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'Tis the season to fight off a stigma: The WNY Reptile Show

by Brianna Bush - Editor-in-Chief
Wed, Mar 11th 2020 01:00 pm
The third annual Western New York Reptile Show, held in Batavia, New York, showcased many different reptiles from snakes to Gargoyle Geckos. The show is an interactive way to learn more about these unique creatures and break the stereotypes that surround them.
The third annual Western New York Reptile Show, held in Batavia, New York, showcased many different reptiles from snakes to Gargoyle Geckos. The show is an interactive way to learn more about these unique creatures and break the stereotypes that surround them.

In the world, there are many fears. At the top of the list are spiders and coming in second are snakes. Those fears are the byproduct of how someone was raised or the fear was just in them without any exposure. In order to help dissolve the stigma that is the basis of many peoples’ fears, reptile experts banded together in the form of reptile show.

Reptiles shows are held all over the country — each vary in size, price, vendors, exhibitors and more. Only a 30-minute drive down the road, Batavia held its annual reptile show: The Western New York Reptile Show. This year, the show saw over 80 vendors, each with their own niche.

The tables had vendors from all parts of New York, and some that were from out of state as well. Some tables offered feeder animals in bulk and at discounted prices compared to pet stores. Though many were there to buy, sell and trade different animals, some attended to learn, teach and have conversations with experts and rookies alike.

Brad Wrest, co-founder of The WNY Reptile Show, has been to hundreds of shows near and far. Having been to so many shows, he decided to found his own in the Buffalo area. 

“A buddy of mine, Rich [the co-founder] and I wanted to have our own show,” Wrest said. “So we decided to put a show together to get the vendors together more often and get the reptile community together more often and see where it goes and hopefully it works out.”

Wrest and his co-founder had their first show in March of 2019. The latest show on March 8, 2020, marked their third show. Wrest explained The WNY Reptile show is held twice a year, once in September and again in March. Usually organizations do one show a year, but Wrest found that doing two shows had many benefits for all parties involved. 

“The reason we do it [the two shows] — we do the March show for two reasons,” Wrest explained. “One is tax season, which is a good time to get people that want to buy some stuff. And two because it helps the vendors offload any animals they have leftover from the previous year. It gives the vendors room for their new stock.”

Wrest started a Facebook page around three years ago to connect with like-minded people and other reptile enthusiasts — it later became the hub for The WNY Reptile Show information. The page was originally to post about what shows he was attending personally, but once it became the WNY Reptile Show page, vendors and other parties contacted him asking to be a part of the show — especially those who didn’t want to travel far.

“I got friends from all over that are into reptiles and they wanted to vend,” Wrest said. “We got a lot of local people who didn’t really want to travel to an event. So they would contact us or we would contact them. A lot of it comes from referrals too. People say, ‘hey, I got a friend of mine that breeds this or breeds that.’” 

Wrest uses the shows he attends and runs as a way to educate and communicate with people because of the stigma that surrounds snakes, spiders and other reptiles. He believes having shows like this will help alleviate some of fears people may have. He believes many of the animals are just misunderstood and explained a lot of people can’t even pinpoint a reason to be afraid of a particular animal. 

 

“I mean to make people understand that these animals are not out to hurt you,” Wrest explained. “Originally? Yes, they were all wild animals, but now it’s completely different. These animals are just misunderstood.”

Julia Drummond has found herself afraid of snakes specifically. Other reptiles “freak her out,” but she can tolerate them — snakes on the other hand make her uncomfortable. Looking at a snake, even just thinking about them, sends shivers down her spine. But there is something else underneath — allurement.

“I’m fascinated by [my roommate owning a snake] because I don’t have a lot of experience with snakes,” Drummond explained. “I don’t know many people that own one but I know they are low maintenance, so I’m interested in seeing what it takes to care for it. But at the same time the thought of it grosses me out because I know they eat small animals.”

Like many people who attended The WNY Reptile Show, Drummond has an open mind and is willing to learn and adapt to things she may not be used to. Drummond plans to ask questions and possibly get close and personal with her roommates snake — which she purchased at the show from 50/50 Exotics, run by Chris Sanfilippo.

Sanfilippo, a College at Brockport alumnus, is a vendor at multiple different conventions and shows. He breeds multiple different morphs of ball pythons with prices ranging from $75 to $900. He prides himself on the breeds that he has, and each breeding season he is met with bigger and better morphs.

The 50/50 Exotics owner explained that morph refers to the coloring of the animals. In many cases the morph of the reptiles are genetically engineered to look the way they do. 

“You wouldn’t see a albino ball python out in the wild,” Sanfilippo said. “They are what I like to call designer pets. People can ask for, really, any color now — they just have to have the money.”

Sanfilippo has been intrigued by exotic animals since he was a young boy.

“Every opportunity I had to be in the woods, flipping rocks over looking for snakes I took,” Sanfilippo said. “As I got older I kept a few reptiles as pets and slowly started to breed geckos and snakes. Through college I was able to offset some of my costs by selling a few reptiles to friends and friends of friends. Later I started 50/50 Exotics to have a clear mission of education to potential clients on the conservation and care of exotic pets.”

Experts like Dan Chase have been in the reptile business for years. Chase, also known as Dan The Snake Man, has been traveling, educating and putting on shows for over 20 years. He says there is nothing better than helping people better understand reptiles and other exotic animals, and he does so by putting on shows at birthday parties, festivals and other large-grouped events.

Shows like The WNY Reptile Show, and experts like Wrest, Chase and Sanfilippo help those who don’t know better understand an animal that are generally misunderstood and feared. They hope that one point in time there won’t be a fear of “such a fascinating species.”

“The exotic animal industry has a very polarizing effect on most you discuss it with,” Sanfilippo said. “Unlike dogs and cats, where many are indifferent, reptiles and invertebrates often create a very opposite effect. Often a gasp or shaking of the head occurs right after I mention what my business [snakes and reptiles] is. The only way to overcome this is through education and patience.”

 

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