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Russell’s Passion is Breeding Pythons

Local python breeder Russell Gardner and one of his beloved pets.

As most of us curse the onset of warmer weather and having to tip-toe around for fear of treading on that elusive Joe Blake lurking in the long grass, Manilla’s Russell Gardner is in celebration mode as he arrives home from work to find yet another clutch of 23 python snake eggs ready for the incuba- tor.

Russellís hobby ñ away from his job as heavy machine operator with a local mining company, is breed- ing python snakes as pets, and finds interacting with his python family after a 10-hour shift ìvery calmingî.

Iíve always loved snakes – even as far back as primary school. I could never have one as a pet because my family wasnít very fond of them, so it wasnít until 10 years ago that I got serious about breed- ing them, he said.

As a kid Iíd catch lizards, study them, then let them go. Iíve always loved snakes, the way they moved, the feel of them, and the real calm- ing affect they can have on you just by holding them. They make great pets ñ you donít need a big back- yard to keep them, they only get fed once a week, they can live for over 20 years, as long as they have warmth and water, theyíre happy. And theyíre extremely strong ñ all muscle.

It ís very surprising the number of people who have pythons as pets.

Russellís family ñ wife Mel and kids Dwight (14), Hannah (12), Maddalin (10) and seven-year-old Owen donít mind living with the writhing of dozens of reptiles in their backyard.

Melís not all that big a fan, but the kids donít mind them, especial- ly the two smaller ones. Iíve never had any escapees either ñ theyíre locked up all the time in their tanks.

Russell said that anyone could breed pythons ñ all they need is a Native Animal Keeper license which could be applied for online. The snakes are kept in tanks, with a hot end and a cold end to ensure they get their body temperatures right. And they require very little maintenance.

There are quite a few breeders in this area, though I like it when someone new to the hobby comes around and I can help them as much as I can.

Russ currently has four females and two males as breeders. His species include Darwin pythons, black-headed pythons, coastal car- pet pythons, olive pythons, stimson pythons and mixed carpet pythons, all in a variety of patterns and colours. And theyíre fed rats which he also breeds himself.

So far this season, two of the females have produced him clutch- es of 23 and 13 eggs, which heíll incubate for the required 58-day gestation period. He prefers to incubate the eggs because the females wonít eat while theyíre looking after the eggs.

Though the obvious question on readersí lips ñ ìdo they biteî. Very occasionally according to Russell.

Like any animal, if theyíre han- dled a lot when young, they become very quiet and easy to manage. I have been bitten though, and itís like getting heaps of nee- dles in one hit. They donít have fangs, but lots of small sharp teeth.î While heís not working 10-hour shifts at the mine and tending to his beloved pythons, Russell, who boasts being a real outdoor per- son, likes to load Mel and the kids into the car and head out fishing/camping.

By Vinnie Todd

Photo: Local python breeder Russell Gardner and one of his beloved pets.