Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ricky Melamed Stands Up For Pythons

Ricky Melamed speaks with the same mixture of passion and desperation that other advocates apply to issues of homelessness, say, or air pollution.

His consortium of bad guys is familiar: the sensationalist mainstream media and profit-driven box stores.

Melamed is a snake defender. His life’s work is to protect pythons.

“Getting the truth out is really difficult,” he says in his living room, as Helix, his 12-year-old ball python, wraps her 1.5-metre-long self around his forearm.

Last week, when two exotic snakes were found in different apartments on the same west-end street in less than 24 hours, the media reported back in tones of gleeful terror.

“You can’t take a chance. It could bite me, it could be poisonous,” one unhappy snake-finder told the Star after discovering a ball python coiled on his toilet.

Melamed read the same story with a sinking heart. “When it’s in the toilet, it’s waiting to die,” he says. “It’s literally fighting for its life.”

A year ago, Melamed gave up his day job as a furniture designer and launched himself full-time into designing reptile enclosures. He spends an equal amount of time trying to educate the public on why his enclosures are necessary in the first place.

“When you go to a store and you buy one of these snakes, the first thing they sell you on is an aquarium,” he says. “And they always escape from aquariums, because they’re not meant for aquariums.”

Ball pythons, for example, are tropical snakes, and their natural habitat is warm and moist. Most reptile enclosures are neither, says Melamed, which leaves the snakes stressed out, sick and eager to find a habitat that better suits their needs.

Snakes are also strong. They can easily push themselves out of an aquarium, which is designed to hold fish. And once they’re out, they go into survival mode.

“They search for somewhere warm, and they search for somewhere to hide. That’s why you find them all the time in walls, and behind appliances,” says Melamed.

Pull a stressed snake out of its new home, and it’s liable to bite you.

“Then they get this bad rap of these evil snakes that bite you and live in your walls. But the truth is that it just got out because someone was irresponsible, and then it was terrified.”

Melamed says Helix has never bitten him. His five snakes all live in enclosures that trap humidity and heat, made by his company, Ricky’s Reptile Enclosures.

To read more and watch a video, visit