By Scott Wesley
Gary Bagnall is the owner and founder of Zoo Med Laboratories and has a wide range of interests which we will dive into this month!
1. You got started in the reptile business at the ripe age of 19 in 1977. What are the major differences you see in today’s reptile culture versus in the 1980’s?
****When I started importing reptiles in the late 1970’s we did not have a huge domestic source of captive raised animals. In fact, approximately 80% were wild caught with maybe 20% or less obtained from captive breeders. Today the opposite is true with fewer direct live reptile importers and a huge amount of captive bredreptiles on the market.
2. One of the things we commonly say and hear is – you can’t have captive bred without wild caught. Having started Cal Zoo back in the 80’s – do you still see the same importance and need in the importation of wild caught reptiles to support and help further the reptile hobby today?
****Absolutely! People who raise the “captive raised” flag as the be-all end-all of reptiles you should own are short sighted. 1.) Where do you think your original animals came from. 2.) You need “wild” stock to add back to the captive gene pool or you eventually get recessive traits like what are currently showing up in some captive bearded dragons and leopard geckos, and last, 3.) Without wild imports we eliminate the chance to get new species which really drives this hobby.
3. I have seen some of the historic fish tanks you collect. Is this still a hobby of yours, and what is your favorite / most prized one?
****I started working in pet shops at the age of 11 (Russo’s Wonderful World of Pets, Fashion Island, Ca.) so my love of pet keeping runs deep. I collect everything that has to do with historic pet keeping including antique aquariums and terrariums. My favorite is probably my 900 gallon Matson Aquarium made of bronze with metal frogs, salamanders, and various fish in “relief” over the metal casting. This aquarium originally sat at the Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco from about the 1920’s through 1960’s.
4. You have traveled the world looking for reptiles. Can you recall what the coolest or most uniquereptile you ever saw / found in the wild was and where?
****I traveled to Western Samoa and met the king of Samoa to get permits to export Pacific Island Boas and Coconut Crabs (worlds largest hermit crab). It was amazing getting to know the Samoan people and their culture which is extremely friendly. We kept a days’ worth of collected coconut crabs in a wooden outhouse and they chewed through the door by morning and escaped! (they eat coconuts in the wild.) I also traveled to Egypt and brought back the first Uromastyx aegyptia plus was the company that brought in the first 4 albino boa constrictors into the U.S. I miss all the travel but if you want to keep your wife happy you have to give it up at some point.
5. You have always been passionate about reptile laws. Do you feel like we are now on the right track with USARK and will eventually see a more fair representation at the state and federal level?
****This is a big question. I think USARK is the best ammunition we currently have against fighting major anti-reptile keeping laws but people need to understand that politics is complicated and it is not always “what is right for the animal” but sometimes an unfair economic or political factor will come in play. Andrew Wyatt (USARK President) understands Washington (D.C.) and the current lobbyist hired by USARK is the best one I have ever met. The best way to win against these unfair laws is to have a strong representative for thereptile industry in Washington (USARK) and the power of the internet. Washington and the animal rights people are afraid of public opinion in huge numbers via the internet so don’t forget you have a voice, but make sure it is a unified one through the USARK channel. Also, register in your town as an “animal stakeholder” and request that any city laws being proposed on animals/pet keeping that you are notified.
6. Many out there in the reptile world start the business out of their garage (just like we did at LLLReptile). What made you take the leap from your garage to forming Cal Zoo, and eventually Zoo Med?
****I think I’m a little ADD (can’t sit still) and my love of animals just naturally turned into a business that grew. There is a saying in business that you are either going down or up but flat is not possible. I have never had a down year in my 35 years of owning my own business, thanks to a bunch of very talented people I surround myself with.
7. Was Zoo Med the first company to produce and distribute a calcium for reptiles? How did you come across that product?
****Zoo Med was the first company to manufacture a reptile vitamin (Reptivite) which was originally developed for the San Diego Zoo. I was good friends with the person who developed the product and sold it through Cal Zoo originally. Our proudest accomplishment though was our invention of the first UVB lamp forreptiles in 1993 which was a game changer in how reptiles are kept in captivity.
8. Was there ever a reptile that came in back in the day that was maybe overlooked or undervalued at the time – but now is something special (i.e a piebald, leucistic or anery something or other)?
****In my Cal Zoo days we imported thousands of ball pythons, boas, all kinds of reptiles and amphibians. We occasionally had shops come by and pick out a strange color morph of snake or lizard but we never thought anything about this because we were too busy running the business. A livestock business is an 80 hour a week business and I always said you can import or breed reptiles but you can’t do both. It amazes me how a new industry grew that did not exist 15 years ago from unusual color or patterns (or both) of many species of snakes. So did one great color morph get away? I’m sure of it!
9. Possibly the best product to ever come out of Zoo Med is the Repti Sun 5.0 Bulb. This bulb revolutionized the industry, and is STILL the industry standard today when it comes to UV bulbs. What goes into the research and development, and is the 5.0 bulb the same today as it was 19 years ago when it was released?
****We brought my nephew Shane Bagnall on board about 8 years ago and he is a biologist/engineer who formally worked at the prestigious Salk Institute in San Diego. Shane has worked with some of the best UV engineers in the world plus Shane brought control of the actual phosphors we use to make many of these lamps “in-house”. The Reptisun 5.0 was originally made in the United States but we moved the production to Germany about 15 years ago because the manufacturing equipment was better there, hence a better lamp. We truly believe in quality and this is why we make the majority of our UVB lamps in Germany or Japan. Our compact fluorescent UVB lamps are the only ones we make in China but we source and blend the phosphors in Japan which no other company does. The problem with UVB lamps is there is no good, better, best on the pet shop shelf, there is only “works” or doesn’t work, so don’t be fooled by the inexpensive Chinese made brands.
10. If you could choose one thing to change about the reptile hobby – what would that be and why?
****The best thing that could happen to the reptile hobby is the end of the endangered species act and roll this outdated piece of legislation into C.I.T.E.S. where it belongs. A good example is our government is currently considering adding the spotted, wood and blandings turtles to the endangered species act. What this means is that everyone who owns these turtles currently will no longer be able to sell them out of state or export them. If instead they went from appendix 2 CITES to appendix 1 then the captive offspring from your animals would be legal to sell anywhere you chose. We need a USFWS that stops looking at all reptilebreeders as criminals and starts encouraging trade based on captive breeding which helps to prevent smuggling in the end!