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July 24, 2007 > A Different Drummer

A Different Drummer

By Nancy Lyon

Some people love classic cars, others fancy "foo-foo" dogs, while still others resonate to...reptiles. Such a person is Al Wolf of Sonoma County Reptile Rescue. You meet some extraordinarily dedicated people when working with rescue, and meeting Al was one of those occasions. An animal lover from childhood, his interest in lizards, iguanas, tortoises, turtles and snakes has become more than an interesting pastime, it has become his passion and his life's work.

Several months ago, OHS Companion Rescue Director Judy Canright and I made our first rescue transport to Sebastopol and Sonoma County Reptile Rescue. Our cargo consisted of a couple of wandering turtles, one a wild-caught and endangered desert tortoise that had been found and brought to the Fremont animal shelter and needed a licensed safe haven.

After two hours on the road, we drove up a meandering country road and reached our destination. Turning into the compound, we were met with signs warning of dangerous and poisonous animals and insects on the property. Not being too faint of heart, we proceeded only to be met by the curious stares of large hulking animals - buffalo! We were to find out that they were part of Al's animal family and the youngster "Maynard" who leaned into the fence wanting scratches and goodies was more like a dog than a huge frightening shaggy beastie.

After passing holding areas with boa constrictors, pythons and heavens know what other creatures, we proceeded with our charges into the sanctuary area behind the house. It was plain to see that the habitat that had been thoughtfully developed for the turtles and tortoises. Many of them were illegal, endangered species or non-natives who can't be released in California waterways.

It was early and Al wanted us to see his tortoises before we left and to our delight we were treated to his rousting of his charges for the morning. Grumbles were heard from the specially heated tortoise house, after all we all grumble when getting up, and out of their abode came these huge and ancient creatures a few up to two hundred pounds - ready for breakfast. Some are temporary guests while others with physical problems that came from improper care that can't be corrected, become permanent residents. This was the safe haven we were seeking.

This was the start of a new adventure into a world of legendary creatures and the amazing people who give their time to saving rather than exploiting the animals that share our planet. We have had more trips with iguanas, endangered reptile species, unlawfully obtained turtles that needed to be transported out of state to native habitat - the list goes on and on.

Al Wolf and Sonoma Reptile Rescue work with fourteen California counties to find solutions to a growing public interest in reptiles as "pets" and their predictable eventual and illegal abandonment. They are a non-profit organization that works to rescue reptiles from harm's way and educate the public on responsibly caring for them, a responsibility that is expensive, time consuming - and can be unsafe. Reptiles carry bacteria and parasites that can be readily transmitted and deadly to humans.

Last year alone, Al relocated over 300 poisonous native snakes that turned up in inappropriate places and recently he made the news. When working with California Fish & Game he facilitated capturing and relocating an alligator "set free" in the Sacramento Delta.

But there aren't enough special and knowledgeable people around like Al Wolf who devote their time and personal resources to try and stem the growing problem. According to the Humane Society of the United States the recent explosion in the popularity of pet reptiles-the number hit 11 million in 2005, an increase of 2 million in two years-is bad news for people, reptiles, and the environment.

The global trade in reptiles as pets contributes to depleted wild populations, damaged habitats, and the individual suffering of the animals involved. For humane, conservation, and public health and safety reasons, think long and hard before you cave in to your child wanting that small reptile in the pet store; educate yourself to the realities involved. Then think long and hard before making your decision - for the well-being of your family, the animals, and the planet we share.

Check out the hard facts of having a reptile:

Al Wolf gives educational seminars on reptiles. If your organization or shelter is interested in being better informed call 707- 829-8152.

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