Sexism and elitism in the reptile industry.
WARNING: LONG TEXT POST
I know we have talked about this a number of times before, but I wanted to touch base on this again using my experience from last weekends expo now that I have some time to sit down and talk about it.
I had the privilege of taking with me my friend Scott, who knows little to nothing about reptiles, and my friend Rie who is a bird person. The expo actually went swimmingly for the most part, until I stopped at the booth belonging to Vince Russo. He may be more recognizable to people as the author of The Complete Boa. From what I have heard, a lot of people have had some very enjoyable experiences with this guy– healthy animals delivered to them, comprehensive answers given when asked questions, etc. My personal experience with him really wasn’t as nice, but it wasn’t inherently terrible, and I’ll get into that in a moment.
I had been eyeballing his table for a while because I was tentatively considering picking something up and I had heard through the grapevine that he was starting to really actually get into Sumatran Short Tails and I wanted to take a peek at what he might have. What I noticed first was a pair of girls approaching him, one asking something about one of the boas, saying that it looked similar to another morph she had seen. He straightened up, and with the most condescending tone I had heard in a while, not only corrected her but proceeded to talk to her like she was a child.
Then I approached.
My friend Scott was closer to Vince and was asking questions and our friendly author of The Complete Boa spoke to him very enthusiastically. He answered all of his questions professionally and pleasantly. I was standing a few feet away with Rie because I spotted a pair of SSTPs. One muddy male with yellow casting and a female with several kinks in her lower spine. They are labeled “BLACK BLOODS.” I say to Rie, “this is actually something to pay attention to because it can confuse people. There’s no such thing as a black blood, they’re Sumatran short tails. Same as the term Borneo bloods, Python breitensteini is a different species than brongersmai.”
Vince Russo cuts in and very loudly states “Borneo is Python BREITENSTEINI.” To which I very curtly said, “Yeah, I’m aware, I just said that, but thanks.”
He proceeded to tell me about how I should buy his P. curtus, but to keep in mind that he is only selling lone males. “I’m not selling any lone females” he says as I look down at the female, who has kinks down 1/3 of her body and despite that is listed at the same price as the male. I politely told him that I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to buy anything at all and he cut me off and said even louder “you won’t find them anywhere else. I’m the only guy I know who breeds them. You need to get them while you can.”
Me, being the asshole that I am, told him that I can name ten off of the top of my head and he claimed he’s never heard of any of them, including Kara Norris which I find very hard to believe.
This really does not seem like that big of a deal and in reality it’s not– I had very pleasant conversations with Mike Schultz of Outback Reptiles and his girlfriend who was so, so happy to introduce people to blood pythons and discuss the difference in temperament from CH, WC and CBB offspring. I bring this up because I’m seeing a LOT of new younger women start to become interested in the hobby and micro-aggressive behavior like what Vincent Russo displayed is so prevalent in the community. Had I not known better, if I were more ignorant and not as immersed in the hobby, I might have listened to Russo and bought that cheap, low quality Sumatran short tail without looking into other options, etc.
I talk about this every single time I go to an expo because it’s so important for women, girls, and just generally people who are new to the hobby to be aware and take everything you hear with a grain of salt. Some people will flat out lie to you, others will belittle you. I have had the experience of a breeder blatantly disallowing me from holding a large constrictor because he didn’t think I could “handle it.” I’ve had vendors try to outright slander the name of other breeders in good standing with the community in an effort to complete a sale.
I watched one young man end up buying what was very obviously an unhealthy bearded dragon that was showing a number of MBD symptoms to be told that “that’s normal” and “sometimes they just look like that.”
Please, please, please be aware of what is going on around you. Do not tolerate being treated like a child by vendors if you have questions. I will be honest and say that most of my interactions with vendors at expos are great and I meet a lot of awesome people. But the people who AREN’T great, the people who will lie or bring unhealthy animals to expos or treat people with no respect are the people that we need to weed the hell out of the hobby.