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Local snake expert says recent tragedy an opportunity to educate

Story by John R. Moodie


In light of the recent death of two New Brunswick boys local snake dealer Mark Mandic feels people need to be better informed about snakes.

“I just hope people don’t vilify the industry. Just because some people act irresponsible,” said Mandic.

Last Saturday, Campbellton, N.B. police were called to a residence where a snake strangled Noah Barthe, 5, and Conner Barthe, 7.

The boys were sleeping over at a friend’s house where the attack occurred. The home where the attack took place was over a pet store.

Overnight the snake escaped from its enclosure and made its way upstairs to the bedroom where the boys were sleeping.

Despite his concerns about how the recent event will affect business, Mandic said this was an incredibly tragic situation.

Mandic has been a snake dealer since 1999. After purchasing his daughter a pet snake, he realized there was an untapped market in selling snakes.

“It was actually my daughter who wanted a pet snake because she was allergic to fur and she couldn’t have a cat or a dog,” said Mandic.

Mandic sees reptiles as the fastest growing pet market. He said the growing market has a lot to do with the popularity of wildlife shows.

“I think it all started with Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter. When you look at it all those kids that were watching his show are now teenagers and young adults,” said Mandic.

Mandic specifically deals with ball pythons. He says a ball python will grow no more than 1.2 meters. In contrast the African rock python can grow up to five meters.

“We are all about responsible pet ownership. In owning species that pose no risk,” said Mandic. “When you’re dealing with something as big as that it’s a problem. It’s a big issue.”

Bry Loyst, curator of the Indian River Reptile Zoo near Peterborough, Ontario, said that the “African rock python is not safe to own as a pet.”

Loyst has been recruited by the New Brunswick Natural Resources Department to sort out the various reptiles, from the New Brunswick pet store, for relocation.

Loyst said that there is no policy in place that can deal with the rising popularity of reptiles as pets.

Currently policy concerning exotic pets is decided at the municipal level. This means policies vary significantly with each municipality.

Belleville bylaws ban all pythons and the boa constrictors.

“We sell ball pythons and on occasion the common boa, but we don’t sell anything that is super exotic,” said Brook Cailes, Thurlow, Pet Smart manager.

Cailes said it is important that pet owners have secure enclosures for snakes, “Especially for when snakes get bigger.”

“My personal opinion would be I wouldn’t be keeping snakes unless you’re a zoo or you are someone who is really qualified to keep a snake of that size,” said Cailes.

Cailes said she thinks snakes are a misunderstood species.

“I get a lot of people that are terrified of snakes. I find them very peaceful and friendly when they are cared for properly,” said Cailes.

Mandic feels the key to responsible snake ownership is in public awareness.

Mandic said this is an opportunity to educate the public.

“This gives me the opportunity to further educate the public and hopefully pave the way for more responsible ownership.”