David & Tracy Barker
This is a tale of two snake-lovers named Dave and Tracy Barker.
Tracy’s interest in reptiles and amphibians began at age fifteen, when she received a baby reticulated python from her brother Andy’s friend, a young man named Trooper Walsh who worked in a local pet store.
Dave’s interest started for reasons unknown when he was small. Throughout his childhood he hinted, pleaded, finagled, and plotted to keep snakes, but it was not until his seventeenth birthday that his mother finally agreed to allow snakes in the house.
In the ensuing years, there has been no period of time in which Tracy and Dave’s lives did not include snakes, other reptiles, and amphibians. Today their combined experience in working with snakes spans more than 65 years.
Throughout their adult lives, the Barkers have worked with and had experiences with a wide variety of animals—from dart-poison frogs and moray eels to toucans, otters, and monkeys—but there’s no denying that their foremost fascination has always been with snakes.
In the years before they met, Dave and Tracy both worked as zookeepers, field biologists, researchers, and graduate students. During that time they were obsessive collectors and keepers of snakes, as well as of other reptiles and amphibians, and both individuals maintained excessively large private collections of animals. Each of these avid herpetologists has accumulated in excess of 10,000 snake-years of experience. (One “snake-year” of experience equals the full-time maintenance of one snake for a period of one year.)
In 1982 the couple met at a national symposium about reptile breeding where they both were presenting papers, they became friends, and in 1990 they became married partners in (guess what?) their own snake business. They named it Vida Preciosa International (VPI) and they started it in two small bedrooms in a farmhouse on the outskirts of Baltimore, MD.
VPI grew fast (that’s what happens when two obsessive collectors marry) and by late 1990, it had become clear to Tracy and Dave that it was time to build a facility for their collection. They decided on the Hill Country of Texas, and in 1991 they purchased some acreage where they could set up a ranch for their snakes. Over a period of several months, they oversaw construction of appropriate buildings to house their animals. In order to move the VPI python collection from Baltimore, the Barkers shipped snakes six days each week for five weeks, with each shipment weighing 200 to 300 pounds. They completed their move to Texas in January 1992.
Tracy and Dave now are firmly settled in the Hill Country and have two beautiful young sons, Tom and Guy. They love being parents, and for the first time in their lives, their primary interest is no longer snakes. (But they still have lots of snakes.)