Creepy crawlers captivate crowd at reptile show

Earlier this year, James Kagarise went to the Animal Charity Humane Society in Boardman on behalf of his dog, but returned with more than he bargained for.

“We went to Animal Charity for flea treatment and came home with a reptile,” the Youngstown man said with a chuckle.

Soon, the family had a new member: Chewbobca, an 11-year-old, 40-pound tortoise. At first, Kagarise’s children couldn’t agree on a name, so they came up with one that is a combination of Bob and Chewbacca, a character from the popular “Star Wars” series nicknamed Chewie.

Chewbobca may have stayed home, but several other tortoises of all sizes were on hand to delight the Kagarise family and others who attended Sunday’s Reptile & Amphibian Show at the Mill Creek MetroParks Farm, 7574 Columbiana-Canfield Road (state Route 46).

Sponsoring the five-hour free, family-friendly event was 21 WFMJ/WBCB.

Numerous species of snakes, turtles, salamanders and tortoises were the program’s main attraction. The primary purpose was to foster a greater awareness of and appreciation for a variety of animals that often are feared and viewed negatively largely because of certain myths, noted Mandy Smith, the MetroParks’ education manager.

“It’s good to have the whole family learn together, and that’s what this event provides,” Smith said, adding that unfavorable portrayals of such animals can reinforce people’s fears of them.

Kagarise’s children – Jimmy, 4, Jamie, 8, and Madeline, 10 – felt anything but fear, however, as they got acquainted with Diego, a nearly 4-foot-long Argentine black-and-white tegu. Also enjoying the experience was 10-year-old Lizzie Pfeffer of Austintown, a family friend.

“I’ve had him since he was a baby. He was the best Christmas present I’ve received,” said Ben Hosler of Chesterland, who owns the large lizard, the likes of which have a distinct pattern of black and white dots and stripes on their bodies, are quite docile and live mainly in rain forests and savannas of Argentina and other regions of South America.

Sure enough, Hosler’s 7-year-old tegu seemed to take all the attention it received in stride. Diego also can be quite sociable, Hosler continued, adding that his pet’s diet consists largely of wet dog and cat food as well as many vegetables.

“I’ve been told that we made him a Facebook page and all that social media stuff,” added Hosler, who’s also a member of the Northern Ohio Association of Herpetologists, a 43-year-old organization dedicated to offering the public accurate information regarding the care, breeding and conservation of reptiles and amphibians.

The animals at Sunday’s event were courtesy of NOAH and the Herps Alive Foundation, a South Euclid-based charity that lists as its primary goal saving, rehabilitating and caring for neglected, abused and unwanted amphibians and reptiles.

Other attractions were four species of tortoises – the largest of which was an African spur thigh, which can weigh up to 150 pounds, and an 8-year-old Russian variety.

“These guys are very inquisitive, very friendly and very intelligent,” said Dr. Erica Giles, a veterinarian and Herps Alive volunteer. “They remind me of a dog, in that they have such good personalities.”

Among those who agreed with that assessment was 3-year-old Mollyann Hulings of Petersburg, who enjoyed holding the Russian tortoise. Accompanying the youngster were her parents, Tom and Denise Hulings, and older brother, Zachary, 5.

Snakes of all sizes, colors and shapes also were a big draw, including a yellow-and-white 8-foot albino Burmese python, the likes of which are native to tropical and subtropical regions of southern Asia. They prey on birds as well as rats and other mammals.

“She’s a domestic snake that never lived in the wild, and that’s why she’s so gentle,” Katie Shipka, a park volunteer, said about Chutes, a 7-year-old striped corn snake, the likes of which are common in the southeastern U.S.

The nonvenomous snake Shipka held and demonstrated to interested attendees was predominately rust-colored, complemented with mottled spots and a large stripe from the head to its tail. The reptile, however, didn’t feel like many people probably expected it should, she said.

“Most people think they’re wet and icky, and they’re anything but,” Shipka added.

Herps Alive also provided information on healthful vegetables and other foods for reptiles, proper heating procedures for enclosures and feeding tips for snakes and insect-eating reptiles.

Displays included a native snake exhibit, courtesy of the Beaver Creek Wildlife Education Center, along with jars containing small frogs, turtles and snakes, and a table with samples of turtle shells, an alligator skull, snake and frogs eggs and nonpoisonous snake skeletons.

Many children engaged in arts and crafts that allowed them to draw, cut and color snakes they made from paper plates.


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