Peter Hoch of Lucky Reptile

Peter Hoch is one of the most influential people in the history of the reptile trade, helping to launch the industry and the hobby to become the global enterprise that it is today. During the 1980s and 90s, Peter imported of species of reptiles and amphibians, many of which are now commonly kept and bred.

The early years
I got my first reptile when I was seven years old – a Greek Tortoise. This was around 1958 when it was still legal to keep native reptiles and amphibians, so I soon had a collection that I had found in the natural areas near my hometown of Freiburg in Germany.

By the time I was twelve years old I was keeping exotic species. Back then the options were limited, so I kept Common Boas, Green Iguanas and various turtle species that were commonly available at the time. While I was still at school I worked in my local pet store which sold a few reptile pets, and it was there that I realised that it was possible to run a successful business selling animals. I kept and sold a few animals from my home where I lived with my mother and I was in two minds about what I wanted to do as a career when I left school. Half of me wanted to be a scientist and half of me wanted to be a businessman selling reptiles. I decided that being a scientist was probably boring, so I went into business and launched Peter Hoch Import Export.

Peter Hoch Import Export
The business was launched in 1976 and was split into two halves. We had a retail store because we knew this would be profitable from my experience working in the pet shop. The other side of the venture supplied reptiles as a wholesaler to other pet businesses. This was a much riskier enterprise because at the time there was no pet wholesale business working in Germany and we had no idea if we would be successful. But we figured the retail business would give us enough time and profit to try wholesaling and see if we could make it work. The wholesale business was almost entirely selling imported, wild-caught reptiles, but we did also stock a few different products too, such as heating cables, heat mats, ceramic heaters, books and vitamins. None of these products were produced or branded for use with reptiles. There were no reptile-specialist manufacturers at this time. Our products were sourced from other industries, such as horticulture or chicken farming.

Importing reptiles
We ran the retail store until 1995, but it was obvious that the wholesale business was a much better option. The profits from wholesale were greater, but the main reason we closed the retail store was because it takes up so much time. Dealing with customers was taking us away from dealing with our livestock, and by this time we were importing many thousands of animals. Working with retail store owners was easier because they had a good amount of knowledge and didn’t need to ask so many questions. The trade was very different back then. There  were very few captive-bred animals around in the trade, with most being wild-caught imports. We were bringing in animals from all over the world – places such as South America, Turkey, Pakistan, Africa, China, The Philippines and Madagascar. By this time we were one of the biggest importers and dealers in the world, along with Pet Farm and Bronx Reptiles in the USA, and Gary Bagnall at California Zoological Supply who later launched Zoo Med.

The changing reptile trade
Of course there are far fewer reptiles being imported today than there were in those days, and the way they are imported has changed a little too. I would often fly out to meet our suppliers and offer them advice on how to care for, pack and ship our reptiles with a view to getting more healthy animals when we picked them up at our end. Many of the techniques that we installed with overseas exporters are still the industry standard methods which are used today.

Importing is much more difficult now too, but this has been counter-balanced by the massive rise in captive-bred animals. Many who remember the early days of the reptile hobby might think that more choice was available back then when we were able to import anything from anywhere – but I don’t think that’s true. I think there is much more variety available now because more people are able to keep and breed these animals.  Although I wouldn’t claim to have introduced them to the trade, many of the rare and interesting species we bought in back in the early years are now commonly kept and bred, and I’m sure our imports helped to sow the seeds for the variety of animals that are available today. For instance, we were the first to bring in Chinese Crocodile Lizards (Shinisaurus crocodilurus), which are now quite commonly captive bred.

Print your own CITES certificates
At one point we were bringing in so many animals that our local CITES office could not keep up with the workload. We were importing around 15,000 CITES animals each year, so we eventually worked out a system where we would print around 100 CITES certificates at our facility and then take them to the CITES office to be signed and stamped. Indeed, we still maintain this process today.

Lucky Reptile
By the year 2000 Gary Bagnall’s Zoo Med range was doing well, but the way reptiles are kept in America is often quite different to how we keep
reptiles in Europe. There were several products which the European market was desperate for, so I spoke to Gary about the possibility that Zoo Med could produce these products. Unfortunately there was no market for them in the USA, and so it wasn’t a viable thing for Zoo Med to do – so we decided to produce these products ourselves.

Our first Lucky Reptile products were substrates, thermostats, thermometers and hygrometers, but our range grew fast. By this time we were operating from a multi-storey premises with several different animal rooms. There was an elevator to take people to the different floors and we had around 10 staff. By 2005 Lucky Reptile had expanded massively and I knew it was time to get bigger premises.

We now operate from a 4000m2 unit. For animals we have a 1000 square metres greenhouse on top of the building, ten different animal rooms,
each controlled to a different climate on another 1000 square metres which we use for packing orders. Nowadays we employ around 40 people.

Bright Sun – the rise of Lucky Reptile
Launched in 2007, the Bright Sun was the first reptile lamp to combine optimum levels of the three outputs desired by reptile keepers – excellent output of natural visual light, manageable heating and optimum UVA/UVB output. The lamp was so well received that it can be credited as the catalyst for the success of the Lucky Reptile brand. Before its launch, many believed an externally ballasted lamp would not fare well in the trade, but Lucky Reptile founder Peter Hoch and his son Jürgen decided to produce the product anyway. Their confidence was soon rewarded as the Bright Sun system became one of the bestselling reptile products in mainland Europe.

Although Bright Sun lamps cannot be used with a dimmer, the large product range makes it easy to find a suitable model for nearly every vivarium. Their moderate heat emissions make it easy to avoid overheating. This, plus excellent UVA/UVB levels and an attractive and natural looking visual light make them an ideal choice for keepers who want a lighting, heating and UVA/UVB solution in a single lamp.

New legislation and minimum standards
Here in Germany we have been working with a set of mandatory minimum standards since 1997. When the changes were first announced and implemented there was a great deal of worry about how this would affect the hobby and the trade, with many believing the results would be very bad indeed. However, the minimum standards seem to have been largely a good thing for us. Of course, there are some issues and some of the new laws are a little crazy – but we argue for changes and better regulations as time goes by and this seems to work. The bad old days of overcrowding and keeping animals in enclosures which were too small – these are largely a thing of the past. People know what the regulations are and we have changed the way we keep reptiles now so that we can comply.

People will always complain when the authorities make new rules, but I think the changes have been good for the image of the trade and the hobby. Fewer people can complain about welfare issues now that there are a set of measurable standards in place to work with. For everyone concerned, regulation is always better than a ban. In Norway, reptiles were banned for many years. People still kept reptiles, but they stayed out of sight and nobody knew if they were being kept well or badly. Now that the ban has been lifted the keepers are more accountable and the authorities can more easily see if things are being done to the right standards.

The future for reptile keeping across the world will probably involve more regulation and some restrictions, but we must be seen to be keeping our animals to the highest standards. This way we can avoid regulation which is too severe.

Saving the Black Forest Zoo
In 2010 I retired from Lucky Reptile, leaving the company to be run by my son, Jürgen, and my daughter, Annette. By 2013 I had become involved with a project which aimed to save my local zoo – the Black Forest Zoo. It was being run by the local authority and wasn’t doing very well at all with old enclosures and poor management, so a small private society took over to help to restore the facility. I dedicated about three years to this project, installing new facilities and recruiting new staff, so now the zoo is much better and attracting far more visitors than before. It has been a great success.

Peter Hoch of Lucky Reptile

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