JUST a few streets away from one of Port Elizabeth’s more unusually named pubs, The Barking Gecko, Mark Drinkel has been celebrating a rather unusual occasion after he recently successfully incubated and hatched his first clutch of five baby leopard geckos.
Breeding dogs or cats is “so ho hum” for 53-year-old Drinkel who first took up his interest in the attractive, exotic lizards at his Richmond Hill home about a year and a half ago.
And a far cry from the common, translucent-looking geckos found high up on walls and on ceilings at night in homes around the country, leopard geckos can grow up to 25cm in length and come in a wide range of striking colours and markings.
They also differ in that they do not have the same suction pads on their feet as the common geckos.
But raising, keeping and breeding these reptiles is not for the squeamish or impatient and they require technical expertise as well as either daily hands-on attention or deep pockets.
“I would never be able to do this if I had not perfected breeding my own mealworms,” Drinkel explained, as he pointed to scores of containers and buckets containing thousands of seething brown worms, up to 50 of which he feeds to each reptile in his collection of 16 geckos daily.
“If one had to buy the worms, they would cost about 40c each. So do the maths: 16 geckos and 50 worms each, every day. And these geckos have a life span of about 20 years.”
But on the upside, according to the England-born boilermaker who started the hobby along with his fiancée Roz Marden, the geckos sell for between R900 and R1000 each.
“I used to collect newts in the UK, which also come in different colours.
“I have also bred Persian cats. We were sitting around one day and Roz said what about geckos. So we started doing research. We found it is very technical to breed geckos. We started with geckos which we got from Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. These species of geckos, however, are indigenous to places such as deserts in Iraq and in other places in the Middle East,” Drinkel said.
“The geckos themselves have to be kept at a very specific temperature, which is 32°C. So eventually I built tanks for them myself. They have an element at the bottom which keeps them at a constant temperature. Breeding is very tricky. The geckos, when they reach maturity, mate between September and November.
“You then have to remove the eggs the females produce and keep them in the same position in which they were laid and then incubate them until they hatch. To produce females, which are more popular, the eggs must be incubated at exactly 27.5°C.”
The temperature determines the reptiles’ sex.
Drinkel said there were different types of geckos, such as the high yellow lavender, bell and hypos, which refer to the colouring and markings, within the greater leopard gecko species.
“I put crickets or other insects in the tank and watch the geckos stalk and catch their prey. They stalk like leopards, which is why I think they are known as leopard geckos,” he said
Drinkel, who is already making money from the sale of the meal worms, said he hoped to cover his costs and begin making a good profit by selling the geckos as he increased his breeding programme.
Mature female leopard geckos can produce up to 20 eggs a year.