptiles have become more popular than dogs. The British Federation of Herpetologists estimates there are around eight million pet reptiles in the UK, compared to six-and-a-half million dogs.

“You’re seeing a lot more people that are interested in pets, where as before it was more of a hobby-centric thing where people were looking for rare stuff that was hard to acquire,” said Mark Orfus, owner of Northern Gecko, a gecko breeder located in Scarborough, Ont.

The first Ontario Reptile Expo took place in 1990 at the Polish Conference Centre in Toronto.  There were a total of seven vendors and 79 guests.  A far cry from the most recent show, which had more than 50 vendors and brought in hundreds of attendees, both first-timers and seasoned expo-goers.

Grant Crossman, director of the Canadian Pet Expo and the Ontario Reptile Expo, says interest, along with captive breeding programs, are the main reasons for the expo’s growth over the past 27 years.

“The interest level has now gone from an especially niche market to now a mainstream pet, reptiles are now being accepted worldwide as a pleasurable pet within the household today,” said Crossman.  “The key really is though the captive breeding of most species that are offered daily.”

Even with growing popularity and reptile knowledge becoming more widespread, the hobby has still had its share of hard times.  An incident involving the tragic death of two young boys in New Brunswick in 2013 involving a rock python led to outrage from the public and cast some reptile owners in a bad light.

“Reptile keepers can group together and become a solidified group representing all aspects,” said Crossman.  “We really need to work together to educate the public, become much more accountable, much more sensible, as well as be sensitive to the general public that may not respect reptiles.”

The next Ontario Reptile Expo is scheduled for Feb. 26 at Downsview Park.

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Dan is a second-year journalism student at Durham College, who enjoys writing about music, the environment, politics, and opinion pieces. He also hosts a show on Riot Radio and works as a volunteer technician. Dan loves spending time at his cottage and has a wide array of unusual pets, including reptiles and arachnids. In the future he hopes to work for a radio station while doing freelance photography.