Paul Collier, owner/operator of Earth Echoes Reptile Centre, takes us inside his lizardly lair to explain the benefits and challenges of reptile-pet ownership, and to show off his deep stock of chameleonic creatures. Come in, if you dare...
Like many who find themselves working in a highly specialized and somewhat esoteric field, Paul Collier, owner/operator of Earth Echoes Reptile Centre (1192 Bloor St. W.), has been interested in his preferred subject matter for as long as he can remember. “I was always interested in reptiles, but information when I was young was not as plentiful as it is now, so they were always more of a foreign thing,” he says. “Small animals really interested me more than the big animals—I like the intricacies of the little animals.”
Although Collier didn’t actually have a proper store-bought lizard of his own until he was nine years old, he found other ways to feed his curiosity early on. “I used to find snakes down at the Humber River. I used to put the snakes together and a lot of the time they would breed… I used to let them breed and then let them go. I always felt like I was doing a service in that way, like a matchmaker—that ‘hook up’ was helpful for them.”
This affinity for matchmaking in the reptile world continued into Collier’s 20s, when he found himself the proud owner of three veiled chameleons, which ultimately proved to be the foundation of his present enterprise. “They lay pretty large numbers of eggs,” he says, “so I had to find places to sell them and I started to sell them to wholesalers. To date, I’ve bred almost 10,000 veiled chameleons and it allowed me to get to know everybody in the industry, just because they needed chameleons—they’re not a very common thing. I got more involved in it and followed up on my connections that I made and generated it into a store.”
Collier believes that reptiles make an ideal city pet. “They’re a very civilized, simple alternative to having cats and dogs,” he says, explaining that they require no walks, they’re not expensive to feed and demand much less attention than a furry friend; “they’re fairly durable, even if you don’t get to them for a day.”
Despite what you may think, a lizard can actually interact with its owner in a way not unlike a cat or a dog. While at first the connection might just be a matter of cold-blooded -vs.-warm-blooded physiology—”they like the warmth that you’re providing for them in handling,” says Collier—over time this can result in a real bond, as they become “familiar with your scent” and, in fact, “come to you if they recognize your voice.”
Collier’s testimonials stand in opposition to the more widespread view of reptiles, especially snakes, as dangerous and aggressive animals. “Most of the misconceptions we run into is about their maliciousness and stuff like this,” says Collier. “People tend to think that snakes are malicious but, really, snakes are just frightened little animals that need to be understood, supported properly if they’re being held and approached a certain way, so that you can make it feel at ease.”
To get started, it’s probably best to go small and easy, in which case Collier would recommend a gecko. “They’re really good little starter lizards,” he says. “They’re nocturnal, they’re not demanding for UVB, which is natural sunlight; it makes them really simple.” A gecko and a full starter kit will come in at under $200.
However, do keep in mind that, just as with any other pet, reptile ownership is still a serious responsibility. For this reason, Collier keeps a number of full-grown reptiles on hand. “It is a lot about education,” he says. “[Buyers] should know the scope of what the animal turns into as an adult.” There’s also the question of just how long you’re going to be responsible for your new little pal. While there is a quite a range to reptile aging, the commitment is still rather significant. “The lifespan of a leopard gecko is about 20 years plus,” says Collier, while “a chameleon will live three to eight years.”