Dangerous Unconventional Pets

It has been said that the world is divided into dog lovers and cat lovers. But there are pet lovers who believe cats just don't cut it, and that mutts are, well, mundane.

For some, a rattlesnake feels just right. For others, a turtle is terrific. And there is nothing icky about an iguana to people who love reptiles.

At Glades Herp Farm in Central Florida, there is no shortage of wild and exotic creatures, reptilian or amphibian. Co-owner Rob MacInnes has been in the exotic pet business for 30 years. It's clear he sees beauty where others see beast.

We walk over to the turtle area. MacInnes reaches into a slime-filled bathtub to pick up a 2-foot-long prehistoric-looking turtle with a very ugly head. It is a mata mata.


"These guys are from the Amazon," MacInnes said, as I searched for eyes and nostrils in the odd-looking head. "There's two things that sell in exotic animals: ugly and pretty. It's the in-between stuff that doesn't sell that well."

The turtle opened its mouth and hissed ferociously. I kept my distance. "They throw their heads like that to kind of scare you," he explained.

It works.

In a dirt enclosure, MacInnes picks up a foot-long tortoise with bright red legs, a Bolivian red root, from South America. The redder their feet, the better they sell.

White animals sell well, too. The odd-looking albino snapping turtle is usually covered in green slime, but his white shell means he'll fetch a cool $1,000.

In a good year, MacInnes will see sales of a million dollars. It's a fraction of the $1.6 billion Americans spend buying and caring for these creatures each year, according to the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, the pet industry lobby group in Washington, D.C.

There are more than 5,000 breeders in the United States -- some are little basement operations, others are big businesses.

Some of the reptiles here are imported, others are born on the Glades Herp Farm. MacInnes showed us the simple incubator used to hatch tortoise eggs.

He opens containers filled with eggs a little bigger than a chicken egg. One of the eggs is pierced, and a little tortoise foot pokes through. The turtle hatchlings will sell for $95 each in a few weeks.

But any turtle is downright tame compared to what's around the corner.

Where Venomous Snakes Abound

"This is where we keep all of our venomous snakes," MacInnes explained as he opened the door to the snake house. The room normally remains locked, as required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Every single snake in the room has the ability to kill humans, but that seems to be part of the attraction. The Coral Cobra sells for $400 and the New Guinea Taipan, considered one of the deadliest snakes in the world, goes for $600.

Cassie Sare started volunteering at Glades Herp Farm in April 2007 and was recently hired to work with nonvenomous snakes. It's a far cry from the waffle house where she used to waitress.

"These are too small for me," she said as she handed me a strikingly beautiful Pueblan milk snake. "I like the real big snakes," she said.

There are bigger reptile farms, but Glades Herp boasts it sells more venomous snakes than any other. The Moroccan black cobras sell for $600, deadly venom included.

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