About me

I suppose I have been keeping reptiles now, in a fairly serious way for 45 years. That's a bit scary but I feel privileged to have been able to spend so much of my spare time involved in this pursuit. In addition, those may years of experience have earned me a reputation as something of an expert - at least with some species in captivity. So, how did this all come about?

The early years
In the early days of 1962-63 my first contact with other reptile minded individuals was through the British Herpetological Society. In those days meetings were held in the grounds of The Royal Academy, Piccadilly. The Society used the Linnaean Society's rooms for these monthly get-togethers. There was practically nothing available in book form on reptile husbandry. During my school days the only thing that touched on the subject were general books on keeping Unusual Mammals, Birds, Reptiles, Amphibians and Invertebrates. These books by authors such as George Cansdale, Maxwell Knight, C H Keeling and Eric Fitch Daglish were where I started looking in the school library.
A gem I discovered was Vivarium Life by Alfred Leutscher, first published in 1952. It was rarely in the library because I was constantly scanning the black and white pages and line drawings of indoor and outdoor vivariums. Lighting consisted of a household bulb, while any background heating was supplied with a home made system consisting of a light bulb in a biscuit tin with holes for ventilation. No heat mats or UV bulbs, no crickets or vitamin supplements available commercially. Just mealworms, maggots from the fishing tackle shop, tubifex worms from the Aquarists, woodlice, spiders, caterpillars, worms, slugs and snails from the garden and cuttlefish and cod-liver oil for calcium and Vitamin D3.

The start of change
By 1963 things were starting to change. A book called Reptiles and Amphibians, their care and behaviour, by Zdenek Vogel was translated from the original edition in German to English in 1964. I started to write to people (no emails then) for information on certain European species and even wrote to the Natural History Museum in London for help in finding information about Chinese Water Dragons. I was invited to go to the museum and presented with a room and a pile of old books from the late 1800s and early 1900s. The invaluable one on this day was Dr Malcolm A Smith's (a founder member of the BHS) Fauna of British India VOL II-Sauria,1935 . I then designed my cage by converting an old glass shop display cabinet into an aqua/terraria. I was on my way to serious reptile keeping.

Change accelerates
During the 70's the changes in lizard and snake keeping started to accelerate. A new ground breaking Book by Robert. J. Riches appeared on breeding American Garter and Water snakes, Ernie Wagner from Seattle Zoo was breeding large numbers of Ratsnakes (Elaphe) and Kingsnakes (Lampropeltis). Bert Langerwerf in the Netherlands was breeding Lacertid lizards in hitherto unattainably large numbers in his garden in Waspik. This would later form a large series of articles in the British Herpetological society Bulletin on keeping and breeding lizards in outdoor enclosures from 1980 onwards.
Tony Mobbs from the International Herpetological Society would write numerous articles on breeding Phelsuma, the beautiful Day geckos of Madagascar, Mauritius and other Islands in the Indian Ocean; Val and Bob Davis on breeding poison arrow frogs and so on. I would search out these people who excelled in good reptile husbandry by writing to them and visiting them. These were the pioneers and set in motion this new wave in the keeping of Reptiles and Amphibians. The Herpetological world moved a gigantic step forward and the quest for knowledge was insatiable.

The fruits of change
By now, the basics of good husbandry had been completely re-invented. In one respect things had stabilised because, at last, a firm foundation in Captive Care had been built which rather than redesigning needed further refining. And this happened. New books by people such as Chris Mattison appeared on keeping and breeding a large variety of animals and the reptile societies thrived on this new interaction of knowledge. In the eighties and nineties, breeding Chameleons become possible. This was a huge step forward because prior to this chameleons rarely survived more than 6 months in captivity. Now they thrived and reproduced.
During the late eighties and early nineties I gained more experience in the art of Captive Breeding and long term husbandry than at any time in my life. Enthusiastic Professional people who had a genuine interest in the survival of Reptiles and Amphibians in captivity also become more active. As chairman of The Captive Breeding Committee of the British Herpetological Society, I was able to encourage more attention to screening and treating newly imported animals, as Captive Breeding was not such a large part of the hobby still at this time. Veterinary surgeons, Parasitologists, Bacteriologists and people involved in teaching Human and Animal medicine were providing more help to the Herpetological community.

Herptile health
In the fore front of this development were people such as:-
I was sending Dr Elkan animal samples at Mount Vernon Hospital as early as 1969. Soon, however, the next generation of Veterinary people became involved. These included:-
All these professional people were extremely helpful in bringing new knowledge into the future maintenance of Reptiles & Amphibians and it was my privilege to assist many of them with their studies and my pleasure to learn from them.

Current knowledge is still not complete but we have come a long way with improvements in lighting in terms of both visible light and UV requirements, heating and plastic materials that will allow in natural UVB for synthesis of vitamin D3 in the garden and greenhouse.
There are numerous books on most of the major groups of Reptiles and Amphibians, some good and some bad as well as the internet sources.
Unfortunately the Internet although a useful source of information, can be very misleading as it is easy to set up your own website and call yourself an expert. By all means look at their websites and see if their time of involvement and their success in captive breeding confirm their alleged expertise.
This can be very dangerous if you are new to the hobby as you need experience to be critical of poor information. Perhaps the best thing you can do is join a Society such as the British Herpetological Society (BHS) where you will quickly find true experts or at least people who know enough to refer you to an expert.

I have already mentioned that my considerable experience and growing expertise allowed me to take on the challenge of being the BHS's Captive Breeding Committee Chairman. These few years proved to be demanding but extremely fulfilling. On a separate page I set out my final report at the end of my tenure. Amongst other things you will find there a list of recommended reptiles and amphibians to be kept in captivity. There are also some notes regarding animals at shows which are worth reading as some of the points therein are equally valid for keeping reptiles and amphibians.
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