CHRIS Page is known as one of Bendigo's best snake catchers, but he is passionate about all types of animals.
"I've owned animals for a long time," he said. "I have been into wildlife since I was a kid."
The 32-year-old grew up in Narre Warren in Melbourne's southeast, before moving to Stawell to work as a mine surveyor.
About eight years ago, he moved to Costerfield to work in the mines. It was there he started his business, Tzr Reptiles and Wildlife.
"With mining, it goes up and down," he said. "Basically, I was just like what am I going to do with my life?
"It was my friends at the time who would come over and see my animals and they were like, why don't you share them?
"I got the licencing to do the demonstrations so we could go to schools and kids' birthday parties. Then I was thinking, what else can I do for the community?
"I thought I could look at doing snake catching to help people and educate them."
Mr Page owns about 180 different animals, ranging from snakes, lizards, and frogs, to owls, wallabies and emus. He said it was difficult to pick a favourite from the bunch.
"It's hard because they all have their unique things," Mr Page said. "But definitely owning the raptors, so the owls, are a privilege."
Mr Page said he became interested in animals, and the reptiles in particular, at a really young age.
"Back when I was a kid, I was always out in the garden getting those little Skinks and a few things in the garden," he said. "But probably the one animal that stands out is Shingleback lizard. That was my first pet.
"I remember being a kid sitting there, watching television, and having this Shingleback on my shoulder. That's what drew me into keeping the reptiles."
Mr Page said while his father was against keeping venomous snakes, he taught him how to respect and love all animals.
"Whenever there was someone with a Python, either in the same industry I am in now or in a zoo, dad would always push me towards them to have a hold of a Python and not to be scared of it," he said.
"Dad always taught that you need to look after and check injured animals. So dad was probably a big influence in some ways."
Mr Page first started collecting Pythons, before he turned towards venomous snakes.
"I was taught about the dangerous side but I wanted to learn more about them," he said.
"I bought some Tiger Snakes and one day one of them just came out of the enclosure when I was going to clean it and it just landed on my hand.
"Instead of panicking, I just watched it. I then noticed it wasn't showing any signs of threat.
"It just wanted to come out and explore so I ended up putting my hand underneath it - not that I recommend handling those snakes.
"It just opened up my eyes that this snake knows I'm not a threat and I know it's not showing me any threats. That just blew my mind that everything I have learnt is wrong."
He now owns a number of venomous snakes, including Death Adders, Coastal Taipans, and Brown Snakes.
Mr Page has never been bitten by a venomous snake, although he said he was prepared if it happened in the future.
But Mr Page has been bitten by a number of Pythons.
"When a Python bites, it really depends on the size," he said. "So if you have a small Python, it's nothing. It's literally like a needle.
"When you start to get a bigger Python, it depends how good they get you. So you have a strike, which is like the needle. If they bite you and grip on, it's like many needles in your skin at once.
"I have had a Black Headed Python wrapped around my leg for over an hour because it just wouldn't let go.
"The reason it bit was because it was due to be fed. So it wasn't like it was aggressive or trying to be aggressive, it was a food response. It thought my leg was chicken. I have chicken legs.
"You do get a little bit of pain but it's more annoying. Once it let go it was fine.
"I got it off my leg, got it back into the enclosure, and fed it. Then with the bite, I just cleaned it up, put a band-aid on it, and it was fine."
Mr Page is a qualified snake catcher and has been out to a number of interesting jobs over the years.
"It's not uncommon to get a Python that has been let out or an escaped pet," he said. "We had a Brown Snake in a roof once. It's quite uncommon to get the venomous snakes up in the roof. It managed to get up there but I didn't believe the guy.
"Another time, I got called out to a house and they had a Red-bellied Black Snake and it was in the guttering. The situation was that that it would go straight down the pipe and we couldn't get it.
"It was probably a bit stupid, but I couldn't use tools, I couldn't see anything, so I ended up having to just go for it and hope to get the tail before it went straight down.
"So basically it was just a quick grab and I managed to get it in the right spot to be able to grab it and safely get it out. I would not do that with every single kind of snake."
Another large part of his work is educating people about snakes and other reptiles - even children as young as three years old.
"We bring out the venomous snakes and they're in safe, secure enclosures," he said. "But it gives the children the ability to see these animals in real life.
"We give them that education on what to do if you see these animals and also to respect the animal.
"We educate them on the importance of the ecosystems and conservation, and why we need these animals around."
Mr Page said the job came with its challenges, including the cost of purchasing and maintaining such a large number of different animals.
"You also don't have a life," he said. "I don't really get out much and that's because these animals have to be looked after or cleaned."
But Mr Page said he was truly passionate about the work he does. He also has some grand plans for the future.
"Obviously with the snake catching, you do rely on people to call," he said. "It's the same as any pest control in a sense. It is a service we need.
"Then with the demonstrations, it's very important because some of these animals are going endangered.
"The biggest opportunity I can give to people is to let them interact with some of these animals and give them that education because one day a lot of these animals may not be around.
"If we can get a lot of these younger generations to appreciate our wildlife, then they will want to protect them in the future.
"But it's definitely a great business to work in and I'm thankful to the community as well, because without them I probably wouldn't be in business anymore.
"But I want to give back when I can. As the business grows, I have the plans ahead and one day I hope I will be able to open up a zoo."
Mr Page said more information about his work can be found here.
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