|Circa January 1989 : The warm
reception we got from Don Hamper and his wife Robbie alone made it
worth the stop at their home on that freezing winter day over a decade
ago. Down in the basement of their Columbus, Ohio home, we
were treated to a special tour of one of the outstanding private herp
collections on the planet. Many northerners refer to their
cellars as 'playrooms' ; this was certainly Don &
Robbie's! They had built in wall-to-wall cages that blanketed
nearly every square inch of space, except for this unusual spot at the end
of an aisle that's probably covered by now too. It was amazing
that so many herps were living below a house that appeared so normal
upstairs to the eyes of a casual visitor. Actually, their home
is a virtual museum of herpetotrivia and other bizarre pieces and
artifacts, but let's not get distracted.
Pythons were obviously a major love judging by the numerous representatives of small and medium-sized rarities residing in the cages. Don had some of the seldom-seen beauties from Oz before most U.S. herpers had even seen them in books. He also had a long-term breeding colony of bog turtles Clemmys muhlenbergii, albino red-ear sliders Pseudemys scripta elegans, and a huge leopard gecko colony too. They've since added numerous other ultra-cool little gekkonids, and are still cool enough to have a decent colony of corn snakes too!
Bill got to know Don & Robbie best during a three-week tour of Madagascar in November - December 1998 (inset picture, holding the smallest Madagascar ground boa Acrantophis madagascariensis that I'd ever found in the wild). More fun traveling companions would be hard to find as they made it one of the most fun times ever spent exploring that country. Besides trying to out-eat each other during a three-meal lobster marathon one day on the west coast, they teamed up to actually assist the Malagasy road department near Fort Dauphin get a large tree off the highway that had fallen and blocked vehicular traffic temporarily. As the local road obstruction removal crew chopped away with axes, Don and Bill added their combined mass by sitting on the horizontally leaning trunk so it would snap off sooner, saving the sweating men many additional swings of the axes in the hot sun. The people of that village won't soon forget the scene of those two big pale guys from afar bouncing up and down on the tree in the center of town as the crowd looked on, roaring with laughter!