An exotic pets enthusiast talks about his collection.

“I find that it’s relaxing and fascinating, and cool to the eyes,” says Geof Gonzales, 40 years old. This marketing management graduate from Davao is referring to his love for exotic pets—specifically, his reptiles. Geof is just one of the enthusiasts who trooped to Reptile X, the exotic pet showcase recently held at the World Trade Center.

With fanatical zeal and passion, he rattles off his reptile collection. “I have: ball python, carpet python, Brazilian rainbow boa, leucistic Texas rat snake, corn snake, albino Burmese white lipped python, and a local retic. I also have: frog-eyed gecko and leopard gecko.”

Indeed, he’s a dyed-in-the-wool exotic pet fanatic. With a big farm in the province producing cacao, coffee, and coconut, he has no problem in housing his strikingly, excitingly, or mysteriously unusual animals. “To be not only a keeper but a breeder of my reptilian friends is interesting. It’s an educational experience to have them. You have to know their genetics, behavior, and temperament. You have to do intensive research,” he gestures showing off his tattooed right arm with the design of their family’s coat of arms or crest: turkey feathers, a dove, and an oak tree. “Keeping these pets [gives] me an emotional high like the happiest moment in 2015, when I bred a bearded dragon, the sole survivor from the eleven eggs. It was like a Christmas gift which is to be opened on Valentine’s Day,” he says referring to the happy and excited feeling of anticipation he gets from his hobby.

“But I also experienced the saddest moment when my land tortoise, a sulcata named Speedy Gonzales, died after a sudden change of weather. [It was like it was vulnerable to alimuom or vapor rising from the ground] when the temperature rose after the rain. This tortoise is the largest of its species. But when I bought it for Php10,000 months back, it was only three inches. Their kind is sensitive to weather changes,” Geof, an active member of the Davao group Indie Exotic Keeper (IEK), says.

Has he ever been bitten by his snakes? He laughs and says in Filipino that if you’ve never been bitten, you aren’t a keeper yet. “They are mildly venomous, though. It costs less [to keep] these pets. I just feed them pinkies or mice or albino lab rats, the white mice variety.” Pointing to the compartmentalized aquarium exhibits, he comments, “We use aspen shavings and not ordinary sawdust for the beddings or substrates. It’s not acidic and it’s chemical-free. The exotic pet showcase displays a wide variety of snakes in beautiful patterns and colors—banded, speckled, and striped; yellow, black, white, gray, orange, and brown. They also have colorful names like corn snake, fluorescent reverse motley, sun-kissed, caramel motley, nelson milk snake albino, creamsicle motley, and eastern chain king snake, to name a few.”

The bachelor from Davao seems engaged and ardently absorbed in his cold-blooded friends forever. “I have a fiancée, and she is very supportive [of] my exotic interest. But she’s into dogs,” Geoff says, laughing out loud. “But whatever pet animals you have, the bottom line is to be a responsible pet owner,” he says seriously as a parting shot.

This appeared in Animal Scene’s March 2016 issue.