If you're seriously interested in exploring Madagascar with Blue Chameleon Ventures someday, presenting a condensed biographical history of myself is as close as I can come to introducing you to the person leading the tours. Entrusting two to three weeks of your happiness is best done with someone who shares your outlook on life; this will hopefully give you an idea about me.
Ever since I was a child, I've been in awe of the endless beauty and mystery of the natural world. I spent endless hours watching the spiders in the ivy alongside my New Jersey home as they caught and consumed bugs, or watching box turtles capture nightcrawlers (large worms) that I'd toss to them. I've always loved to read, a habit formed by my parents' and godfather's generous contributions of books about anything that captured my fancy at the time; I still have nearly all of those early books about natural history in my home library, along with many thousands of others. National Geographic magazine was another positive influence on me while growing up. In fact, my dream job at the age of 12 was to be one of the people who traveled the globe to write and photograph those magnificent articles.
I had an especially strong childhood fascination with dinosaurs. Upon realizing that they predated me by some 65 million years, I shifted my concentration to studying reptiles and amphibians - "herps". I soaked up every speck of information I could find about them through every opportunity to visit zoos and museums, and from books and TV (Wild Kingdom's Marlin Perkins was the man!). Most of all, I loved roaming the woods in search of snakes and turtles in their natural habitats, ignoring bribes from my grandmother to stay closer to home "to avoid falling in quicksand". My earliest adventures centered around Sayreville, New Jersey, USA where I grew up. Finding, observing, and capturing animals was always my greatest thrill, although I also maintained many of the specimens that I caught in captivity temporarily.
My family’s move to Jensen Beach on the lower east coast of Florida in November 1971 (shortly before my 16th birthday) was like delivering me to a tropical paradise! I quickly learned how to abscond into the woods next to Martin County High School between classes by following some new friends who went there to smoke. The first day there, I spied a black snake sliding off into the thicket as we approached. I never did acquire the smoking habit; my occasional "cigarette breaks" thereafter were merely excuses to explore the woods! Exploring all of my new home state's natural diversity, on foot and by car, soon evolved to preoccupy every spare moment during my teens.
I bought my first 35mm camera in 1975, permanently adding a pleasant and more challenging new dimension to my love of wildlife - capturing it on film. With my camera always in tow, I soon progressed to exploring the whole United States on many solo trips in my Bronco during the mid - late1970s. Wandering through deserts, forests, and swamps in search of adventure and photo subjects soon developed into a lifetime passion. I loved hiking to explore remote canyons, caves, and mountain trails, usually armed with only my camera and a walking stick. After dark on a typical evening, I slowly drove down remote roads, often until the wee hours of the morning, scanning the surface for any nocturnal creatures wandering across or adorning it for some late warmth. Those were the days !
|Me at 20 years of age holding "Snowflake", a pure white (leucistic) eastern diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus), with the weight of her front end balanced on the snake hook in my right hand. Dumb, eh? Hey - I was 20 ! :) She was caught near my home in Florida by construction workers several years earlier and given to me at the suggestion of the local nature center director, who knew me from snake lectures I had given there while still in high school. Raising her taught me much about being careful and responsible (since she was highly venomous). Snowflake lived over 10 years, but never gave birth to any offspring despite physically mating with several normal-colored males over that period.|
I met my future wife, Kathy Libbey, in 1976 while she was operating a mobile educational display called `The Living Jungle'. The exhibit toured the country, setting up inside large indoor shopping malls to spread a positive image of often-maligned reptiles and amphibians ('herps'). This mini-zoo on wheels supported itself solely through voluntary donations from people viewing the classy exhibit after they passed through and asked questions. I became her business partner after meeting when she showed it in southern Florida and needed help. It was a great chance to travel across the USA again, hone my speaking and photography skills, and get an extraordinary glimpse at how the art of herpetoculture (breeding herps in captivity) was transpiring in zoos and in private collections. That "Roads Scholarship" was unsurpassed, I feel, by any that could have been obtained in a school or living in one place at that pivotal time. It also instilled the travel bug in me permanently.
|In 1979, Kathy and I returned to Florida and got married outdoors in a state park; a local yellow rat snake dropped in as Kathy was 'tempting the serpent'. Our initial "farm" was the back bedroom of our first home on two acres outside LaBelle, Florida. The herp breeding collection grew steadily from this humble base. Soon we were breeding many kinds of snakes, and drifted towards specializing in selective breeding for attractive color and pattern morphs in certain species that made the best pets. In 1985 we built a 1200 - square - foot building from scratch to devote purely to reptile and rodent production. The collection soon expanded to fill the space we had for it.|
The name `Glades Herpetoculture' was adopted in 1985 as a business name reflecting our new enterprise, and the fact that we technically lived within the (former) Everglades. Our first annual "Expected Offspring" list was distributed in 1987, and the response was phenomenal! Many of our offered snakes were not readily available on the mass market at that time, so collectors and hobbyists from all over the world were soon finding their way to our door to buy and swap specimens.
By 1989 our need for more room became critical, and we were considering our growth options when I decided to join forces with longtime friend Rob MacInnes to create a full-line reptile dealership. We shortened the name to a less tongue-tying "Glades Herp", and later incorporated it. The business quickly grew to be one of the largest of its kind, offering a greater variety of quality live herps, books, and supplies at one place than anyone else had done previously.
I became particularly involved in photography with the large and diverse selection of photo subjects at my disposal in our shop. Writing evolved into a second sideline from which I now derive great satisfaction and a little income. I've written the monthly question and answer column Herpetological Queries in REPTILES magazine since its inception in 1993, and also contribute sporadic longer freelance articles to it and other magazines like FAUNA, REPTILIA (English), VIVARIUM, REPTILE & AMPHIBIAN, Germany's REPTILIA magazine (they translate it into German for me), etc. More recently, I co-authored The World's Most Spectacular Reptiles and Amphibians (with Bill Lamar), a coffee table book (mainly) of beautiful herps, and The Corn Snake Manual (with my wife Kathy) about the care, breeding, and color & pattern genetics of corn snakes, globally the most popular species of pet snake.
Traveling to exotic lands scouting information about the habitat and climatic conditions of the reptiles and amphibians we were importing (to enhance customers' success in breeding them in captivity) soon became the most pleasurable part of the business of all for me because it fueled those two other pastimes. Madagascar quickly evolved into my favorite destination as continuous good experiences, and a growing familiarity with its terrain and customs made it ever more enjoyable to keep returning. As a result, I have been traveling there regularly, sometimes twice or more annually, since 1991.
I soon broadened my horizons in Madagascar beyond just seeking reptiles and info about them, and started leading ecology / photo safari tours there in 1995. I've now become very well-acquainted with the incredibly diverse fauna, flora, and other aspects of the the island nation. Madagascar's threatened wildlife and ecosystems have also become a major concern to me as I use my photography and writing to heighten awareness of their plight. No place on Earth has given me the enjoyment of discovery and learning like my time there!
BELOW: My motivation to educate people is spurred on by finds like this -- a dead aye-aye hanging in a rural village as an omen to ward off bad luck. That rarely-seen primitive lemur was beaten to death out of unrealistic fears when it wandered into the village the night before.
BELOW: At a rural elementary school in northwestern Madagascar, I'm showing a snake we found the previous day to some very enthusiastic Malagasy children. I've literally adopted that school and visit it with my groups annually now. We bring them much-needed school supplies, and the kids take an hour off class to ask questions, tell us about local wildlife, draw pictures for us, etc. This cultural exchange is one of the highlights of our stays in the region.
Ecotourism, photography, and writing / lecturing are now the primary aspects of my organization / enterprise, Blue Chameleon Ventures, while the snake farming is managed 99% by my wife Kathy under the separate business name CornUtopia. I chose to sell out my herp dealership interests in Glades Herp to my partner Rob MacInnes in 1996, and am now happier (but not necessarily less busy). Rob continues it to this day; check out Glades Herp, Inc. for all kinds of quality captive-bred and imported herps.
We currently live on a wild and natural tract of land east of Ft. Myers, which is on the lower west coast of Florida. Anoles, treefrogs, walking catfish, gopher tortoises, armadillos, indigo snakes, bobcats, alligators, and even occasional eastern diamondback rattlesnakes are seen passing through our little chunk of wilderness from time to time. We have outbuildings on the property for rodent-raising, snake breeding rooms, a workshop for handyman projects, and a modest photo studio for controlled set-up nature photography.
We've been fortunate enough to so far have made our livings doing things that we also find fun and challenging. We both believe in the idea that you succeed best when doing something you really enjoy, taking to heart that phrase out of the song / movie Flashdance - " Take your passion, and make it happen ! ". We like running our own businesses on small, personally manageable scales, and talking directly to people involved in interesting jobs or studies of nature. We approach new ideas open-mindedly, and welcome the opportunity to meet people from diverse cultures and of alternative opinions. Hosting numerous foreign exchange students from France, Russia, Latvia, Brazil, Chile, Ukraine, Argentina, Mexico, etc. has been a frequent joy since the early 1990s.
I live by the philosophy that it's up to me to guide my individual destiny through my own honest efforts and hard work. I abhor people who don't take responsibility for their lives by trying to blame others for the consequences of their own poorly planned actions. Constantly experiencing and sharing new things about the world still really motivates me. "Some people live and learn, others just live" was a quote I often heard my father say while I was growing up; I'll continue to follow that soundly implied advice.
If any aspect of our lives strikes a cord with you, even if you're not ready to zoom off to Madagascar anytime soon, please feel free to get in touch with us.
Sincerely, Bill Love
RETURN TO HOME : www.bluechameleon.org
http://www.cornutopia.com http://www.bluechameleon.org http://www.corn-utopia.com http://corn-snake-cornsnakes-corn-snakes.com/
10 acres next door to us for sale --- see www.alvaparadise.com