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The Buyers Guide to Buying a Ball Python

The following is the transcript of a speech I gave in a college oral communication class I was taking in Spring 2002.

 Presented by: Chip Carter 

            Imagine if one day you go out and buy a golden retriever puppy.  You buy all the things a dog needs and you bring it all home.  You have a happy new member of the family.  The very next day you awake to find your puppy on deaths door.  Confused you call back the pet store where you bought it and they arent will to do anything.  You spend all day trying to find a veterinarian with experience with golden retrievers.  Before the day is over your poor little puppy is dead.

            You can imagine how devastated someone could be over the loss of his or her new pet.  Well this very thing happens all the time with new ball python owners.  All because the made poor choices in the snake they bought and where they bought it.  My goal is to inform you how to find a healthy ball python, and to ensure that you never have to experience the loss that I myself have experienced.

            These are my five easy steps to buying a ball python:  number one research, number two find a breeder or a store that specializes in reptiles, number three, inspect the facility for overall cleanliness, number four examine the animal for general health, and number five, be wary of advice.

            It is important that before you decide to buy a ball python that you spend some time doing research and learning as much as you can.  First you should determine the ball pythons basic requirements.  There are books written and hundreds of websites devoted to the ball python.  Next find out what the average prices are in your area.  This is so that you know what to expect to pay before you go to make your purchase.  If the price is considerably lower than expected there is probably a good reason for it and should be a warning flag.  It would probably also be a good idea to check out your local laws.  Many cities have laws against exotic or large snakes, however these rarely apply to ball pythons.  Lastly, you need to find a local veterinarian with experience in reptiles.  It is a very good idea to do this before you run into problems.  These vets are few and far between.

            Next you need to find a breeder or someone who specializes in reptiles.  A good way to do this would be to contact you local herpetological society.  This is a group of amateur herpetologists.  They should be able to direct you to reputable breeders dealers in your area.  If that doesnt work you can also try looking in the phone book or searching the Internet.  These last two resources should be used last and not trusted without close inspection.

            Once you locate a place to buy your ball python you should perform an inspection on the facility or store.  You will be able to tell a lot about the health and the potential for survival buy the conditions that it has be bred and/or kept.  Pay close attention to the smell.  Obviously any place with animals will have a smell.  But it should never smell rotten, or have a moldy or stagnant smell.  Then look at all the cages.  The cages should be relatively clean and free of feces.  Next be sure to look at all the animals, not just the one you intend to purchase.  If there are any sign of neglect then do not buy your ball python there.  Finally inquire about the origin of the animals.  Is it captive bred or imported.  Approximately 92,129 live ball pythons are imported into the U.S. every year (Reptiles Magazine).  Imported ball pythons have a lower survival rate and are not as suited to captivity as their captive bred counterparts.  The reason for this is because almost all wild caught snakes carry parasites of some kind, and are brought to the U.S. in very poor conditions.  Their mortality rate is very high, with many dying en route.

            The next step is very crucial.  It is the physical examination of the ball python itself.  These next seven steps are taken from the Ball Python Manual.  Number one, the skin should be relatively clear and free of injuries.  Second, once in your hand a healthy ball python should give a distinct impression of muscle tone.  Third, check inside the mouth for bubbly mucus, a sign of respiratory infection.  Also look for signs of mouth rot, such as the gums covered with a cheesy looking substance.  Fourth, ensure the eyes are free and clear.  If the snake is in shed, both eyes should demonstrate equal levels of opacity.  Fifth, feel for depressed areas along the backbone and collapsed areas along the sides of the body, a sign of broken ribs.  Check the belly for any signs of infection or any damaged or stained scales.  Sixth, examine the vent also known as the cloacae.  Be sure that the anal scale lies flat against the body and is free of any caked or crusty matter, or smeared diarrhea.  The seventh step is to check for external parasites like ticks and mites.  The eighth and last step comes from my own personal experience.  Pay close attention to the snakes behavior.  Defensive postures such as balling and biting in hatchlings is expected.  The tongue should be flicking.  Avoid snakes that just lay limp in your hand.  A snake should not normally be calm the first time you handle it, unless it is a snake that has spent years in captivity.

            The last thing you need to keep in mind when buying a ball python is to be wary of advice.  Some storekeepers tend to suggest unnecessary equipment and supplies.  Or they will recommend an expensive product when a much cheaper alternative is available.

Always remember, just because a person works in a pet shop does not make them an expert.

            Thank you for your time.  Hopefully someone amongst you will be able to use the information I have shared with you today and benefit from.  You just might end up with a lifetime companion as ball pythons have been recorded to live over forty years. 

There is no such thing as a gauranteed healthy Ball/Royal python.  But with the information presented here you can definitley improve your chances.

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