On Sunday, a 10-foot, 100-pound alligator was at the Sacramento Convention Center as part of Upscale Reptiles' 16th annual show. "Izod" was rescued from the bathtub of a former drug dealer's home in Los Angeles several years ago. Today he is out of the tub and touring with Wild Things Inc. How often do you get to meet an alligator up close and personal?
The Upscale Reptiles show attracts more than 13,000 people every year. Some of them are curious spectators, while others are buyers who come in early to snatch up the latest morphs of their favorite cold-blooded creatures. However, the majority of the attendees are families with children who come to experience this massive and exotic petting zoo.
Kids of every age scream with anxiety and delight as they pet a giant turtle or handle a large yellow reticulated python for the first time. The show has 180-plus vendors selling and displaying every type of scaly critter imaginable, with 3,000 species of reptiles as well as more than 30 venomous breeds all safely behind glass, of course.
"A friend of mine and his family were going, so I decided to tag along," said Hannah Brosdeen of Applegate, beaming with excitement as she held up the small orange African horned toad she had just purchased. "I've never been to one (of these events) before. It's really great."
One of the more unusual vendors present at the show was the Salida Middle School Reptile Education Club, a group that gives kids a chance to learn about and care for the animals. The students then share that knowledge with others at their convention booth, which features snake skeletons and skins, as well as informational pamphlets about the animals.
"We have our own building at the school where we keep the animals," said teacher Laura Peterson, who has been running the club for more than 24 years. "We do a lot of events like this one, and then we have our own show in April."
Reptile trade flourishing
There are many reasons why people become involved in the flourishing yet relatively little-known trade that is the reptile business.
"When my family moved into our new house, we kept finding all kinds of gopher snakes in the back yard," said Suzanne Anderson of GPU Enterprises. "The kids got interested in them, and that's how it all started."
Said Tim Rayman of South Bay Tropicals Marine and Reptiles, "I've been interested in reptiles for about 15 years now."
For eight years, Rayman has been going to almost every reptile convention in California.
"I began by doing my own research and breeding lizards," he said. "Then I started breeding snakes, and that's how I wound up where I am today. There are so many new breeds of reptiles still left for us to make."
The Upscale Reptiles show is one of several reptile conventions that take place in California every year. The Herp World Expo will take place in Ontario on Nov. 3-4, and Repticon Los Angeles will be in Costa Mesa on Dec. 1-2.
"I've been going to conventions like this for about five years, and the best part is meeting new people," said Aaron Kay of Kay's Reptiles. Kay's interest in reptiles began at age 10, when he kept as a pet "anything he could catch."
"There's so many (types of reptiles), and I love them all," he said. "Their way of living is totally different from ours.