Everything Animals: Reptiles reign supreme at local rescue
Florida soft shell turtle
Nichols and reporter Rachel Feldman get up close and personal with a red tail boa.
Burlington, Vermont - February 1, 2011
Wanna iguana? How about a bearded dragon? Or an 11-foot red tail boa? Well, they're all right here in Vermont courtesy of Ivana Iguana Wisdom and Rescue.
JoAnn Nichols runs the non-profit reptile rescue out of her wonderfully warm home in Burlington.
"It's kept at 90 degrees all winter long in here for the reptiles," Nichols says while surveying the bevy of reptiles that, for the most part, live in a single room.
Thirty-one reptiles, to be exact. In the winter that means nearly $500 a month in heat and electric bills. Some of that is covered through donations and fundraisers but most of it comes out of Nichols' own pocket.
Some of the reptiles at Ivana Iguana are available for adoption to Vermonters, but other animals in the house are illegal for anyone in the state to own.
"I have a couple of permits with the Department of Fish and Wildlife that allow me to work with these species," Nichols explains.
One of those is a Wildlife Rehabilitation Permit. That allows Nichols to take in animals like the eastern box turtle, which is a wild animal and thus off-limits for Vermonters to keep as pets.
"That permit also allows Ivana Iguana to take in exotic species that are illegal in Vermont and they have to be re-homed outside of Vermont," she says.
In the meantime Nichols cares for all of them, and when it comes to reptiles every species has slightly different needs.
"I read a lot, read books and find out information," Nichols says, explaining how she amassed such a wide range of knowledge.
Nichols got her college degree in art, but after over a decade of working with animals and a small team of experts she feels able to handle a lot. That includes some things that most people aren't brave enough to handle at all, for example, the 11-foot red tail boa.
"A reptile this size, you don't want them around your neck area," she says while wrangling the snake. "He can definitely strangle someone."
Nichols says a lot of reptiles come to her because people don't do their research. In the case of many snakes it's the size, which can come as a shock to owners. Other times people don't realize they've purchased an illegal exotic. However, Nichols says the fear of legal repercussions is not a reason to keep a pet that can't be cared for.
"As long as people are reaching out and trying to do the right thing generally my experience is that they're not getting in trouble," she says.
But until the animals find a new home Nichols makes sure there's a warm place for them to go.
If you have a reptile and are wondering if it's legal to own, there's a list of legal pets on the Fish and Wildlife Department's website.
For more information about Ivana Iguana, click here or search for them on Facebook.