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No reptile dysfunction

Show attracts hundreds to see, touch, buy critters

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Kim Johnson gets eye-to-eye with one of her tarantulas at the Manitoba Reptile Breeders Expo held at the Victoria Inn Sunday. She and her husband, John, own 180 different kinds of the hairy giant spider.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Kim Johnson gets eye-to-eye with one of her tarantulas at the Manitoba Reptile Breeders Expo held at the Victoria Inn Sunday. She and her husband, John, own 180 different kinds of the hairy giant spider. Photo Store

Wind and rain made it easy for parents and children to scale back their outdoor activities Sunday and make a cold-blooded decision to view reptiles instead.

Hundreds of families made their way to the Victoria Inn and Convention Centre on Wellington Avenue, where breeders set up displays for exotic snakes, geckos, tortoises, tarantulas and even crabs.

"I'm not a big snake fan," confessed Crystal Ringach, holding her 18-month-old daughter Faith Waltham in her arms.

Little Faith was clearly fascinated, showing she wasn't creeped out by the sinuous, coiled creatures.

The toddler reached out and eventually tried to crawl onto a clear plastic display case, finally getting close and personal with a sleepy Brazilian rainbow boa constrictor.

Then she wanted more, grabbing her mom's smartphone and training it on the snake.

"See it?" asked her mom coaching her tiny daughter in how to get a shot.

"She's just shooting everything," her mother laughed as the tiny daughter kept clicking the shutter over the boa.

The family, like others who streamed into the Manitoba Reptile Breeders Expo Sunday, were led mostly by kids, eager to see touch and in some cases buy a snake or a lizard.

The Ringach-Waltham family was on a pet-buying mission.

"We have a cat but my boys want a pet that's their own," Ringach said. A family trip to Petland turned her son, Ethan, 10, into a snake fan, and the family was looking for snake to take home.

The animals aren't slimy. Their skin is hard and dry like a leather purse and they rarely bite, even the hand that feeds them, breeders said.

Kim Johnson was always an animal lover and a challenge from her husband one day eight years ago turned the couple into something they never bargained for.

"We were walking into a pet store," Johnson said. "My husband asked me if I wanted a snake. I'm not a snake person so then he said to me, 'I'll make you a deal, as long as you don't have any other animals, you can get as many spiders as you like.' "

That day the couple walked out of the store with a Texas brown tarantula. They now have 180 different kinds of the giant, hairy spiders and a cheeky Facebook site called "A crazy spider lady."

"They're beautiful creatures. Each one has its own personality and I like the uniqueness of them," Johnson said. She's named every one of them, too.

Kim's husband John shook his head, chuckling he never could have guessed they'd turn this much "tarantula." "That's an understatement," he said. He'd been nipped by one of the couple's tarantulas Sunday. They're not poisonous, he added.

He showed off a pin-prick puncture hole on the fleshy mound between his thumb and the rest of his hand.

It looked pinkish and slightly swollen.

About 700 to 1,000 people turn out for these annual events. This year will see breeders mount a second expo this fall on Oct. 4-5.

"There are usually lots of kids. Kids love this stuff," said Winnipeg organizer Casey Trizpit, who specializes in Australian pythons under the name Winnipeg Reptiles.

With an entry fee of $10 per adult and no charge for kids under 12, the expo functions as a promotional event, not a money-maker.

Sometimes it's more fun watching the reactions of adults at the events.

Trizpit said the most extreme reaction came from a hotel worker who wandered into the ballroom after the breeders set up their displays.

"She started screaming and ran out," Trizpit said. "Not everyone reacts like that."

Breeding snakes and lizards started out as a hobby for Trizpit and grew into business, as it did for most of the 16 breeders at the expo Sunday.

The appeal of reptiles is the same as it is for cats and dogs, Trizpit said.

"It's like any other pet. Some people like dogs. Some like cats but they can't keep them... and there are no allergenic issues with these," Trizpit said, gesturing to the hundred or so snakes and reptiles he brought to the show.

Oh, that Day-Glo green gecko on the TV commercial for Geico Insurance? Trizpit says it's a real gecko from Madagascar known as a giant day gecko.

The biggest animal on display was his, a black-headed Australian python, he keeps under a city permit for exotic animals. It was 21/2 metres long and encased in a large aquarium.

Breeders said Winnipeg is not the reptile-loving city that Toronto and Calgary are and this city has some of the most reptile-restrictive bylaws in Canada.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 14, 2014 B1

History

Updated on Monday, July 14, 2014 at 6:53 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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