Host of reptiles invade Andover

Program held at Kittatinny Valley State Park

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By Laurie Gordon
— In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her friends may have chanted "lions and tigers and bears, oh my!" as then entered the forest, but on Saturday, it was gators and lizards and snakes — plus one great big turtle — that had visitors' hearts racing.

Lynn Groves Lussier, the Resource Interpretive Specialist at Kittatinny Valley State Park, brought in Jack O'Donnell, of Snakes-n-Scales, to show off some of their large reptiles.

Children and adults were seated facing four large, completely-encased mysterious containers. O'Donnell proceeded to open them one-by-one and introduce guests to whatever creature lay inside.

The program began with Hobbs, a baby alligator. His mouth was taped shut with electrical tape as a safety measure, but he had no intentions of leaving O'Donnell's arms as he spoke about the gator.

In Pennsylvania, one can have a pet alligator, O'Donnell explained, "But it isn't the best of ideas because these babies grow up." Hobbs' original owner finally called Snakes-n-Scales to take him when he outgrew every container he could think of and had to reside in the man's only bath tub.

Next up was Lizzy, a huge Asian lizard. O'Donnell said that when she was younger, she was an amazing climber, but these days, her aging hips constrain her a bit.

Tank, the turtle, was up next with his unbelievable shell which O'Donnell showed was much harder then the room's wooden wall.

Last out came what many in the audience had been waiting for, the Burmese Python. One of the three largest snakes on the planet, Burmese Pythons can reach 100 to 200 pounds. Though huge and somewhat overwhelming, O'Donnell explained that they have a mild temperament when raised in captivity.

The animals used in Snakes-N-Scales programs are mostly orphans who have been rescue from unfortunate situations. Owned by Bill Boesenberg, the business operates out of Wanaque but hold programs all over the state as well as New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.

The fees to show their travel animals, which include the large ones present on Saturday as well as a host of smaller ones, cover the costs associated with rescuing reptiles from all over the area.

"Very often, people think it would be neat to have a snake or a tarantula or something exotic and then realize they've bitten off more than they can chew," said O'Donnell.

The preserve in Wanaque has all sorts of reptile-friendly areas, and they travel the tri-state area to visit schools, museums and even birthday parties.

"I've been working with Snakes-N-Scales for the past decade," Lussier said. "They're fantastic at what they do and really bring that 'wow factor' with their shows."

Kittatinny Valley State Park offers a variety of interpretive and educational programs coordinated by Lussier on a year-round basis including hikes, mountain bike rides, sunset yoga and snow shoe treks.

For a complete list of programs visit www.state.nj.us.

photos by laurie gordon

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