BION Talk in San Diego
BION TERRARIUM CENTER – FROM REPTILE TRADE TO RESPONSIBLE HERPETOCULTURE
Talk by Dmitri Tkachev, BION Terrarium Center, Ukraine at Herpeton Conference
First of all, I wish to thank all Herpeton organizers for the unique opportunity to get together the representatives of herpetoculture and reptile business from different countries. We live in the global world, and the synergy of this event could probably open new possibilities to the community of reptile enthusiasts.
When I was a schoolboy in Kyiv, Ukraine, I met Michael Golubev, a herpetologist, who worked for the Zoological Museum of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. Michael became my teacher and friend. It was he who passed his passion for reptiles to me. It was the case when the herpetologist opened the door to a herpetoculturologist. He lived his last 13 years in the USA. Michael Golubev was a bright personality and made his contribution to the research of geckos and agamas species in the countries of the former USSR, Middle Asia, and the Middle East. I'd like to dedicate my talk to the memory of Michael Golubev.
In 1993, at the invitation of Senator Slade Gorton (Washington), I was fortunate to get acquainted with the reptile business organization in the United States. During that and other trips, I first met Philippe de Vojiolli when he made a presentation in Oregon. I spent an exciting week with Ernie Wagner at his ranch, met Frank and Kate Slavens, and had a wonderful time with Bert Langerverf in Alabama. I also visited breeders and commercial operations, as well as various reptile shops and Shows.
During 28 years in the reptile business, I met breeders, suppliers, and dealers in the countries of Europe, Canada, Central and South America, Middle and South-East Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, Madagascar, the USA, and Russia. This experience generated many ideas and inspiration to set up and run the BION Terrarium Center. On the other hand, it was the way to get a breeding stock of rare and valuable reptile species. By now, we have strong ties with reptile suppliers and breeders in many countries and want to have more.
Initially, in 1991, the BION Terrarium Center was organized as a structural subdivision of the BION Industrial Center, as an export company. Today it is 80% a reptile breeding center. I hope to have 95% over the next 3 years.
Since 2010, the era of traditional wholesale reptile business was left in the past. The reptile market has changed dramatically for the following reasons: new laws and restrictions in exporting and importing countries, a trend for keeping captive-bred species, and saturation of the reptile market in general.
Just one good example is always complete substitution of the Russian tortoise (Agrionemyshorsfieldi) with the Balkan tortoise (Testudo hermanni) in the pet trade, which has taken place during the last 10 years.
For decades, the Russian tortoises were exported in huge quantities to the USA and Europe as w.c. and farm-raised specimens from countries of Middle Asia and Kazakhstan. As a matter of fact, these tortoises died in huge numbers from pneumonia and herpes virus.
The Balkan tortoises distributed in South Europe, unlike its Russian counterpart, are tolerable for being kept outdoors in conditions of a temporary climate. This species does not carry herpes virus and is quite stable against pneumonia. Initially, the price for the Balkan tortoise was quite high compared with the Russian one, but it decreased significantly due to intensive breeding in Makedonia and Slovenia.
One decade ago, we paid special intention to our own breeding projects and started working directly with retailers and hobbyists via our representatives in Europe and the USA. In fact, that was the only alternative to survive.
The main breeding target of BION are:
- Chamaeleons (Veiled chameleons, Parson’s, Panther and others).
- Agamas (Omani, Ornate and Red Band spiny-tailed lizards, Australian and Philippine Sailfin dragons, Frilled-necked lizards, Toad-headed agamas).
- Iguanas (Rhinoceros and Mexican spiny-tailed iguanas, Albemarle lava lizards, Blue Baja Rock lizards, Giant Horned lizards, Galapagos lava lizards).
- Monitor lizards (Black dragon and Cuming's water monitors, Lace and Crocodile monitors).
- Skinks (Northern, Eastern blue-tongued skinks, Western and Merauke blue-tongued skinks, Gidgee spiny-tailed skinks).
- Also, we are dealing with Jewelled lizards (Ocellated lizards) and Armadillo girdled lizards.
- Terrestrial geckos (Leopard geckos, Taylor’s fat-tailed gecko, Centralian Rough, Rough Banded, Three-Lined knob-tailed geckos, Thick-tailed gecko)
- Leaf-tailed geckos (Giant leaf-tailed geckos, Satanic leaf-tailed geckos, Cork-bark leaf-tailed geckos, Mossy leaf-tailed geckos, Spearpoint leaf-tailed geckos, Henkel’s leaf-tailed geckos, Southern and Northern leaf-tailed geckos etc)
- Tortoises (Star tortoises (Geochelone elegans), Leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys padalis somalica) from Ethiopia.
We always look for the new interesting reptile species.
Today BION is not only an import-export operation but mostly a specialized methodological and educational Center. Collaborating with scientists, we try to build a bridge between herpetology and herpetoculture. Working with the zoo, we try to widen our opportunities in breeding rare reptile species. Our educational mission is to share true knowledge about reptiles among students and their parents through excursions and lectures.
By now, we have a complex of reptile laboratories and live food departments in Kyiv and Kharkiv, the Reptile zoo in Kyiv, and a large indoor area for display and breeding lizards and tortoises in the countryside 30 km away from the Ukrainian capital. There, we have a guest house with a conference hall and a place for other activities.
This gives us an opportunity to organize various events – from seminars to conferences. Experts and colleagues from different countries visit BION on a regular basis to share their knowledge. Next year we plan to organize a conference on breeding and protection of the Parson’s chameleon. Petr Nechas, a BION’s scientific advisor, will tell you more during his presentation. We are always open to visitors and mutual cooperation!
Sometimes people ask me how we can survive during all these economic and market changes whilst many reptile business operations in Europe left the scene?
The key point of our stability and development is the TEAM of BION.
The passion, knowledge, and kinship are really important to become companions!
My special thanks are to Alex Volkov, an English interpreter and old friend, who helped us with all the important correspondence and publications from the first day we started.
BION is impossible to imagine without Ivan Neizko, a breeder of various hard-to-breed lizard species. Ivan has been working with me from the very beginning. Sergii Prokopiev has been a BION's important partner for more than 25 years. Sergii is a professional zoologist and successful breeder of many chamaeleon and skink species. Also, Sergei spends a lot of time in the field and combines the skills of a herpetologist and herpetoculturologist.
Yuri Juravlev is a professional zoologist with great experience of working at the zoos. Yuri is our bridge to the zoo sector. He makes his contribution to zookeeper training. We always feel and appreciate his support.
Petr Nechas is a scientific adviser of BION. Petr is a great promoter and, probably, one of the best chamaeleon experts.
And, icing on the cake is our sales, marketing, and research group including Alexandra Antonyuk, General Manager, Lyudmila Grushanskaya, Head of Import-Export Department, Anna Grischenko, PR & Marketing Manager, Oleksei Marushak, Head of Research and Development Department.
Special thanks are to Nelli Kuzmenko for her contribution to producing BION’s videos. Later today, you can watch a video dedicated to Parson’s chamaeleons that was created by Nelli Kuzmenko and Sergii Prokopiev .
BION is hard to imagine without Yuri Sanzak and Karina Grigoran, who take care of feeding insects and rodents in our laboratory.
BION can’t exist without Alexandr Chornovol and Alexandr Grishenko who take care of all administrative and logistics matters.
Special gratitude for long-term support is to Mike Biernacki, an owner of Massasauga Imports-Exports, Canada. 27 years ago, Mike was BION’s first Customer and continues to stay with us today.
Special thanks are to Sander Browman and Mike Barrera, BION’s representatives in the EU and the USA.
And now let me talk about a certain part of HERPETOCULTURE, which does not serve the needs of the pet industry. In this particular case, let’s use the definition “THE RESPONSIBLE HERPETOCULTURE”.
On the one hand, we see numerous reptile species, which cannot survive in nature for multiple reasons. Ukrainian herpetoculturologist Sergii Prokopiev proposed the definition "the species without habitat". In most cases, it means “the endangered species’’.
On the other hand, we have a large group of herpetoculturologists armed with extensive experience and practice. They made it possible to save many amphibians and reptiles from extinction and reserve populations for future reintroduction. This potential is really great and can help reptile species that are outside the attention of government structures and zoos.
Galloping desertification and progressive deforestation in countries with the highest level of biodiversity like Africa, Asia, South and Central America is a delayed-action ecological mine.
Formation of reserve populations for rare reptile species is the only useful and sometimes the only possible way to prevent them from extinction, at least in a short-term perspective.
Some examples of successful propagation of rare amphibians and reptile’ species today:
- Uwe Zeidel, Germany – working with Salamandrainframmaculata in Northern Israel;
- Mihails Pupins, Latvia – working constantly with the European pond turtle (Emysorbicularis) and having regular re-introduction experience;
- Juvgeny Rybaltovsky and Sergei Rabov, Russia – breeding (in many generations) indigenous species of frogs and snakes from North Vietnam;
- Seva Seleznev, Ukraine – breeding (in a few generations) various species of leaf-tailed geckos from Madagascar;
- Kamiel Hamers, Holland – breeding (in a few generations) various reptile species including spiny-tailed lizards.
The BION’s international team (including people from Ukraine, Czech Republic, and Madagascar) is running the Parson’s chamaeleon survival project .
This list might be continued.
Being keen on herpetoculture and striving to get for income from our work, we had to realize the scope of the catastrophe, occurring in the wildlife. We must take a part of the responsibility for the survival of animals we like so much. We need to formulate certain trends. For instance, keenness on cultivation of various so-called "morph animals is universally known ". In other words, these are artificially reproduced strains that differ from wildlife strains. Their value is high.
Let's initiate a new trend! Not inbred, with optimum level of strain heterozygosity, representing certain nature populations, BUT pure strains. They must become really valuable anyway, as well as in terms of money.
We take this opportunity to invite all of you to share our efforts, closely cooperate with academic science, as well as to engage environmental genetics. Coordination of efforts with experts in veterinary and re-forestation – these are just a few aspects of such activity.
Formation of a powerful, well-coordinated network of constantly reproducing groups of reptile species in the artificial environment will enable to lower damage inflicted by the economic activity of human beings. This also pertains to rare and endangered reptile species, the so-called "reserve satellite populations". This idea requires a thorough understanding, as well as formal recognition and support at the legislative level.
We request serious consideration of the reality.
Such activities require certain financial resources.
In our opinion, there are the following opportunities to get them:
- Financing of breeding programs by the government, funds, and other organizations aiming at the preservation of rare species and their reintroduction to nature.
- Equitable rules, providing for unhampered trade of captive-bred animals with strict observance of environmental legislation norms and rules . The funds obtained will help support such environment-related programs.
- Offering certain preferences to participants of nature-conserving projects.
Thus, it looks like self-financing may be a possible source of financing.
In other words, companies and individuals might be engaged in activities related to the animal species preservation with no funds required from outside.
Captive breeding is constantly supported by the international community as an alternative to the exploitation of natural resources.
Regretfully, sometimes one can hear an unjustified, speculative, and incompetent opinion about zoo culture as a harm to the preservation of reptile species. Such a viewpoint is sort of manipulation with public opinion in an attempt to hide unfair politicians and businessmen, responsible for the biological crisis, the scope of which is unprecedented in the history of our planet.
As a matter of fact, today we have the rising threat of extreme radical animal rights organizations and the incompetence and excesses of wildlife regulatory agencies.
When we speak about wildlife protection, herpetoculture should in no way be associated with anything negative. On the contrary, herpetoculturologst must become a powerful partner and active participant in these processes.
Taking all this into consideration, we have an idea and offer to set up an international institution that could support herpetoculturorogists in the modern world. This institution should have legal assistance.
This institution could be called the International Herpetocultural Association (or the IHA, in short) with an international board of specialists consisting of reputable people in the reptile world.
The President to be elected is supposed to be the head of the IHA assisted by the Secretary.
This Institution will consist of 3 main departments:
- The first one – Research and Protection Department. Working with scientists, environmental specialists, zoos. Running database of breeders of rare and endangered reptile species.
Our ambitious goal is to prepare a basic edition of HERPETOCULTURE created by proper experts worldwide.
- The second Department shall deal with the law.
The lawyers shall protect our rights to keep animals with legal means.
The lawyers shall protect dealers and traders’ rights to import and export animals obtained in a legal way.
The lawyers shall monitor the international specialized legislation and legislation of other countries pertinent to reptile import-export.
They shall check the experience of USARK and other institutions around the world and establish a partnership with the most efficient of them.
- The third Department shall deal with information and PR. It shall communicate with herp communities all over the world, including Australia, Canada, Europe, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the U.S.A. Also, the department shall keep IHA members informed about all significant activities, and organize IHA conferences and other events.
The financial support might come from annual membership fees, sponsorship, grants, and other sources.
We hope that a new look at the issues of keeping and breeding animals will make it possible to re-evaluate the possibilities and role of herpetoculture in preserving the biological diversity of our planet.
It is completely obvious that the mobilization of all the experience and knowledge accumulated by mankind, the unification of the efforts of all concerned people, the transformation of the social consciousness as a whole, are the only possible condition for environmental safety.
That is why we also relate all these issues to the scope of activity of the RESPONSIBLE HERPETOCULTURE.
We draw the attention of colleagues who relate themselves to herpetoculture.
Today’s realities present us new challenges and the inability to act more decisively and effectively can affect our business and moral reputation, which determines the possibility of herpetoculture existence and prosperity.
We urge everyone to rally and support the project RESPONSIBLE HERPETCULTURE – a 21st-century project!
LAST BUT NOT LEAST. The Herpeton Conference is a nice opportunity for us to mark the 70th Birthday of Philippe de VosJoli, who made reptile keeping and breeding a real philosophy, culture, and flame of millions of people all over the world.
Due to his talent, charisma, and energy we have an opportunity to live today in our wonderful world – the reptile-caring world!
His great idea about the ability to breed and raise dragons, collect them for making the tale a reality is quite viable nowadays, moreover, it gains even more support!
May we all wish Philippe good health, inspiration, and success for many years to come!
(June 7, 2019, Marriott Courtyard Hotel, San Diego, California)