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Phil Goss, the new USARK President, with a prehensile-tailed skink. Photo courtesy Phil Goss
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Student teacher Phil gives a reptile presentation to his third-grade class in 2001. He still has that blue-tongued skink. Photo courtesy Phil Goss
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Phil continues to teach children about herps to this day. This 2012 photo shows him with a group of preschoolers. Photo courtesy Phil Goss
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Auctioneer Phil in action, racking up donations for USARK at the 2011 National Reptile Breeders' Expo auction in Daytona. Photo by Russ Case
The reptile industry got a shock recently when previous USARK president Andrew Wyatt left the organization, but USARK was not without a president for long. Phil Goss is the freshly minted new president of USARK. I took the opportunity to have a quick chat with him as he settles in and gets ready to do right by the reptile industry.
Congratulations on your appointment, Phil. For people who don’t know you, and who are unaware of your history in the reptile industry, let’s have some highlights. Tell them about yourself—what you do, what you’ve done—including the herp species that are your favorites and your work with them.
Thanks! I look forward to moving the herp community in a very positive direction with the assistance of the USARK board members and every member of USARK. I have been keeping herps nearly my entire life. Like many herpers, I grew up fascinated by herps and went searching for them whenever possible. I became very serious about the hobby as a teenager and successfully bred gold-dust day geckos in 1996. I would love to again have a planted vivarium showcasing day geckos. I entered the pet industry in 1998 by working at a retail pet shop while attending Indiana University. I currently also own a "small business" (GossReptiles.com) which I still consider a large-scale hobby and not a business. My "real job" schedule for many years has prevented me from setting up at reptile shows, so the vast majority of my offpsring went to pet shops or to wholesale channels. I currently work with mainly boas and have several subspecies, including many Boa constrictor imperator localities and morphs. Goss Reptiles also houses blue-tongue skinks, prehensile-tailed skinks and a few pythons. I have worked with and bred many other species. If it's a herp, I like it!
I have held positions covering nearly every aspect of the pet industry. That includes jobs for companies in retail, wholesale, distribution, breeding and manufacturing. If it's in the pet industry, I've seen it. Some people may recognize me from the Zoo Med booth at reptile shows, as I have worked for them the last seven years as a sales manager, but the position of USARK president is my full-time-plus job now.
Seeing as he was so identified with the organization, Andrew Wyatt’s split with USARK was a big surprise for many people. Reasons aside, did his departure come as a surprise to you?
I would first like to mention the utmost professionalism demonstrated by the USARK board members over the last few weeks. Their handling of this situation clearly previews the future positive direction of USARK and shows USARK as a professional, mature and intelligent organization. I was shocked by the news, just as others were.
How did your hat get thrown in the ring to be president of USARK? Did you volunteer, was it suggested to you, or were you drafted? What was your initial reaction?
I inquired about the position and presented myself before the board of directors, which voted, and the rest is history. I was surprised how quickly everything happened. When I initially inquired, I did not know I would receive the position. I just went for it.
Is there anything about you that makes you especially qualified for the position?
Perhaps most importantly, I know that USARK is much bigger than myself. USARK is the board members and the entire herp community. Again, USARK is much larger than one person. I have a strong desire to improve the general public's view of the reptile community and know that the community deserves to be seen in a better light. I am open-minded and always willing to listen. If you see me at a show, stop and bend my ear.
Do you have experience fighting legislation that seeks to curtail the reptile-keeping hobby? Are you ready to get in some political hotshots’ faces if necessary, and jab your finger into some chests? Or perhaps a more diplomatic approach…what do you favor?
USARK has an amazing legal team and they will assist me in learning how things work on the Hill. Our D.C. legal team has been the brains behind our previous successes. That remains unchanged as we move into the future and fight for the rights of all herpers. Open lines of communication will be the first step but not everyone may speak our language. There is no reason to go looking for a fight, however, USARK will never back down and will not compromise. The "guns blazing" approach will not benefit our cause. Gaining allies will make us stronger and alienating ourselves will make us weaker. We will present arguments and cooperate with those willing to work with us, but USARK will tirelessly fight to protect all corners of the herp community against those who oppose us. We certainly are not here to compromise our rights. USARK is here to protect our rights.
What will be different with you as USARK President? Are there any changes afoot you can discuss?
USARK is finalizing our strategy for 2013. The main difference you will see is a much stronger USARK moving forward. The board of directors will play an active role which will greatly improve the effectiveness of USARK. Our legal team in D.C. is also amazing and will assist us greatly. As mentioned above, USARK's enlisted legal team was the foundation of our previous successes.
Has there been anything regarding USARK that you thought could stand improvement, and that you intend to improve upon?
Great improvements have already been accomplished. The board of directors is amazing and every one of them has stepped up by volunteering substantial time from their very busy schedules to help the herp community. In fact, I'm fairly certain Dr. Booth never sleeps and the others drink coffee into the wee hours of the night to keep a handle on their USARK responsibilities. I would like to say again that I am impressed every day by the board members and USARK has the best interests of the entire herp community in mind and one main goal which is to allow everyone the right to keep any herp or invertebrate desired.
Is there anyone else new at USARK? What is the current hierarchy—who answers to whom? Who sits on the board of directors?
Simply visit www.USARK.org and visit the "Officers and Directors" link under the "About" tab (usark.org/officers-directors is the URL). The board members and myself deal with all aspects of USARK and each member has certain skill sets which make him appropriate to spearhead certain tasks. To list, the current board members are: Todd Goodman of Timberline Live Pet Foods, Jeff Ronne of Boaphile Enterprises, Dr. Warren Booth (Assistant Professor of Molecular Ecology at the University of Tulsa), Gary Bagnall of Zoo Med, Ralph Davis of Ralph Davis Reptiles, Loren Leigh of LLL Reptile, Ramy GuirGuis of the California Reptile Super Shows and Sherry Tregembo (small zoo operator in NC).
What are your and USARK’s top priorities right now?
USARK's current top priority is to finalize our 2013 strategy and get rolling. It has always been the mission of USARK to protect your right to keep any herp or invertebrate. This has never waivered. This includes keepers of crocodilians, turtles, tortoises, leopard geckos, frogs, salamanders, tarantulas, venomous reptiles, large constrictors and all other animals in our industry. USARK supports the owner of one crested gecko, breeder of reticulated pythons, owner of a zoo and everyone else in the herp community.
We also need our members to realize USARK is only as strong as our roots. If you are aware of legislative issues on city, county or state levels, please make USARK aware. USARK has our hands full handling national legislation and will share our knowledge to assist any issues on other levels. USARK will fight for all but we need to hear the battle cries.
Anything else you care to mention?
As a community, we need to leave behind all the drama from the last few weeks and build the industry into a positive powerhouse. If we can turn the current negative vibe into something positive, we will have no issues protecting our rights. It's time to unite and show the world the good things about the Reptile Nation. Personally, I know my life is better due to the herp community and I hate seeing it in its current state of weakness.
USARK is effective due to the help and contributions of every member. Every person that signed a letter for H.R. 669 helped. Every person that followed H.R. 511 and contributed has helped us. USARK is here to do whatever is needed to protect this community and allow future generations the ability to enjoy herps as we have.
OK, thanks, Phil, and best of luck to you and USARK!
Thanks for your time, thanks ReptileChannel, and thanks for the opportunity to share some updates about USARK!