The new family pet doesn't have to be a four-legged and furry friend, but could be a long, scaly fella with a forked tongue, like a ball python. For Bakersfield reptile and exotic pet enthusiasts, Sunday was a dream come true as the Central Valley Reptile and Exotic Pet Expo stopped through at the Kern County Fairgrounds.
The building was filled with squawking and squealing — much of the latter coming from humans interacting with eclectic animals such as: spotted geckos, iguanas, snakes, sulcata tortoises, parrots and even porcupines and lemurs.
Exotic pet store owner, Genaro Garcia, said when he moved to Bakersfield about 25 years ago he immediately thought it would be the perfect city for an exotic pet store.
"It was much smaller then, it reminded me of my hometown in Mexico," Genaro said of Bakersfield. "There were no gangs, graffiti or bad people, it was perfect for a pet shop."
Garcia opened Garcia's Feed in 1999 and it's been thriving since. "People come looking for birds and tortoises the most," Garcia said. However, Garcia and his family, who helps run the store, are very cognizant on what exotic animals are legal and what are not.
For instance, red-eared slider turtles aren't legal in the state of California because they are carriers of salmonella. Instead, Garcia suggests those looking for the turtles to think about getting a sulcata tortoise, which are legal.
"They're good for kids, easy to maintain, just eat vegetables and water and teach them about responsibility," Garcia said.
Sparky might not be warm, cuddly and loving, but that doesn't mean reptiles can make good pets.
A friend of the cold blooded, Mike Wood came to the expo as a former iguana and snake owner.
"That iguana would beat the heck out of you with his tail when you first tried to get close to him," Wood said. "But start rubbin' his head and he'd become your best friend."
Wood no longer has his iguana, it passed away at about 15 years old, or other reptiles as his wife deems them "creepy." He comes to expos like these to relive his glory days: of being a reptile owner, that is.
"I don't know about loving pets, they aren't compassionate, but they sure are cool," Wood said.
Brandi Blue, the zoo director with Lost Realms Pets, an exotic pet store newly turned interactive zoo, said reptiles can be great pets for the the right family.
"It's often the soft and fuzzy animals that bite you more than the reptiles," Blue said.
Blue said reptiles will bite if they sense you are food, which doesn't happen often. Lost Realms, which is primarily an interactive zoo based out of Fresno, seeks to educate the public on exotic animals about why they sometimes don't make great pets, to raise conservation awareness and just for the sole purpose to educate. Lost Realms also does this through outreach programs at places like schools.
"Even though you might want that animal, it's the animal that pays in the end," Blue said of illegal exotic animals that can end up being euthanized when the owner realizes they can't take care of them because they don't make good pets. Some of these animals are: alligators, sugar gliders, hedgehogs and ferrets.
"Nine out of ten times, people come here hating snakes and then end up leaving with a pet snake," Blue said. But her main mission: "we want people to learn something they didn't know."