Gecko Time had a chance to speak with Paul Allen of Bright Albino. Paul is a breeder primarily of leopard geckos and shares with us his perspective about managing the size and quality of his collection.
On your website (www.brightalbino.com) you detail your history of becoming a gecko breeder. Could you summarize this for us here?
Like most breeders, I’ve had an intense interest in reptiles from a young age. I collected reptiles throughout my childhood and teen years. Once I got out on my own I began to enlarge my collections. I tried a few different species until I landed on geckos. Geckos work well with my space and family constraints (wife says “no snakes”…ha ha). I’ve always said that I’d breed reptiles no matter what, so it’s been fun making a successful hobby out of my passion.
What other leopard gecko morphs do you produce besides albinos and what other reptiles do you breed in addition to leopard geckos?
This season I’ll be focusing on about 15 Leopard Gecko groups. Three of these groups will be non-albino morphs: Dorsal Stripe Tangerines, Redstripes and Halloween Masks. Outside of Leopard Geckos, I’ve started to have success breeding a few Nephrurus species (Levis, Wheeleri, Milii) which I really enjoy and hope to expand a bit. I also keep a small group of Cresteds, a pair of Gargoyle geckos, and a pretty neat trio of fat tails.
Are there any special projects you’re planning that you can let us in on?
Well, I would…if I had any! Since most of my projects are “line bred” I keep pretty open about the genetics. It’s kind of the “what you see is what you get” approach – of course, “what I see” gets a little better each season (on most occasions), so I don’t mind not having special projects. On that note, I am very excited about some of the specific breeders we’ve been able to acquire or produce this season. If all goes as planned we should have some very nice Tangerine Bell Albinos and Redstripe Bell Albinos next season. Kelli Hammack (www.hisss.net) sent me a Bell Albino (hybino) that blew my mind (pictured below). Some of our Bright-line Bells are turning out better than expected now that their adult colors are coming in. I also obtained an amazing Raining Redstripe (Rainwater) Albino from my good friend Albey (www.albeysreptiles.com) to help take our Rainwater projects to the next level. Our hold back Redstripe Bell Albino male is a special gecko and I would say that a few of our Halloween Masks are very unusual looking geckos. The Dark projects are coming along well also, but those will take a while for us. Selective breeding can seem slow, but I’m finding that the payoff is huge if you stick to it.
Oh, I guess I do have one leopard gecko this season I’m real excited about that’s kind of special – an eclipse female that’s proven non-het for Tremper…or anything else! (from Jenn Warren at www.phatgeckos.com) I’m still not sure what I’m going to do with her…but the potential gets me pretty excited. And something else I’m thrilled to be working with this season will be Albino N. Pilbarensis. I’ve been wanting to get those at Bright Albino for years and it’s finally happened!
What is your favorite leopard gecko morph, and why?
Bell albinos. I’ve worked with them for so long and I’ve witnessed such progress through selective breeding. It’d be really hard for me to narrow down my favorite Bell albino morph! Based on appearance, my favorite Bell morph is the Bell Dalmatian (Super Snow Bell Enigma Albino) because of the bright red eyes. I have one male that I just love to look at because his eyes look like they glow. I think certain Radar crosses will soon be my favorites though. But for now, if I had to pick a morph I couldn’t live without…it’d be a tie between Halloween Masks and one of our Tangerine Bells.
What is your gecko facility like and how do you manage the care responsibilities?
Well, it’s hard to even call it a facility! I converted a corner of our garage into my gecko room years ago. Each year I make it a little more like an actual room…but it’s definitely still a corner. The care responsibilities are a huge concern for me. For the past few years I’ve been producing more geckos than I could responsibly care for. I’ve been trying to “cut back” for a long time without much success, but I can finally say that’s changing in 2010. We’ve drastically reduced our collection for a number of reasons – care being one of the top concerns. I’m still amazed by the amount of time involved in properly caring for a sizable collection. I find that if I don’t wake up early in the morning to work in the gecko room then I quickly get behind. So, to keep things a little more sane we’re focusing on a much smaller collection this season. At this point in my life I’m only able to spend about one hour a day in the gecko room doing basic feeding and cleaning chores. Then I take about 4 – 6 hours once a week to do a more thorough cleaning and spend time doing the odd jobs that always seem to come up when working with live animals.
What changes has Bright Albino been going through recently?
Like I said before, we are narrowing our collection in a pretty drastic way. It’s a good thing though! I’ve had to really take a step back and look at the big picture lately. My collection grew so quickly between 2004 – 2007 that before I knew it I was hatching 600-700 geckos in a season. Before having children and a full time job, dealing with that many offspring was feasible for me. But realistically that’s not the case anymore! I decided a few years ago that I wasn’t going to be an “absent dad & husband” just so that I could enjoy a hobby. Also, my job as a Youth Pastor keeps me plenty busy…I’m usually out of town for 4 -6 weeks during the summers. Add to that a household, a busy schedule and life in general…and all of a sudden a hobby I love can become a real burden. I knew I didn’t want to quit the hobby, but something had to change. So, we’ve had to give up a lot of projects and geckos that we didn’t plan to. We’ve chosen to become a small breeder. With this new mindset I feel a whole new sense of appreciation for the geckos and a much clearer direction. We’re working on going back to our roots, I suppose, as we refocus on producing the brightest albinos we can. And the extra time with my family (and reduced stress on me!) is priceless.
You talked about reducing your collection. How did you decide which ones to cut back on and how did you find homes for all the geckos you chose not to keep?
Lots and lots of work! I had to do a lot of soul searching to determine which projects to continue. I went over the geckos, the genetics and the numbers over and over again until I felt like I was going crazy! We do this every season, but this year was a lot more intense. A big key for us was deciding not to do all the crosses we’re used to doing. It’s really tempting to cross a lot of projects each season because the results could be interesting. This year we chose to keep our projects “pure” as much as we’re able. I think the results will show…and I wish I had taken this approach years ago.
Finding homes for the geckos is another story. Personally, this is the most stressful part of the hobby for me lately – not because of the economy or the market, but simply because I over produced. Especially two and three years ago when I had 500+ offspring. I don’t like the feeling that I “have to” sell geckos just to have enough room for next year’s babies or to pay for the food bill. This is a reality of being a breeder, but I’m finding that a smaller collection is already reducing this stress. I hope that selling geckos will soon become something I enjoy again. I really enjoy the interaction with other gecko enthusiasts, especially at shows and making “sales” just isn’t that important to me. Don’t get me wrong – the extra income is very helpful – but for this to be an enjoyable hobby for me I don’t need to be tied up in sales all the time.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m probably more excited about breeding geckos than ever before. With a smaller collection I’m finally able get to know all my geckos. I also feel that I’m able to give them the consistent TLC they deserve as captive animals. I didn’t neglect my geckos before, but I was so busy feeding and cleaning that I never got to sit back and really enjoy them the way I’d like. Also, a smaller collection has allowed me to think more thoroughly about which projects to continue and which pairings could produce the best results. Basically, I feel like a smarter, happier, and more thoughtful breeder by simply reducing the size of my collection. But, it was a huge and difficult task for me to do. I still see geckos and think “wow, I need that gecko”, but then I catch myself and remember what it was like to be one step away from burnout.
My long term goal is to hopefully help create a new trend in the leopard gecko community where certain “lines” and even specific geckos create more of a buzz than the latest genetics do. Perhaps similar to what you might see with a champion sire AKC dog. This year we’ve selected only 15 males to carry on our projects. That’s a huge difference from years past when we had 30 – 45 males to pair with 120 – 150 females. The number of geckos, projects, and morphs was overwhelming, to say the least. This year we’re seeing things a lot more clearly and I’m appreciating the full potential of our breeders…not just color and genetics, but things like personality, structure, etc… I feel that all of this will enable me show off our breeders a bit better and perhaps build a new appreciation for certain lineages.
What advice do you have for people at different stages of their family lives who want to get into gecko breeding?
I’m really passionate about this and my answer could go on and on…so, I’ll just sum it up with a few thoughts. Of course, each family and situation is different, so I can only base these on my personal successes and failures:
- Be realistic about how many geckos you can handle. They can multiply really quickly…so think ahead – way, way , way ahead!
- Don’t let geckos take you away from time with your family.
- Don’t go into debt over a hobby.
- Be realistic about the amount of time and energy involved in finding good homes for the geckos you plan to sale.
- Realize that a huge part of being a breeder takes place outside of the gecko room. Things like email correspondence, website updates, pictures, forums, shipping and shows can take a lot of time and energy.
- Find the geckos and projects that YOU love…not necessarily the ones that are the most popular. If you envision a certain “look” or trait, take the time to make it a reality (don’t just follow the trends!). It may take years, but it’s a thrilling process.