Who's who in reptiles
Bob Clark : An albino Burmese python morphed a hobbyist into a professional breeder.
Breaking into and succeeding in the snake breeding business can be tough. Fortunately, snake breeding can be done on any level, from a kid with a pair of snakes in his bedroom to a full-time breeder with a warehouse full of snakes. Just ask Bob Clark, a python breeder who's been in business for nearly 25 years.
"For me the logical extension of keeping animals was to breed them." Clark said. "Initially, the motivation wasn't to sell them. I kept the animals because I was interested in them. Breeding was just another aspect of that. As I got older and had to start dealing with the realities of life, I started selling them. In the beginning it was just to get new animals and then later to pay the bills. I bred my first pythons in 1973 and have bred them every year since. I became a full-time snake breeder in 1988."
Clark realized he could make a living breeding snakes when he was lucky enough to get the original imported albino Burmese python when it became available in 1983.
"At the time, I was breeding 'normal-looking' wild-type Burmese pythons," he said. "I was competing with cheap imported snakes, and I wasn't producing many animals. It was the advent of color and pattern mutations that changed the market and my life. These were animals that were truly rare; they did not exist in any numbers in the wild and could not be cheaply imported or otherwise obtained, except through captive breeding. These snakes could be sold for far more than the normal animals, and there was no competition. It was that one snake [the albino Burmese python] that allowed me to move into a full-time snake breeding career."
Though Clark said he has the "best job in the world," he still faces challenges.
"Sometimes I lose an animal," he said. "Sometimes I can't get something important to breed. Sometimes there are problems that everyone running a small business encounters."
Although there are challenges there are also many rewards. "There's nothing like seeing babies hatch or be born," said Clark. "Maybe it's something you've seen a thousand times, or something no one's ever seen. Either way its good. I'm not ashamed to say I like the money too! Sometimes when a customer calls to say how happy they are with an animal I shipped to them, it almost seems like too much. I get to work with animals, I get paid and I make somebody really happy. Can you beat that?"
Thinking about becoming a breeder? Clark advises to keep at it, even when things don't go the way you planned.
"Tough it out when you have to, but keep focused on what you're trying to accomplish," he stressed. "Buy your animals from a breeder with good-quality stock. I can go on and on about this, but the real value [of breeding] is having something you're passionate about. If it's your job, you're lucky."
Bob's Python Morph "Firsts"
1986: Albino Burmese
1989: Labyrinth Burmese
1992: Albino ball python
1996: Granite Burmese
1999: Striped ball python
1999: Albino reticulated
2000: Striped reticulated
2004: Sunfire reticulated
2006: Blond reticulated
Other Herp Highlights
At 5, lost first pet snake because he was "too afraid to touch it."
Graduated from University of Kansas with a master's degree in herpetology.
Doubled previous salary as department store manager the first year he sold albino Burmese pythons.