WORDS Bailey Vierthaler

Did you know that reptiles are among the most ancient classes of organisms on the planet, dating back to 315 million years ago? Their cold-blooded bodies allow them to survive on less food and make it more difficult for harmful bacteria or viruses to infiltrate their immune systems. These cunning creatures are what we know today as animals like lizards, snakes, or crocodiles.

Breeding reptiles requires more than what just meets the eye. According to 18-year-old Leonardo Gonçalves, the youngest registered exotic animal breeder in Portugal, this line of work requires lots of patience, consistency, and effort. Ever since he was a kid, his passion for reptiles or other exotic species never faded away; it was his dream to travel the world and simply discover other animals out there. 

After finding out that it was legal to own one of these with the right paperwork, at age twelve Leonardo bought his first animal: a ball python. It was this that encouraged his passion to flourish even more until the age of 16 when he found interest in breeding special patterns in reptiles and was infatuated with the genetic makeup of these species.

“Everything about reptiles and exotic crawlers is beautiful, full of life, and interesting. Keeping these animals is an enormous act of responsibility and very therapeutic at the same time,” says Leonardo.

Before he got to where he is now, Leonardo put in a lot of hard work studying while looking after the animals. Due to its complexity, the hobby needs plenty of time, commitment, determination, organisation, and passion in order to improve. This also requires exposure and, of course, home research beforehand. Leonardo learnt so much by just dealing with face-to-face experiences with the animals, encountering at least fifty species so far!

Now, Leonardo is an independent breeder who bases his work in Albufeira, Portugal. He loves the wide variety of animals that are to be taken care of because each has its own special requirements; each one of them is unique. Being able to breed and cultivate these creatures, especially ones that are endangered, is an honour for him. 

Leonardo believes it is important to bring Ambiental Education to attention in society. The hobby can tend to be misunderstood, so exposure to it in our community is crucial. Although there have been hurdles while pursuing his work, such as bites or insect infestations, Leonardo stated that it is, of course, a part of the process and that knowledge comes from experience. After all, if one has passion, it can lead to success.

Instagram and TikTok @caminantexotic