Wednesday, June 26

Student chalks up a first in breeding ball pythons

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Kendrick with the mother (left) and the father of the ball python.

FOURTH former Kendrick Angus Tho Wen Hua of Miri is no ordinary student his age.

The 16-year-old from Riam Road Secondary School (RRSS), had already made himself a name at age 13 as the youngest reptile enthusiast to be credited with using the world’s first pairing of different genetic combinations to breed ball pythons (as recorded in WorldofBallPythons.com).

He’s the holder of such a record in Malaysia and his rarest collection is registered under the name of super enchi banana spider — the world’s first.

Worldofballpythons.com is a website where ball python breeders the world over unite and share new combination of genes, also known as morphs.

Each new morph created must be e-mailed to a group of experts with the parents’ pairing, story behind how the snake combination came to mind, all the breeder’s specifics and what genes the breeder thinks are involved in the specific snake in order to confirm the presence of each gene.

“Breeding the ball python successfully with the world’s first pairing of different genetic combinations python is the biggest achievement and one of the greatest moments of my life as a reptile enthusiast since I started at 10,” Kendrick told thesundaypost at the Pet Show of the 18th Miri Trade Fair (Mitraf 18), organised by See Hua Marketing Sdn Bhd in collaboration with Bintang Megamall.

Feeding an Argentina red tegu gecko with a grape.

A total of 118 booths (including outdoor ones) showcased various products and services.

 

How it started

Kendrick said he was first exposed to snakes and other reptiles as a toddler when his mother, psychologist Dr Adeline Wong, the Dean of Staff & Student Affairs at Curtin University Malaysia, would bring back non-poisonous snakes in empty mineral water bottles.

As the snakes were safe to handle, he would sit fascinated for hours, watching their movements. This would happen many times over the years with different types of snakes caught and then released back to the wild.

His 10th birthday present was a normal ball python as it was felt, at the time, he was ready to handle reptiles responsibly with supervision.

Four newly laid eggs of a ball python.

Gradually, his collections grew to 22 snakes of various genetic combinations.

Kendrick self-studied genetics since age 10. Books were sourced for him from the US and he made friends with fellow snake breeders in Malaysia who eventually became his mentors.

During family holidays abroad, he would search for breeders in advance and learn from the experts. With what he had studied, he began looking for pythons with specific genetic combinations, hoping to create a world’s first and he did it in 2015.

 

Advancement and connections

Kendrick’s collections of reptiles have since extended to include a tegu (lizard), a tortoise, pacman frogs, axolotl (‘walking fish’ — amphibian), bearded dragons and leopard geckos (new in Malaysia).

He continues to breed snakes and recently produced another clutch of four eggs, taking the total to nine over the last two years.

Two different species of Leopard gecko.

He sees himself following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Stephen Wong, who owns a farm, ‘surrounded by everything he’s passionate about’.

Kendrick said he would not have come this far without the support of his family, especially his father, Philip Tho Ken Hock.

“My family have supported me morally and financially all the way, bringing me around the world to visit and learn from my mentors.

“These pets are not cheap — the parents of my world record ball python cost RM5,000 (mother) and RM12,000 (father) and I sold the enchi banana spider for RM12,000. It costs about RM1,000 for food, supplies and upkeep every month. I owe my success to my family.”

He said his love for animals deepened after learning about their characters and getting up close with them, adding that ‘they are so adorable and not fierce — unlike what you see in the movies’.

The albino hedgehog which sleeps mostly during the day is among the pets for public viewing.

“My goal is to spread this message to the public — that these animals are beautiful and I’m glad that my schoolmates — Kish Kong and Moses Kho — have started caring for some of the pets,” he added.

 

Challenges

According to Kendrick, there are many challenges in keeping reptilian pets. Besides finance, knowledge on breeding and caring has to be constantly updated.

Climate, humidity levels and temperatures are ideal in Malaysia and  breeding seasons mean the snakes have to be boosted to reach ideal breeding weight to meet the correct timing.

Once the eggs are laid, they must be separated from the mother to ensure safe and accurate incubation temperatures.

The eggs will be placed in a container above a substrate with accurate and proper humidity levels. The incubation period will usually go on for about 60-75 days.

A non-poisonous tarantula at the Pets Show.

The number of days may vary, going by the conditions of the eggs. Usually, once the eggs look deflated, it’s safe to slit open a small portion to ensure the baby snake can get out safely without drowning in the yolk.

Kendrick explained: “Some snakes are born weak or with defects that result in them having difficulty getting out of their eggs. We also slit the egg open to check if the snake is alive. Some snakes develop till their final form but are just not fit to survive. Although slitting the egg is optional, most breeders do it to ensure a higher survival rate.”

He noted one of the challenges was not being able to travel abroad worry-free as it would be difficult to get someone to help look after the snakes although with more friends interested, they could assist.

“Theses pets are generally easy to look after and caring for them does not interfere with my studies. In fact, it will help me achieve my vision to someday become a successful herpetologist (a zoologist who studies reptiles and amphibians.”

Several of his schoolmates, including Kish and Moses, concurred with him, aspiring, as he is, to become herpetologists and keep their pets both as hobbies and income sources.

Visitor Norhamizah Khairuddin (right) overcomes her fear to hold the ball python for the first time in her life.

The Pet Show themed ‘Wild Friends’ of RRSS students was organised by Kendrick and 23 other schoolmates and animal enthusiasts.

Teacher in-charge Leong Hong Kit said the animals presented at the show were largely from the python family which is not poisonous.

Others included albino hedgehog, Argentina red tegu, red stripe emerine, frogs such as four spots albino patternless pacman frog and strawberry pacman frog, tarantula, scorpions and a variety of lizards.

The show allowed the students to showcase their pets, encouraged them to take up a hobby and inculcated patience and love for animals.

 

Kendrick (front row, second left) and Leong (back row, right) with some of the students who helped organise the Pet Show. — Photos by Cecilia Sman and Kendrick Toh.