Why you should care

Because you don’t have to walk snakes.

In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”

Chuck Royal
Montreal

I grew up near a well-known importer and distributor, Reptile Depot, in Montreal’s Saint-Henri district. I was into outdoor sports like fishing and hiking; naturally, I was catching the odd garter snake during those times. As a kid, those hunts seemed like the ultimate hidden thing for me. When I started passing by that reptile shop every day while coming home from school, I was drawn to the constrictor snakes, mostly the big ones. Of course, at 11 years old, the only thing my parents actually allowed me to own was a small curly-tail lizard — it was a bit underwhelming to say the least.

But it was a good way to start my relationship with the herpers at the shop. First thing I did when I got my own flat in Quebec City in 1993 was buy myself a boa constrictor, an adult one no less. And that fulfilled my ultimate pet dream. The boa was big enough to earn instinctual self-preserving respect from me and anybody else who laid eyes upon him. He was a unique pet, and pretty tame and quite placid.

I’ve kept larger constrictors since then, going about my life and just enjoying the hobby. Until 2010. Before that, in the early 2000s, I was aware of all the cool new morphs coming up, but it took a while before I acquired the maturity and the rigorous methodology that the hobby demands once you set out to breed as a serious endeavor. At that point, I went all in and bought a whole collection with racks and decided to build on that.

I spend 90 percent of my time thinking about every facet of the hobby and how to make it better for myself and, by default, better for others. I ask myself, what can I offer, where is the gap, what’s missing? I am clearly not alone, because the hobby has grown a lot and matured so much over the years in many respects. I love to see people who never thought they would love reptile-keeping get into it. I mean, my background is in visual arts.

Snakes are both a perfect pet and a strong and ancient living symbol of the primordial life force.

I specialize in boas, super dwarf retic [reticulated] and ball pythons, with a few select colubrids. I’m producing designer snakes, or domesticated snakes, with very radical aesthetics and great temperaments. Health is also a prime directive. I want the animals that I produce to be out of this world, and I try to produce quality over quantity. There’s a moral dilemma to producing and ultimately being responsible for the life that is born in captivity. Every season it’s my goal and responsibility to place every last one of the snakes I produce in a home within one year.

That means a couple hundred babies per season. I’ve got 340 cages total, including baby bins. I haven’t counted recently, but there are approximately 80 adults and keepers, not including the babies for sale. I consider all the snakes my pets till I find new homes for them.

How you feel about morph breeding boils down to the philosophical. We are domesticating a wild animal. The process is as old as civilization itself; it used to be that domestication was an endeavor with a very utilitarian purpose: to produce better, larger and more resistant animals or plants. Now the phenomenon is directed more toward aesthetics, along with tameness and hardiness in captivity still being utilitarian traits. Snakes are both a perfect pet and a strong and ancient living symbol of the primordial life force. They are therapeutic and fascinating animals that deserve to follow us as pets in the evolution of the human story, just like any other well-bred domestic animal. Which is to say they’re living creatures and deserve to be treated as individuals, with the requisite care.

My present obsession is the stunning Fire boa constrictor and its leucistic [reduced pigmentation] counterpart, the Super Fire boa constrictor. Super Fire boa constrictors are going to be a big thing in boas, if other species are any indicator. A healthy, pure white leucistic snake will always be popular as a marquee pet. It’s really becoming quite mainstream now, I must say. I miss the good old days when you felt cool, like a real rebel, by owning a pet snake.

OZYTrue Story

Good stories from around the globe. Essays and immersion, into the harrowing, the sweet, the surprising -- the human.