Snakes, lizards and tortoises aren’t most people’s choice of pet but for one Ilkeston family what started out as a hobby now sees them sharing their home with 80 reptiles.
The family, aptly named the Attenboroughs, just love all things scaly and cold-blooded and set up Reds Reptile Rescue two years ago, providing a temporary home for sick, troublesome or unwanted reptiles.
Mum of the family Sarah, 41, calls it a ‘hobby gone mad’, and from looking around the house at the many snakes and lizards nice and content in their Perspex homes it’s clear what she means,
Partner Mick, 43, who works full-time, said he had been keeping reptiles as pets for 20 years but it was two years ago that the rescue centre started when he took in some snakes that needed re-homing.
He said: “People bring them to us when they don’t want them anymore. The main problem is bearded dragons which are small at first - it’s when they get old and lazy that people don’t want them.”
There are currently 23 bearded dragons waiting to be re-homed but it is an even larger lizard - namely a huge seven-year-old iguana called Fidget - that is Sarah’s favourite. He was brought to the rescue centre a year ago because the owner wasn’t confident about handling him. On the day that the Advertiser visits, Sarah tells us that we have caught Fidget in a bad mood, so we can only admire him and his massive claws from outside his pen, while a tortoise shuffles past our feet.
With so many reptiles under one roof, many people would assume that it is a full-time job just taking care of them, especially at a cost of £100 a week to feed them all, but all of the family have jobs, or go to college.
Daughter Shannon, 17, is studying animal care at college, and son Blake, 21, works at Poundstretcher, with mum Sarah. Blake and Shannon both share their rooms with around 13 reptiles, with Blake choosing to look after the most aggressive ones, including a scorpion and a Vietnamese blue beauty snake called Sky who has bitten him a few times, though he insists it doesn’t hurt.
“Once they get to the stage where they can trust you they calm down a bit,” said Mick.
One of the largest snakes they have taken on is a seven foot boa constrictor called Bambi which is set to grow even bigger. Mick said: “A man rang us about a year ago. He found out his wife was pregnant and didn’t think it was a good idea to keep it around the new baby.”
The family take calls from all over the country from people wanting to drop off reptiles, or with a view to adopting one. On the morning we were there they were arranging for someone to drop off three snakes later that day.
They have plenty of people going to them to off-load reptiles, but do they have many wanting to adopt them?
“It’s fits and spurts’, said Sarah, ‘We have a couple of months where we re-home a few, then it stops.”
“Some end up staying with us’, said Mick. “If they are aggressive or have problems with their health. If they are fit and healthy we will try and re-home them but bearded dragons and corn snakes are a struggle to re-home.”
Anyone who does adopt one of the reptiles is asked for a donation. They have also started attending a few fund-raisers where they take along some of the smaller creatures for people to hold,
“The response is mixed”, said Mick. “Some people run a mile but kids love reptiles.”
By the end of the visit any fears I had were quashed and I was happily being pictured holding a snake - a royal python called Trouble. I now quite fancy one as a pet actually.
Contact Reds on 07966 188 670 or log onto their website at redsreptilerescue.co.uk.