Name: Jackie Bujalski
Location: Ramona, CA
Occupation: Owner of Cold-Hearted Exotics
Jackie Bujalski is a Californian snake charmer running Cold-Hearted Exotics, a breeder and nurturer of Boas, Pythons, and Rear-Fanged Snakes.
Growing up, she knew she wanted to work with animals in some capacity. Even as a young girl, she had an affinity for the cold-blooded brethren of cats and dogs, but didn’t own her first snake until she was twenty.
“I had seen this beautiful albino boa and I knew she was the snake for me, but I walked away from her. Little did I know, my husband purchased her as a surprise for me the next day and that’s how it all began!” she explains. “I started looking at the genetic aspect of breeding snakes and saw what would happen if we bred our albino boa to a different color mutation. It just grew from there!”
These days Jackie owns twelve species of snakes and one Tegu, which is a type of monitor lizard. When she’s not tending to her own reptilian family, she’s working as a veterinary technician and keeping Cold-Hearted Exotics going. Her daily activities to maintain her breeding facility include feeding, cleaning, handling, and monitoring husbandry. This diligence, compassion, and maternal eye shouldn’t be misconstrued as simply a feminine stereotype, however.
“I did not see that the cliques of keepers of certain species have a very ‘boy’s club’ feel when I started getting new species. You have to really work to gain the respect of some keepers, and it can be hard work, but sharing the knowledge of husbandry, genetics, care, and problems with one another allows us to grow as herpetologists,” Jackie says.
But what about phobias? Doesn’t she come up against so many people who inherently think snakes are gross and dangerous?
“One of my favorite stories is that I had taken my large Albino Burmese Python named Stendarr out to a pet store. We were checking out at the register, a bunch of people were petting him and loved how calm he was. A man with his girlfriend walked in, he looked like a punk rocker, tattoos everywhere, the works. He sees Stendarr and yells while ducking behind his girlfriend. I tell him, “Stendarr is friendly.” We proceeded to talk for 20 minutes, all the while Stendarr has his entire 10 foot body wrapped around me. The guy then takes a deep breath and begins petting my snake, and I could just see the fear leave him! After a few more minutes, he’s holding all 65 pounds of Stendarr. I asked the man “Why are you afraid of snakes?” The answer I got from him is similar to that I get from others: people are taught to fear snakes. The fear of snakes is not something we are born with, it is a learned fear. If we stop fearing what we don’t understand, the world becomes a less scary place,” she says.
On top of her work, she and other breeders are looking to disseminate information and dispel falsehoods when it comes to snakes, even at high levels of the government. They’re looking to get large constrictors removed from the Lacy Act, which aims to ban importation and interstate travel of these large varieties.
“We are fighting as a whole community under the United States Association for Reptile Keepers to prove that the fear-mongering by the media and falsified science that has been debunked that got the snakes on this list in the first place is wrong and that the snakes should be removed from the list. Banning of large constrictor snakes should be county or state legislation, not federal,” she explains.
(To read more about this issue, you can check out www.USARK.org)
As for the future, Jackie is setting her sights on one day breeding Boelen’s Pythons, a rare species from New Guinea. She hopes to be the first woman in the world to produce Boelens in captivity.
For teaching that snakes aren’t scary, and for blazing breeding trails, we think Jacie Bujalski is a Cool Girl!