The Reptile Report - In this modern world of “online herping” our focus on individuals tends to zero in on “big names” and those with a strong internet presence. We sometimes forget...
Mastering the Bush — Part 4 of 4
The Reptile Report - And now the conclusion of our four-part series on Kamuran Tepedelen, by Christopher Ransom. If you’ve missed any of them, here are links to each of the earlier installments: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
Mastering the Bush
What Really Happened On Savu
“So a week goes by,” Kamuran continued. “I checked with all my contacts, these villagers and local people who had heard about the search and had been scouring the island. Seven days, and they hadn’t found a single snake. I was looking at a total bust, a wasted week. Then the word came back—the ferry was going to be another day late, it still hadn’t been repaired. So we pressed on. Another night and all the next day.
“Finally, on the last night, after eight full days, a group of natives came rushing back to find me in town. They were yelling and clamoring, taking turns holding up this snake. Was this the one? they asked. Yep. There it was, the Savu python. One single snake, but a huge victory. Now they knew what they were looking for, and where to find more. The connection had been established. The ferry arrived a few hours later and I set up the route, leaving behind contacts and instructions for transport to our farm, where Frank would take over. Then I headed home.”
The Savu python turned out to be a hearty snake, easy to keep and breed. After that key find, Bushmaster acquired the very first permits to export Savu pythons from Indonesia into the U.S., where they flourished in captivity to a degree that essentially closed the export market Bushmaster created and cornered for a few brief years. Such is the trajectory for many wild-caught reptiles, which in the end benefits hobbyists, benefits the trade, and ironically may help to stabilize wild populations.
How many variations of the Savu story have played out over the years, during Kamuran’s quests? Not all are as remote or dramatic, but there are too many to recount here. The larger takeaway helps explain The Bushmaster’s success. Propelled by his love of seeking new creatures and adventures in the bush, he travelled to places few collectors had bothered to search. In doing so, he built a reputable business that has sustained his livelihood and interests for more than two decades.
He also played a significant role in evolving the trade, clarifying and diversifying the vast inventory of niche animals that today’s collectors and breeders take for granted. He has worked with the Department of U.S. Fish & Wildlife to help shape policy governing imports of wild populations, and has been a guest speaker at many symposiums and conferences. Bushmaster herps can be found in the bloodlines of many of the world’s finest reptile collections and zoos. He knows anyone and everyone who has been around in the trade for more than a few years, and the Bushmaster reputation for importing the finest available specimens continues to draw new customers each year.
Exterior shot of the breeding farm Bushmaster Reptiles helped establish in Indonesia.
Interior of the breeding facility in Indonesia, 2015.
All of which makes him a good person to ask . . .
What Does The Future of The Reptile Trade Look like?
“We’re living in a time of increased legislation,” Kamuran said. “Captive breeding will probably remain the face of the industry. More and more countries are becoming conservation-minded, which means there will be less and less wildlife to export, regardless of whether or not the individual species and habitats are threatened. We’ve always tried to work with governments and conservation groups to strike a balance that ensures a healthy future for wildlife and the pet trade, but there are more voices in the room now. The internet has given more people access to exporters and, unfortunately, more of the black market.”
Does all this mean that one day we will see a ban on all imported animals?
“Maybe. But that would be just as bad or worse for the wildlife, because over-regulation can also lead to unsatisfied market demand and more smuggling, the way it was back in the 1960s and 70s. When variety and volume go down, and collections of domestically bred animals begin to dry up, and the black market heats up. You will have homogenization for breeders and their stock. Individual markets for certain animals may collapse, like we are seeing with the ball python market now. Domestically, we are seeing increased regulation of what can be moved around the country, whether it’s wild caught or captive bred. Burmese pythons are a prime example, the bans there for invasive species simply because people aren’t being responsible. Reticulated pythons and anacondas now face the same restrictions. So you could argue there is a balance to be struck. Responsible legislation that keeps the domestic trade healthy and does not encourage the black market.”
What about Bushmaster Reptiles itself? As competition and regulation increase, will you be forced to change your business model? Become a breeder-supplier or diversify in some way?
After some thought, Kamuran sighed. “I don’t have much interest in that. I never wanted to be the biggest, because I always believed that pigs get fat while hogs get slaughtered. I could have built this thing into one of those places that has 30 or 40 employees and has a finger in every pie, trying to hit every angle and survive on sheer volume. But that’s not me. All I ever wanted to do was travel, be exposed to the world and find as many cool animals as I could. That, and pay my bills. Now I have the kids (twin boys, age 12), and it’s harder for me to travel like I used to. I can’t leave my boys for five weeks to get lost in the jungle. But I can imagine a time, when they are all grown up and out on their own, I might wind up selling the business, or just putting it on hold in some way so that I can travel. Travel a lot. I won’t need much. Maybe I’ll sell the house and live out of a backpack for nine months of the year . . . just me and my passport and a little cash to keep me moving . . .
“There are so many cool places to explore, you know? So many places I still want to go.”
Kamuran Tepedelen on a flight from the island of Flores back to Jakarta, February, 2015.
Christopher Ransom is the internationally bestselling author of six novels, and an occasional employee of Bushmaster Reptiles. His first job was at Exotic Aquatics, working for Kamuran, who sold him his first snake at age 11.