When it comes to dream jobs, reptile keeper in a zoo is one of the oddest.
But if being dealt a difficult hand in life determines who gets to live their dream, then Holbeach man Gareth Dickin should be at the top of the shortlist to fill that role.
He also has ample experience, having kept reptiles since the age of 16 when he bought his first chameleon.
That was 22 years ago so Gareth has accumulated lots of experience since then, as well as reptiles – he now has around 46, plus the insects and rescued tortoises he keeps.
During the intervening years he found his partner, Pippa Richardson, and they are bringing up 11-year-old Connor together.
The years have also brought Gareth major health challenges, such as losing his sight as a result of his Type 1 diabetes. Diabetes is also linked with foot problems, and when Gareth sustained an injury that caused a diabetic ulceration, it resulted in gangrene and, eventually, osteomyelitis and the removal of some of the toes of one foot.
Thankfully, his sight was restored after three operations and Gareth was able to find marketing work with The Wildlife Trusts.
It was while he was recuperating from illness that he decided, rather than sit around doing nothing, to set up the South Lincs Herpetology Society for fellow reptile keepers and those with an interest in snakes and lizards.
Around 27 full members meet monthly in Holbeach to share information and good practice. A junior group has now been formed – Hatchlings – with craft activities and the chance to learn about reptiles.
The society also plays an educational role, giving talks and attending events where members of the public get the chance to handle a reptile and find out about them.
Gareth set up the society because he could see there was nothing locally for reptile keepers – and it is so much easier to buy them these days.
That can cause problems though, as there has also been a rise in the number of people wanting to get rid of reptiles.
Gareth said: “You can walk into a garden centre and buy a small snake which can grow potentially to 18 feet long, and bigger than that. People are surprised how quickly they grow.
“If you have an 18 foot snake, a rat isn’t really going to fill it and I think people are put off when they have to start feeding larger prey.”
Visit the society’s Facebook page at SLHSHolbeach to find out more about what members get up to.
It’s possible to attend meetings for £2.50 without becoming a member or visit the Facebook page to find out where you can chat to members at outside events.