Crowds Flock to see Reptilian Visitors
Airdrie Paper- Karen Lazaruk
CROWD PLEASER: Wrappin About Reptiles was in Airdrie over the weekend.
This past weekend, Airdrie played host to some unusual visitors- among them, a 70-pound Burmese Python named Thing. Along with his other reptilian friends- and human caregivers Dean Harper and James Barbas- Thing spent the weekend at Tower lane Mall, enduring the countless stares from passersby and even having his picture taken.
Thing is a member of the Olds-based Wrappin About Reptiles, a company started by Dean Harper in 1995 which now includes more than 300 captive-born animals - many from whom were taken in from abusive or neglectful situations.
After unraveling Thing from his neck and returning him to the safety of the enclosure, Harper said that many people purchase such animals for pets and either don't know how to properly care for them or lose interest and just don't care. "The highest increase in pets sales in the last five years is for reptiles," Harper said. "People buy them on a whim and don't treat them properly."
Although the numbers vary from year to year, Harper said that 85 percent of the animals he took in last year had been mistreated in some way, many with broken bones, missing limbs and suffering from malnutrition.
To improve the fate of reptiles and amphibians, Harper and Barbas travel around with a selection of animals and try to educate the public about these unique creatures. "The whole goal of this is to help dispel the myths about reptiles and show that they have a purpose, a niche in the ecosystem," Harper said. "And that some of them don't make good pets. "We have a blast doing this. It's amusing to see the looks on the kid's faces, and the adults. The biggest comment we get is, 'Hey, that isn't slimy, it's actually soft," he added.
As well the company has worked with Alberta Fish and Wildlife to relocate reptiles and amphibians who are caught by members of the public to be pets and then later surrendered, in addition to wrangling them for television and other media productions.
However, Harper said, in all cases, the best interest of the animals must come first. "They are pets first and working animals second," Harper said. "They are here to benefit us, not entertain us."