Ernie Dambach, a resident of Kings Beach for the last 13 years, is currently in possession of 11 boa constrictors, more than a dozen frogs, and four geckos — a community of reptiles he knows down to their individual personalities. For Dambach, it all began when he was a child in Michigan being raised with fish, frogs, and turtles. Then, in his first year of college, he was gifted a male boa constrictor that grew to an alarming 9 feet in length.
Since that first boa, Dambach has become somewhat of a reptile guru, carefully selecting the best genetic specimen for breeding purposes while also keeping more docile specimens as pets he can introduce to children and wary adults who find snakes to be yucky.
What Dambach finds fascinating about reptiles, especially his boas, is how each has very specific needs to comfortably live in a non-native environment like Lake Tahoe. With most species coming from Central America and parts of Mexico, he’s constantly adjusting their cages for temperature, humidity, and lighting. In times of breeding, he brings down the temperature to instigate the magic.
In the same way dogs and cats are domesticated by humans, snakes who’ve been bred in captivity (sometimes up to 50 generations) begin to lose their natural predator instincts and become a version of their prior genetic material, completely harmless to people. “Reptiles are super chill, and when properly domesticated, are nothing to be afraid of,” Dambach says.
Except for maybe pythons; run from pythons.