Exclusive interview: Animal Planet’s Scaled star Greg West on how reptiles CAN have personalities

Greg West from Animal Planet series Scaled
Greg West from Animal Planet series Scaled

Greg West speaks with a forked tongue. Actually, he is the latest Animal Planet star featured in their new series Scaled. He is also the owner of Cornel’s World Reptile Caging in Alberta, Canada.

Entrepreneur and reptile lover West has been in the reptile house-building business for about 15 years, as he took a hobby and ran with it, first as a garage business and now a very successful slithery venture that covers North America.

Like most reptile aficionados, West started small and collected geckos, chameleons and bearded dragons. As time went on, his expertise grew — as did his his reputation for understanding how best to look after and show off the pets, who West says can have personalities.

Greg West's enthusiasm for creating reptile enclosures takes the client's imagination to the limits
Greg West’s enthusiasm for creating reptile enclosures takes the client’s imagination to the limits

Now Greg West and his team are turning out amazing builds featured on Animal Planet. The Cornel’s World team constructs custom big-scale reptile terrariums. Once West susses out the animal’s needs, he and his team design the terrarium around what it needs in terms of heating, lighting, and humidity.

This week, some snakes get a new Prohibition-era enclosure designed with a Valentine’s Day Massacre backdrop and even sly touches like Bonnie and Clyde the gangster’s bullet-ridden car. All inside beautifully lit whiskey casks stacked like they are inside a distillery.

Kimberly and Jeremy have seven snakes all named for gangsters, and love their new enclosure
Kimberly and Jeremy have seven snakes all named for gangsters, and love their new enclosure

Watch Monsters and Critics’ exclusive sneak peek to see how delighted clients Kimberly and Jeremy are with their gangster-themed enclosure for their seven pet snakes — all named after famous criminals.

Kimberly especially loves the whimsical touches like the whiskey bottle lighting, to the bullet-ridden miniature cars.

Bonnie the snake enters her whiskey barrel for a rest
Bonnie the snake enters her whiskey barrel for a rest

Also on tonight’s episode, Greg meets up with veterinarian Dr. Kelsey to create a new enclosure for her beloved Russian tortoise, Littlefoot, in the tiny space.

Monsters and Critics spoke to Greg West about his unusual and rewarding business.

Monsters and Critics: How did your business in Canada catch the attention of Animal Planet for the show?

Greg West: I think that it was really, we’re probably one of the few terrarium manufacturers that excel in very custom enclosures. We do a lot of standard units, but we do take on a lot of projects that are very custom and there’s not a lot of people around North America that would take on projects like that. So I would say that that was probably the main reason that they contacted us.

M&C: When did you first start investing in reptiles as a fan and an owner of them?

GW: I started collecting reptiles in college because I didn’t have to listen to my parents’ rules anymore. They limited me a little bit with the reptiles I could keep, and once I was on my own I started collecting different frogs and chameleons and lizards. And that was really where my passion started and grew from.

Once I started collecting the reptiles, then I started needing homes for all of them and, being a college student, I needed a way to build them cost efficiently. So I started building them myself and from there grew the business.

M&C: How do you know how much room every reptile or frog or snake needs for a proper habitat? 

GW: A lot of it’s from experience, but I’ve got a great team who are a wealth of knowledge. It’s probably forty, fifty plus years of reptile experience between everybody that’s involved. And everybody’s dealt with different varieties of snakes and lizards, and sometimes there are ones we don’t have experience with, but the internet’s obviously a wealth of knowledge these days.

And for the ones that we don’t have direct experience with, we’re able to talk to experts that can point us in the right direction.

M&C: Do you dissuade reptile owners from letting their pets go free range in their house? I mean we hear horror stories about monitor lizards eating people that take naps. Can you dissuade people from letting them roam around free?

GW: That’s, I mean I’ve never heard of that happening. But there are people that do let their reptiles free range and it’s not healthy for the animals because they’re not getting the proper environment that they require, whether it’s heat or humidity.

And it’s stressful for the animals too. I mean obviously being in a living room or a bedroom with carpet and hardwood floor isn’t how they live in the wild and we like to provide as close to their natural environment as we can.

M&C: Have you ever come across people who might have been doing it for fashion or following a trend or a fad and you felt they wouldn’t be good owners?

GW: We try to deter people from purchases where they’re not prepared for the reptile, but it’s never been a case of for fashion or that sort of thing like you would see a dog and a cat.

That could be just because they’re growing in popularity and they’re not as mainstream yet as dogs and cats would be. But there are definitely people out there that we’ve deterred from buying animals before because they just aren’t ready for it, or we just don’t think they’ll put the care and attention into what these animals deserve.

I guess the easiest way for me to put your question is, we try and deter people from impulse buys. We’d rather they do the research ahead of time or be ready with the enclosure and all the supplies they need before they ever get an animal, not the other way around.

M&C: Do reptiles really have personalities like a dog or a cat, and can you give me some examples?

GW: That’s a tough one. They definitely can have personalities. They usually relate everything to a food response where they get used to their owners, where they realize that that’s the person that’s feeding them. So they might come to them out of their cage when the door gets open.

They typically respond to food most of all, but they will come to their owners. Certain reptiles will respond to their owners opening up the cage door and that sort of thing.

M&C: Now, you’re in Canada. Canada has a vastly colder climate than, say, Florida, which has a huge problem with reptile buyer’s remorse. Invasive species that are released by these people into the Everglades. Can you talk about that and how it concerns you?

GW: The biggest thing is with people doing their research and realizing the life spans of the reptiles and sizes and that sort of thing. And with that education, we try and deter the impulse buys because those are usually the people that say after five years, when a reptile outgrows their enclosure, that they’re looking to either re-home it, or some people would dump them in the Everglades like you said.

It is an issue, we definitely don’t encourage that at all because of the problems that say the Everglades have had with the Burmese pythons. But we can only do so much too. So you just try and teach by education, that’s the main thing. And give people the proper information on care, lifespan, and sizes so that they’re an informed buyer.

M&C: What reptiles would you steer a novice owner to?

GW: It would depend on the person themselves. If they have reptile experience, that’s a whole different ballgame. But if you’re talking in terms of a great starter reptile to get them into reptiles, a corn snake or a leopard gecko, or maybe a ball python or a bearded dragon would be great starter reptiles that are fairly forgiving in terms of care and have fairly easy requirements to meet.

M&C: What reptiles would you steer most people away from? That only the most experienced people could probably own?

GW: Well, the number ones would be the large snakes, venomous, crocodilians, would be the obvious choices of what I would steer most people away from. In terms of more fragile care animals, chameleons are a little bit harder to care for and less forgiving with meeting their requirements.

M&C: Can people go on vacation and leave reptiles to their own devices if they give them food and water for extended times, or do they really need daily care like a dog or a cat?

GW: That’s the one appeal for reptiles is that they don’t necessarily need that daily care that a dog or a cat would.

For example, if you were to have a snake, if you feed it before you leave and it does have water, leaving it for a week at a time isn’t a big deal for it. Because they typically could go a week to two or three weeks without being fed. So snakes, for example, would be perfectly fine.

Lizards, for example, not feeding them for three, four days isn’t the end of the world either. I would say snakes obviously would have a longer time span between feedings that would be alright. But it’s not necessary that it would be every single day.

M&C: What is your favorite episode of Scales so far, and why?

GW: I’m really looking forward to the next episode, but the last episode at the tattoo shop was just a really fun build and then getting my very first tattoo was something I’d talked about for years but never got around to.

So that one was my favorite. But as the episodes go on, every single one I’m looking forward to because these builds were amazing to be a part of. And the clients that we had and the animals that we build these amazing homes for, it’s so rewarding to being part of this.

Scaled airs Fridays at 9pm ET/PT on Animal Planet.

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