Rescuing reptiles, educating owners; St. George Herp Society

Colombian boa constrictor, St. George, Utah, undated | Photo courtesy of Ray Patten

ST. GEORGE – The St. George Herp Society is a new nonprofit effort dedicated to rescuing reptiles in need of homes and educating owners about these fascinating pets.

 Colombian boa constrictor, St. George, Utah, undated | Photo courtesy of Ray Patten
Colombian boa constrictor, St. George, Utah, undated | Photo courtesy of Ray Patten

The group will help reptiles of any species, in any condition.

“We don’t do this for money,” founder Ray Patten said. “We do this because of the passion we have for the animals.

Reptiles have always been a part of Patten’s life; his first pet was a 13-foot boa constrictor his mother gave him. He started rescuing at age 15 and has helped some 300 reptiles find new homes since.

Patten visits area shelters, rescue groups and pet stores every week in search of reptiles that have been dropped off and takes them home; owners also approach him asking for help relocating a reptile they can no longer care for. With the help of his fellow herp enthusiasts, he provides a stable place for these reptiles to be evaluated and rehabilitated if necessary, and eventually put up for adoption.

A recent success story is Bill, a mountain horned dragon lizard. After his owner was incarcerated, he was relocated to a cage with two big iguanas that mistreated him. He was extremely dehydrated and missing horns when his temporary caretaker surrendered him to the group.

After a month of care, Bill is now doing better than ever and looking for a forever home.

Savannah monitor, St. George, Utah, undated | Photo courtesy of Ray Patten
Savannah monitor, St. George, Utah, undated | Photo courtesy of Ray Patten

Patten’s vision for the St. George Herp Society, at least in the next year, is to grow beyond rescue into educational efforts to help reptile owners understand their pets, hopefully reducing the need for re-homing.

“I want to educate people on how to care for reptiles, what reptiles are available and how to choose the proper reptile,” he said. “People need to know the truth about these animals. They’re really great, unique pets.”

The group is dependent on every member providing their own time, money and expertise. Expanding will be a challenge with virtually no support, but they’re determined to make it happen.

“We’re here to answer questions on housing, diet, illnesses; every aspect of care for everyone from beginners to experienced owners,” co-founder Bobbi Lopez said. “I want people to know we’re available for them.”

Carmen Smith, a wildlife specialist at Best Friends Animal Society, said that the red-eared slider turtle and green iguana are the most common reptiles people buy or adopt, then later abandon. These species are affordable and look very appealing in pet stores, but grow quickly, have a lifespan of 20-50 years and require more commitment than inexperienced owners realize.

Ray Patten holding a Colombian boa constrictor, St. George, Utah, undated | Photo courtesy of Ray Patten
Ray Patten holding a Colombian boa constrictor, St. George, Utah, undated | Photo courtesy of Ray Patten

Selling or giving away a reptile through the classifieds or Craigslist isn’t recommended, Patten said, because there’s no guarantee of finding a proper home. However, many shelters and rescue groups are unable to care for and re-home a reptile. Due to their lack of knowledge and limited resources, owners often make poor decisions for their reptile.

“Many pet reptiles die long before their time. Those that don’t often get ‘released’ into the wild by their owners,“ Smith said. “Most of these animals die quickly; unfamiliar with the ecosystem, without the foraging skills to survive. They can also introduce new parasites into the wild ecosystem, which can devastate native species without the immunity to defend against these new and exotic problems.”

From resources to rescues, the St. George Herp Society is ready to help.

“Every animal deserves a fair shot at life and that’s where our group comes in,” Patten said.

To learn more about the St. George Herp Society, visit their Facebook page or contact Patten at 435-669-4390 or rpatten1986@yahoo.com.

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Colombian boa constrictor, St. George, Utah, undated | Photo courtesy of Ray Patten
Colombian boa constrictor, St. George, Utah, undated | Photo courtesy of Ray Patten

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