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Photo Credit: Courtsy of Zada Brooks

Q&A: Student Share Insight On Owning Exotic Animals

The Crimson Crier: What pets do you personally own?

Z: I personally own a Pacman frog, a western toad, two whites tree frogs, a gargoyle gecko, a leopard gecko, a Malaysian giant river toad, three blue death-feigning beetles, and a colony of dairy cow isopods. 

Zada Brooks: Has taking care of all of your animals taught you valuable life skills, if so which?

CC: Taking care of my own animals has taught me that time management is really important. I need to be aware of my animals’ needs and be able to provide for them when it is needed. Balancing this, a job, and AP classes can be a lot but never will I let it lead to a bad life for my pets. I view getting a pet as a commitment and am constantly looking for ways to improve my care for my pets. With this in mind, looking into the amount of time that a pet needs to be cared for properly is really important when considering getting any sort of animal. Having pets has also really increased my responsibility. It has allowed me to be able to expand my worldview to the needs of other things around me, whether it be animals or people.  

CC: What encouraged your family to start an exotic animal + art business?

Z: Animal Trax itself has been a business for around 15 years, but my family has owned it for six of those years and continues to own it to this day. We were first introduced to this place because my sister had two guinea pigs that had babies. After this my mother began to work here and began to love working with the animals. About six years ago the original owner decided to get out of the business and my mother was fortunate enough to be able to buy the business and carry on the work we do here. 

CC: What do you do to help work at the shop?

Z: A lot of working with animals is cleaning. While this is not necessarily a thrilling task, it allows me to keep all of the animals in a clean environment where they will thrive and be able to live happily. I also help feed all of the animals as well as educating customers on how to properly care for animals that they may be interested in getting. 

CC: What are some misconceptions people have about exotic animals?

Z: A lot of people have misconceptions that they are scary, easy to care for, or bad pets. There are many disconnects for people who attempt to compare dogs to having exotic pets. A lot of exotic animals are not going to be the cuddly type, in fact there are many that are mostly non-handleable. Another big misconception is that exotic animals do not have personalities. They really do and it is very fun to see the different animals and how they act compared to others. 

CC: For the stereotypically frightening animals you guys have, for example spiders and snakes, what makes them not intimidating?

Z: For the animals that many people find frightening it’s a matter of respecting and understanding the animal’s space. The general truth about animals is that they are not going to attack unless they are provoked. I will admit that when I first started working at Animal Trax there were animals that I was uneasy around; however, the more I was around spiders, roaches, and many of the other bugs, I built a sort of respect for them. It allowed me to extend my understanding to things that I, before, may have been creeped out by. For me, thinking about the roles those animals can play in the wild helps me to cherish all the animals I come into contact with. That being said, there are many animals that have bitten me but the important thing to remember about that is it is often a mistake on my part. Animals tend to only bite in circumstances where they are scared or ready for mealtime. 

CC: Which animal is the most time consuming to take care of?

Z: While bearded dragons are one of the most popular exotic animals, I would argue that they are the most time consuming to take care of. Bearded dragons eat roughly every day, whether that be bugs or veggies, and need to be soaked in water at least once a week. This on top of weekly cleaning and handling can be a lot. 

CC: What are your favorite animals?

Z: My favorite exotic animals tend to lean towards frogs and geckos. I particularly love knob-tail geckos and whites tree frogs. 

CC: Where do you get your animals from?

Z: There are a few different places we get animals from to sell at Animal Trax. Most of our animals come from local breeders, animals we breed ourselves, or rehoming situations. There are certain animals that we do not have local breeders for or the proper resources to breed ourselves such as frogs. With frogs we get them from a widely trusted online breeder called Josh’s Frogs. As far as rehoming goes, this results from people who unfortunately cannot continue to care for their animal(s). This gives us a chance to find new homes for these animals where they will continue to be loved and cared for. 

CC: Can you explain how important it is for an animal to have a habitat that is able to let them thrive?

Z: Different animals have very different needs in regards to habitats. A bearded dragon will need a more dry, warm habitat than that of a tree frog. If you are not keeping your animal in the proper conditions, not only are they more likely to get sick, they are not going to live the full extent of their life. Meeting those needs is a huge part of being a pet owner. One of the biggest problems faced here is the lack of space many people provide their animal with. Researching the animal you intend to get will provide you with the minimum space required for that animal.However, I always like to encourage more than the minimum. I often compare this to being a person with living requirements. As people we could live in a small one room house, but that is often not the ideal scenario. Providing a spacious habitat with plenty of engagement for your animal can really do wonders for your animal’s health. 

CC: What are your favorite parts of exotic pet care?

Z: There are many good aspects to working in exotic pet care. One of my favorite parts is that I get to inform and help others provide the right care for their animals. There is almost always room for improvement and helping people find those improvements and plan out the best way to execute it really is rewarding. Another thing I really enjoy is constantly learning new information about the animals I get to care for. It provides a constant source of learning for me where I get to share that knowledge with the people around me. 

CC: If there is advice you can give to new exotic animal owners, what would you input?

Z: My biggest advice would be to do your own research. While it is true that there are often people at pet stores that can provide you with information, certain places do not have reliable information or the time to get all of their employees trained on the different animals. I spend a lot of my personal time looking into the animals we keep and how to better their care or looking into any new animals we may get from someone. When looking at online information it is necessary to compare sources. There are sources out there that will give outdated information. However, if you cross reference sources there are going to be overlaps in the information and more often than not that is the reliable information. It is a good idea to read about the necessary care for the animal as well as to watch youtube videos to get ideas on housing. If there is anything people mess up on, it is the housing that the animal lives in. It is also very important to note that getting little kids’ pets to take care of all by themselves is a horrible idea and will most likely lead to animal neglect. If you are going to get a child a pet it is important to be committed to taking care of this pet yourself if needed and checking that the animal is having its needs met. 

CC: If you have an ideal job/future occupation you desire, what is it, and is it different from where you work now?

Z: My ideal future job is to be a zoologist. I would love to work with big cats but am pretty open to working with all sorts of different animals. This goal lines up with where I work now pretty well. I have always been able to connect to animals very easily and form bonds with them. 

CC: What are your parents favorite exotic animals?

Z: With regards to my family, the business is mostly family owned and operated. We do have one person who works here that is not related to us but she is a vital part of the team. My mother is the owner and deals with ordering stock as well as animal care. Her favorite exotic animals are boa constrictors. My step father is more over the financial aspect of the business however his favorite animal is our ferret that lives at the shop. My older sister also works here and she is basically the manager. She oversees that everything runs smoothly and is clean as well as making sure all the needs of the animals are met. Her favorite exotic animals are gargoyle geckos and red foot tortoises. 

CC: Can you share some random fun facts about the animals you take care of?

Z: Only male frogs will croak. Female tarantulas live, on average, 13 years longer than male tarantulas do. The third largest tortoise in the world is the sulcata tortoise, also known as the african spurred tortoise, and can live around 100 years and weigh up to 110 lbs. Boa constrictors can get up to 13 feet long, weigh 100 pounds, and live around 30 years. There are roughly 12 species of New Caledonian geckos some of these being the crested gecko, gargoyle gecko, leachianus gecko, and the chahoua gecko. 

CC: What were some trials and tribulations you had, (if any) while taking care of your animals?

Z: One of the biggest tribulations that I have dealt with is mostly just becoming comfortable with the bugs. When I first started getting involved, I was not a bug person at all; however, since then I have owned a pet mantis and now own three beetles and a colony of isopods. Another thing that I have had to get used to is getting scratched and bitten. These little injuries are almost never the animals’ fault and often have to do with them being hungry or scared. As far as scratching goes, there are several animals that we have to trim the nails off to keep them short. However, occasionally we do get scratched but it is usually small scratches that do not produce any harm. 

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