Reptile import-export and breeding since 1993

BION Talk in San Diego


Talk by Dmitri Tkachev, BION Terrarium Center, Ukraine at Herpeton Conference

Dear Colleagues,

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 global world and the synergy of this event could probably open new possibilities to the community of reptile enthusiasts.

When schoolboy in Kiev, 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 him who passed his passion to reptiles to me. It was the case when the herpetologist opened the door for herpetoculturist. He lived his last 13 years in the USA. Michael Golubev was a bright personality and made his contribution in research of geckos and agamas species in countries of the former USSR, Middle Asia and Middle East. I'd like to dedicate my talk to Michael Golubev memory.

In 1993, at the invitation of Senator Slade Gorton (Washington) I was fortunate to get acquainted with the organization of reptile  business in the United States. During that and other trips I  first met Philippe de Vojiolli when he made presentation in Oregon. I spent exciting  week with Ernie Wagner at his ranch,  met Frank and Kate Slavens, and had wonderful time with Bert  Langerverf in Alabama. I also visited  breeders and commercial operations, as well as different reptile shops and reptile Shows.

During 28 years in reptile business I met breeders, suppliers and dealers in the countries of  Europe, Canada, Central and South America, Middle and South-East Asia, 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. From the other side, it was the way to get a breeding stock of rare and valuable species. By now we have strong connections with 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 breeding center. Hope to have 95% within next 3 years.

Starting from 2010 the era of traditional wholesale reptile’s business was left in the past. The reptile’s market have changed dramatically for the following reasons: the new laws and restrictions in the exporting and importing countries, trend for keeping c.b. species and saturation of reptile’s market in general.

Just one good example may be  mostly complete substitution of Russian tortoise (Agrionemys horsfieldi) with Balkan tortoise (Testudo hermanni) in the pet trade which took place during last 10 years.

Russian tortoises were exported for decades 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 .

Balkan tortoises distributed in South Europe apart from her Russian counterpart are ok for keeping outdoors in conditions of temporary climate. This species is not carrying herpes virus and is quite stable against pneumonia. Initially the price for 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 direct 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 in BION is Chamaeleons ( Veiled, Parson’s  Panthers and others).

Agamas (Uromastyx thomasi, U.dispar flavofasciata, U.ornata, Hydrosaurus pustulatus, Chlamydosaurus kingii, Intelagama lesueri)

Iguanas (Ctenosaura pectinata piebald, Cyclura cornuta, Phrynosoma asio, Petrosaurus thalasinus, Microlophus albemarlensis)

Monitors (Varanus salvator komaini, V.kumingi, V.salvadori,  V.varius),

Skinks (Tiligua scincoides  spp , Tiliqua gigas evanescens, Tiliqua occipitalis, Egernia stokesii)

Also we are  working with Timon Lepidus black morph and Ouroborus catapractus

Ground gekos (Eublepharis angramainyu, E.fuscus, E.hardvickii, Hemitheconyx taylori ,Nephrurus amaye, N. wheeleri, N.levis, Underwodisaurus milii)

Leaf tailed geckos (U.giganteus, U.phantasticus, U.pietschmanni, U.sikorae, U.samieti, U.sikorae, U.ebenaui, U.henkeli, etc)

Tortoises (Star tortoises (Geochelone elegans), leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys padalis) from Ethiopia.

We always look for the new interesting species.

Today BION is not only an import-export operation, but mostly a specialized methodological and educational Center. When working with scientists we try to build a bridge between herpetology and herpetoculture. Working with zoo we try to widen our opportunities in breeding rare species. Our educational mission is to share true knowledge about reptiles among students and their parents through excursions and lectures.

By now we have the complex of reptile’s laboratories +  live food departments in Kyiv and Kharkiv, the Reptile’s zoo in Kyiv and large indoor area for display and breeding lizards and tortoises  in a countryside 30 km away from Ukrainian capital. There we have a guest house with conference hall and the place for other activities.

This gives us an opportunity to organize various events – from seminars to conferences. The experts and colleagues from different countries visit BION on a regular basis to share their knowledge. Next year we plan to organize conference on breeding and protection of parson’s chameleons. Petr Nechas, BION’s scientific advisor, will tell you more during his presentation. We are always open for visitors and mutual cooperation!

Sometimes people asked me how we can survive during all these economic and market changes when many reptile’s 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, English-speaking interpreter and an old friend, who helped us with all important correspondence and publications from the first day we started.

BION is impossible to imagine without Ivan Neizko, the breeder of different hard to breed lizard species. Ivan has worked with me from the very beginning. Sergii Prokopiev is BION's important partner for more than 25 years.  Sergii is a professional zoologist and successful breeder of many chamaeleon’s and skinks species. Also Sergei spends a lot of time in the field and combines the skills of herpetologist and herpetoculturist.

Yuri Juravlev is a professional zoologist with experience of working at the zoos. Yuri is our bridge to zoo sector. He makes his contribution training zookeepers. 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’s experts.

And the cherry on the cake is our sales, marketing and research group including Alexandra Antonyuk, General Manager, Lyudmila Grushanskaya, Head, Import-Export Department, Anna Grischenko, PR & Marketing Manager, Oleksei Marushak, Head, Research and Development Department.

Special thanks are due to Nelli Kuzmenko for her contribution to producing BION’s videos. The video dedicated to Parsons chamaeleons created by Nelli Kuzmenko and Sergii Prokopiev you can see later today.

BION is hard to imagine without Yuri Sanzak and Karina Grigoran, who take care of feeding insects and rodents laboratory.

BION can’t exists 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, owner of Massasauga Imports-Exports, Canada. Mike was BION’s first Customer 27 years ago and continues to stay with us today.

Special thanks are due to Sander Browman and Mike Barrera, BION’s representatives in the EU and the USA.

And now let me talk about certain part of HERPETOCULTURE, which does not serve the needs of pet industry. In this particular case let’s use definition “THE  RESPONSIBLE HERPETOCULTURE”.

From one side we see numerous species which cannot survive in the nature for multiple reasons. Ukrainian herpetoculturist Sergii Prokopiev proposed the definition "the species without habitat". In most cases it means ‘’the endangered species’’.

From the other side we have a large group of herpetoculturists armed with extensive experience and practice. They made it possible to save many amphibians and reptiles from extinction and to make reserve populations for future reintroduction. This potential is really great and can help the species which are outside attention of government structures and zoos.

The galloping desertification and progressive deforestation in countries with highest level of biodiversity like Africa, Asia, South and Central America is delayed-action ecological mine.

Formation of reserve populations for rare species is the only useful and sometimes the only possible way to prevent species from extinction, at least in short-term perspective.

Let me give you some examples of the successful  propagation of rare amphibians and reptile’s species today:

Uwe Zeidel, Germany – working with Salamandra inframmaculata in Northern Israel;

Mihails Pupins, Latvia – working constantly with European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis)  with regular re-introduction experience;

Juvgeny Rybaltovsky and Sergei Rabov, Russia – breeding (in many generations) the indigenous species of frogs and snakes from North Vietnam;

Seva Seleznev, Ukraine – breeding (in a few generations) different species of leaf tailed geckos from Madagascar;

Kamiel Hamers, Holland – breeding (in a few generations) different species with many  Spiney tailed lizards species.

The BION’s international team (including people from Ukraine, Czech Republic and Madagascar) is running parson’s chamaeleon survival project .

This list might be continued.

Being keen on herpetoculture and striving for income from our work, the time has come to realize the scope of catastrophe, occurring in the wildlife. We must take part of responsibility for survival of animals which we like so much. We need to formulate certain trends. For instance, a universally known is keenness on cultivation of various so-called "morph animals". In other words, these are artificially reproduced strains, which 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 unite our efforts, to closely cooperate with the 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 species in the artificial environment will enable to level the damage inflicted by the economic activity of human beings. This also pertains to rare and endangered species, the so-called "reserve satellite populations".
This idea requires thorough understanding, as well as formal recognition and support at the legislative level.

We request serious consideration of the reality.

Such activities involve certain financial resources.

In our opinion, there are the following opportunities to get them:

1.Financing of the breeding programs by the government, funds and other organizations aiming at the preservation of rare species and reintroduction to nature.

2.Equitable rules, providing for unhampered trade of c.b. animals with strict observance of the norms and rules of environmental legislation. The funds obtained will help support such environment-related programs.

3.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 the activities related with preservation of animal species with no funds required from outside.

The breeding of animals in captivity 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 harm to preservation of species.  Such viewpoint is sort of manipulation with public opinion in an attempt to hide unfair politicians and businessmen, responsible for 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 right 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, herpetoculturist 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, which could support herpetoculturists in the modern world. This institution should have a legal assistance.

This institution could be called International Herpetocultural Association (or IHA for short) with international board of specialists consisting of reputable people in reptile world.

The President to be elected is supposed be the head of IHA assisted by a 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 species.

The ambitious goal is to prepare 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’s import-export.

They shall check the experience of USARK and other institutions over the world and establish partnership with 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 andthe 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 animals’ keeping and breeding of 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 consciousness of society 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.

The realities of today present us with new challenges and the inability to act more decisively and effectively can affect our business and moral reputation, which determines the possibility of the existence and prosperity of herpetoculture.

We urge everyone to rally and support the project RESPONSIBLE HERPETCULTURE – 21st century project!

LAST BUT NOT LEAST. The Herpeton Conference is a nice opportunity for us to mark 70th Birthday of Philippe de VosJoli who made keeping and breeding of reptiles a real philosophy, culture and flame of millions of people all over the world.

It is owing to his talent, charisma, and energy that we have a possibility to live today in our wonderful world – reptile world!

His great idea about possibility to breed and raise dragons, collect them for making a tale a reality is quite viable nowadays, moreover it gains still 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)