Snakes, Lizards and Tortoises, Oh My!

Phoenix Herpetological Society Header

By Barbara Wood
Photos via Phoenix Herpetological Society

Don’t let our name fool you, we at Phoenix Dog Magazine love all sorts of critters, from fur to feathers, skin to scales! We met up with The Phoenix Herpetological Society (PHS) in Scottsdale, home to all sorts of snakes, lizards, toads, tortoises…even alligators!  In fact, herpetology is actually from Greek “herpein” meaning “to creep” and covers all things amphibian and reptilian.

As per their mission statement, PHS aims to “Promote conservation and preservation of native and non-native reptiles through education, rehabilitation, rescue, and relocation.”

Founded in 2001, the PHS facility is a fully operational, 2½-acre rescue and rehabilitation center with an onsite reptile clinic and research center located in northern Scottsdale. They offer tours to the public as well as educational programs that extend beyond their campus. Needless to say, it is a very busy place with caring and advocating for some of the desert’s most unique species.

We spent a few minutes with a group of kids attending Snake Camp. When I asked two of the campers to tell me what they learned about snakes, they told me all the scientific names and categories of snakes. Not only do these kids know their stuff, they all agree that camp is great fun. They had just come in from a demonstration of how cobras spit venom (don’t worry – squirt guns and safety glasses ensured the campers’ safety)!  PHS offers camps year-round for kids starting as young as six, as well as summer and vacation sessions, with offered all the way into high school.

Plus, PHS offers a variety of adult courses, including:

  • What makes a reptile a reptile and how to identify common species
  • Differences between turtles & tortoises
  • How to pick up, relocate, or transport multiple types of reptiles
  • Native protected animals and the regulations that affect them
  • Common pet trade snakes
  • Identifying and handling non-venomous snakes
  • Basic care needs of pet reptiles
  • What to do and whom to call if illegal animals are encountered or suspected

In addition to hosting educational camps and adult sessions, PHS also has an outreach programs where they will meet with large groups on-site, such as homeowner meetings in areas with high-herpetological populations. 

These courses include demonstrations with live animals handled by PHS experts. (In other words – don’t try this at home without PHS supervision!)

PHS also provides tips for keeping unwanted wildlife out of your house. With so many people new to the Valley of the Sun, and with homes encroaching more and more into the desert, these courses focus more on prevention, safety and the best ways we can cohabit with these desert dwellers. These tips include:

  • Securing your yard and fence from unwanted pests
  • Property maintenance, including best building material to prevent critters from nesting
  • Resources for continual safety (i.e., rattlesnake removal) and cruelty-free pest control

A dedicated team of more than 20 individuals volunteer regularly to maintain the sanctuary and care for hundreds of reptiles housed at the facility. PHS works with state and federal wildlife officials and law enforcement to care for and house unwanted or seized reptiles from across the U.S.

We spent a few minutes with Connie, a volunteer who immediately taught us a few things about tortoises. As she was filling the water pans in one enclosure, she explained that tortoises can store and regulate their water intake, just one way the native species has adapted to life in the dry desert. It was clear Connie is not only a wealth of reptilian information, but incredible passionate about these animals who don’t always get their fair share of love compared to their furry neighbors.

Connie has two snakes of her own and proudly showed off their recently shed skins. She is typical of everyone we met on our visit: passionate volunteers who truly care for the animals’ wellbeing and educating the public about their importance in our ecosystem.

All visits to the Phoenix Herpetological Society must be arranged in advance.For more information or to schedule an educational course visit: phoenixherp.com

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A version of this article originally appeared in our July/August 2018 issue.

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